Jeremy Hardy begins his fourth decade as a stand up this year, which is a more dramatic way of saying he started in the business 31 years ago, writes Rosy Moorhead.

“That’s too long, isn’t it?” muses the 53-year-old from Farnborough.

“People are probably getting to the point where they’re thinking ‘We like Jeremy but we’ve been to see him year after year for the past 30 years – maybe we’ll go and see somebody else this year’.”

As well as his upcoming solo stand up tour, which comes to Broxbourne, he is also currently touring with I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue with Barry Cryer and Tim Brooke-Taylor et al, and is in Jack Dee’s Helpdesk.

He generally takes a couple of months off in the summer and winter between tours, and somehow also finds time to appear on Radio 4’s Jeremy Hardy Speaks to the Nation, The News Quiz and I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue.

It all began when Jeremy emerged from the University of Southampton with a degree in modern history and politics into the recession of the early 1980s, with its mass unemployment and social and political unrest.

“I was very fortunate that it was a time of high graduate unemployment,” he laughs.

“There were so many of us on the dole that they didn’t bother you – you had to get out of bed once a month and sign on and that was it.

“And then there was this thing that Margaret Thatcher brought in – the only decent thing she ever did – the Enterprise Allowance Scheme, which gave you £40 a week to get you off the dole and you had to say you had a business plan. I said ‘I’m going to be a comic’ and my mentor said ‘Yeah, fine. Go and have a look at that Gary Wilmot, he’s good’.”

So the staunch left winger owes it all to Margaret Thatcher?

“I wouldn’t go that far! I would happily have done without my £40 and the scourges of Thatcherism! But quite a few of us were on that scheme, like me and Harry Enfield.”

Jeremy started out performing at open mic nights at clubs in London, trying out sets of five to ten minutes at places such as the Banana Cabaret in Balham and the Tunnel Palladium in Greenwich, as well as the Earth Exchange restaurant in Archway, which paid the comedians in vegetarian food (“dust shaped into rissoles and heavy-going wood-based meals”).

“The great thing in those days was that you could ring up a club and get a gig the following night, and a month later you’d get your £30, which was great,” he says. “I think it’s much harder for people starting out now, they wait for months just to get their first open mic booked.”

It was in those days that Jeremy got some of his best heckles. “They were notorious at the Tunnel,” he remembers, “and very articulate, they weren’t just drunken idiots. The heckling was clever and cruel, you had to be on your toes. One time I was just holding the mic stand and someone shouted ‘Let go of the microphone stand, you’re showing your insecurity’. Bloody hell, they were sharp.

“But these days people can see that I’m struggling to concentrate and are thinking ‘Don’t interrupt him, we want to get home at some point’.”

While Jeremy jokes that the age of his fans makes it unlikely many of them will make it to the interval, he’s constantly winning over new fans, old and new, with his sharp observations and constantly updated material.

“I’m never off the road for long, I like to keep my hand in,” he says. “I always assume the people in the audience are coming along mostly out of concern, but when I ask them a lot of them have come to see me for the very first time, which to me is quite strange. I’ve got a new fan? At my age?”

Jeremy Hardy is at Broxbourne Civic Hall, High St, Hoddesdon, Wednesday, April 1, 8pm. Details: 01992 441946,