Colin Hoult is best known for starring alongside Ricky Gervais in Derek (Channel 4) After Life (Netflix) and Life’s Too Short (BBC). He is also dad to two children, a boy and a girl.
Colin, is mid-run at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival with his new show, The Death of Anna Mann. He made time to stop and chat with Dad.info about the challenges of being a touring Dad and with grief on his mind (Colin lost his brother a few years ago). We also went deep about how to explain loss to your children.
Where are your kids right now?
They’re home but they’re going to come soon. The last Edinburgh’s we did in 2016 and 2017, well in 2016 my son wasn’t born. My wife was quite heavily pregnant. That was hard for her, and not me. I had a great time!
We had my daughter already, who was about two at the time. I look back now and I cannot believe we did that. That was a really mad idea. We were staying with someone here in Edinburgh. My wife was really heavily pregnant. She had a scan while we were here.
In 2017 my son was born. So he was six months! I look back and I think I can’t believe we did that. We’ve become so much less daring or risk taking. We won’t do things (like that now) because it’s not worth the effort.
But back then it felt great. So now they’re coming for part of it. I’m missing them really very badly… and it’s only been a week. I think they do get a bit upset when I’m away and stuff, I hope they won’t describe me as somebody that’s not there.
How do your kids react to you being on the telly?
My daughter’s starting to be aware that I’m in stuff. My son, I don’t think is remotely interested. My daughter has seen it all; during the lockdown, I was doing a lot of online nights, you know, zoom parties. I did three series of a kids show though and they had no interest whatsoever.
What are you like as a Dad when you are home?
They sometimes get me doing sketches because they know I am good at improvising silly things.
So for example, we were reading Narnia and we finished it and we all found it really funny. There’s a bit right at the end where Aslan is talking to his armies. There’s a bull with the head of a man, not a man with the head of a bull. I started doing this sketch of this bull with a man’s head and everyone just finding him really repellent and they don’t wanna be in the army with him because he’s freaking them out. That was a lot of fun.
But unfortunately, my wife literally shouts, ‘stop doing sketches, they need to go to sleep’. It’s also really tiring when you play a game with them and then they just want to do the same game a million times. But it’s all great fun.
But when I am there, I try to do everything with them all the time. I try not to let myself get distracted by social media. I hope they say I’m fun and nice and caring and the best dad ever.
Although, if you deny (my son) something, he’ll go. ‘You’re the worst dad ever’. He’s pretty mean. And then he’ll go. ‘Okay, you’re the best’. You know, he can’t maintain it for any length of time.
How do you keep in touch while you’re away?
FaceTime, mainly, but it’s quite hard because my show is at 9. So from sort of 6:30, I’m slowly getting ready. FaceTime you know is a real boost really just to be able to see them properly.
Your show, The Death of Anna Mann is about grief, what was the impact on you of losing your brother?
I started doing a show about depression because I was discovering that I’d never really thought that I’d had it before. I wanted to sort of look at it and talk about it in a funny way. I had started doing Anna Mann on YouTube and a company did a pilot tape with me and they got me the wig and outfit. So then I went and did the depression show but as Anna.
I can say things I’m upset about because she’s such a stupid, ridiculous, silly kind of filter that it comes out as ridiculous gags.
So then your brother died.
He had been ill with kidney stuff from when he was in his twenties. He’d had a kidney transplant. But, actually what he got was bowel cancer. It’s weird because I actually started working on the show before my brother died. But then I thought I have to, you know, at least with myself address this and talk about this.
Then I got diagnosed with ADHD so that’s kind of gone in.
How did your brother’s death affect your kids?
It dominated quite a lot of stuff. They lost their great-grandparents, which was upsetting but obviously you can sort of say they’re 92, I mean, my brother was 50.
So it’s in terms of just trying to explain it to them, we’re not religious, but we have a sort of vague personal faith. We’re not kind of diehard atheists. I think that’s partly just born from losing people, I lost my dad as well, and my best friend. There is this sense of them just being with you still. We talk about them just going into the sky. You end up believing that. It’s comforting, you know, but it’s very hard.
My daughter, we didn’t tell her until it was time for the funeral. I just remember her laughing, probably because she didn’t know what to do. There were bells at the funeral and she’s had this fear of bells ever since. It’s all very sad. It’s the hardest thing I think to try and explain that and then the thing that kids all say is ‘are you going to die’. The main thing is to say, ‘Well not for a very long time’. But when that happens to someone, in their 50s… it’s been very difficult.
There were some good children’s books written about it which really helped. One particularly called Always and Forever.
Actually my show is about not talking about death. How in the modern age, we don’t. You know it’s a taboo. In the Victorian age, everyone talked about it all the time.
It’s like in After Life actually, when Ricky’s talking to the kids who’ve had chemotherapy and you kind of want to be real but you can’t tell them how brutal it is.
What’s next on your agenda?
We’re gonna tour the show around the country for a couple of months, but that’ll be sort of off and on, so I’ll be home quite a lot.
Since doing After Life for the first time my life. I’m reasonably confident. I’m gonna be all right.
What is your top parenting tip?
I think it is to always hear them out and to listen to what they’re actually saying.
And the other big thing, I remember from a book I read early on. It relates to grief. When they drop a sweet or don’t get a toy they want they feel the same kind of grief that we feel, losing someone. It might be just for a minute. The instinct is to say come on you are all right and drag them out the shop and all that stuff, but it really is grief. I’m not saying you have to buy them the toy, but, you have to just let them process that I think. You save time giving them a minute.
To catch up with Colin on tour – Colin Hoult (@colinhoultcomedy) • Instagram photos and videos