For the next in my Q&A series with creators of War of the Worlds-themed media, I had the pleasure of “sitting down” with Edy Hurst, comedian, musician, wit, and driving force behind the podcast, Edy Hurst’s Comedy Version of Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of H.G. Well’s Literary Version of (via Orson Welles’ Radio Version & Steven Spielberg’s Film Version) The War of the Worlds.
Q: Tell me a little about your podcast, Edy Hurst’s Comedy Version of Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of H.G. Well’s Literary Version of (via Orson Welles’ Radio Version & Steven Spielberg’s Film Version) The War of the Worlds (from this point forward, I think we’ll just call it your “War of the Worlds podcast”).
Towards the end of 2019, a simpler time, when all that we had to worry about was the rise of fascism across the world and the UK’s dedication to falling backwards through a bush out of the European Union, I was working on a new show to be toured around the UK.
This show was called Edy Hurst’s Comedy Version of Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of H.G. Well’s Literary Version (Via Orson Welles’ Radio Version & Steven Spielberg’s Film Version) of the War of the Worlds, because it amused me that Jeff Wayne gave the only musical version of the War of the Worlds a fairly unwieldy title. The whole show started as a throwaway joke that I thought it’d be funny to talk about Jeff Wayne and then try and do a really high budget 2 hour production with no budget and less than 10 minutes, and the whole thing spiraled out from there.
Understandably, the previews, tinkering, performing and tour has not come into fruition yet, but I wanted to continue working through the vast array of War of the Worlds adaptations, re-imaginations and inspirations.
As the book was originally serialized, this gave me a great opportunity to create a chapter by chapter look at the original book whilst also still working on new songs and jokes for the live show. It’s also given me a great excuse to work with some of my personal comedy friends and bother some genuine experts in their field.
Q: How did you first discover War of the Worlds? You mention that Jeff Wayne’s musical may be a bigger influence upon you than the Wells original. I’d love to hear more about that.
I think that in a way War of the Worlds is a bit like the Beatles. Even if you’ve never actually heard the originals, you are in some way aware of its effect on pop culture, and behind the scenes there’s far more adultery than previously thought.
There’s two times where I became aware of War of the Worlds. As you mentioned, and I talk about in Interlude 2 of the podcast, Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version had a huge impact on me, as I think it does many people who cross its path. It’s a Musical Version of a Victorian metaphor for colonial invasion with a rock disco sound track starring the lead singer of Thin Lizzy, what part of that did someone think was a surefire hit?
Generally, I am drawn to and obsessed with things that are far more successful than on paper they have a right to be. I think it’s a sort of wishful thinking that no matter what ideas my fire dumpster of a brain throws out one of them might be deemed a success. And Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of the War of the Worlds ticks every box for this.
The concept is bonkers, the performers are giving it absolute stacks, and it has been a resounding hit since its release. Nobody would have believed towards the end of the 20th century minds immeasurably superior to ours would be scrutinizing a novel where nobody would have believed towards the end of the 19th century that minds immeasurably superior to ours were scrutinizing our earth.
I found it in my dad’s record collection following him buying a turn table at the start of the 2000s vinyl revival. Initially it was the artwork that brought me into it, but after listening it’s always remained close to my heart.
The second time was actually much before this, I must have been 10 or younger. There’s a science museum in Manchester that had an area where they were, for some reason, playing the Orson Welles’ radio version in its entirety. It was in the aeronautical hall with all the airplanes, and I think part of why I remember it is because it was such a weird location for it to be. Why was it there? Was it to do with radio as a form of communication? Was it because they had space stuff? It was next to a model of a Boeing, but why?
Who knows, not me, all I know is that the story of a town entering collective hysteria because of a radio show sounded amazing and too good to be true, partly because as we know now, it kind of was.
Q: What inspired you to use WotW as the anchor for a project? Is this the first time you’ve used a book as inspiration or a touchstone for a project?
I’ve often used pop culture as a reference point, either deliberately or it just seeped into the work I’ve been doing. Given how immediate stand up needs to be, you’re always going to be using some form of popular references as a means to quickly communicate images or ideas.
My last show was about how I make daft comedy songs as a means through which to mediate a history of depression, and it had a nightmare Kermit as my inner voice of doubt. So I think that the art that I love inspires me whatever I’m doing.
But this is the first time I’ve used something so explicitly. The show is a very loose adaptation, and really more about ideas of alien invasions than a particular focus on the book itself. It’s an excuse for me to be really daft and big and silly in a way that there is already an established context, which I think comes across in the title.
The podcast, however, I wanted to create something that was in my wheelhouse but something different to what other comedians I saw doing with their podcasts. I love all sorts of audio comedy projects, but I think for me this helps me to create a sort of audio scrap book, so you can listen to it as if it’s a regular (ish) audiobook, but it’s also got the cliff notes and explanations attached.
It gives me a great way to look further at British identity, at the basis for our pop culture (and by extension US scifi) as well as questions such as why H.G. Wells would choose for a Martian to be a weird octopus thing rather than a humanoid.
Basically, if you’re looking to do a book report, you could easily just crib the work in the podcast.
Q: Originally, you intended to use WotW as the basis for a live show and adopted the podcast approach in response to Covid. How would the live show have differed from the podcast (beyond the obvious, of course)?
The show when it’s been performed is much more chaotic and sillier than the podcast, my live shows are a mix of lo-fi props, musical comedy and messing around with the audience. The vibe of it is someone making a high-end musical with the budget of a children’s birthday party.
I think the sensibility is the same, if you like the jokes and the bits that I find funny as we read along, then you’d definitely enjoy the show.
Whereas in the live show I’m racing against the clock to cram as much alien invasion, home made heat rays, bombastic songs and homages to other adaptations in as possible, in the podcast I can stop reading a sentence and go ‘that’s weird, what’s that about?’ and then go off and gain an in-depth understanding of early colonialism in Tasmania.
Q: Clearly, your podcast involved an enormous amount of supplementary research. How did you approach that research?
It’s different with each topic, which is a rubbish answer. Essentially, I try to avoid just googling or using a search engine in the first instance. This is because a lot of the time the questions I’m trying to answer start off quite vague before getting specific (such as ‘how does science fiction predict the future?’) on somewhere that is trying to give you the most efficient answer you’ll often wind up reading articles in newspapers or magazines.
These can be really helpful for an overview, but by the time you’ve got them the writer has usually done most of their research and collated it in a particular way.
I was hugely fortunate to go to University and whilst studying became aware of a range of academic sites. Less fortunately, now I am no longer a student I can’t really afford the access to full sites like JSTOR, but they have free resources on there. These academic papers range from mega headache chunks of writing to hitting the nail exactly on the head in terms of researching, but often give a much fuller picture for me to figure out what I think about the topics they’re discussing.
Plus, they have loads of footnotes and citations which means I can go and find what they were reading.
I think it’s such a massive shame that in order to gain access to these papers as someone outside of an academic organization you have to pay a pretty large amount of money in membership fees, or track down the books yourself which is also an expensive and time-consuming endeavor.
It just strikes me as so weird that we’re meant to live in a world that encourages you to educate yourself and yet there’s so many cost prohibitive measures that stand in the way of that. It’s almost like we live in a society where some people are afforded the luxury of education and the rest are in a system designed to make it hard to have equal footing. But surely that can’t be the case, I say with a knowing cynical look at my computer screen.
As you can imagine, these particular deep dives take quite a lot of navigating and research, which is incredibly rewarding, but also not possible to do on a fortnightly basis. I try to make a mix of the deep academically focused topics and also more fun tangents like the top tripods and Extra-Terrestrial tourism.
For those two it’s a mix of things I already know about and things that I ask listeners to get in touch with me with on my social media channels.
Q: Of all your podcast’s informative tangents, amusing digressions, etc. which one did you enjoy the most? Which of those journeys took you to the most surprising place?
Some of them I kind of knew where they were going to go. I remember during a history of art course we looked at some Victorian science papers on genetics between white and black people that now is appalling and wrong, but at the time was presented as the latest research, which is pretty chilling.
I knew that if I was doing something that looked at the Victorian era, and especially with a look at the scientific, I didn’t want to shy away from these aspects of the past. Likewise with colonialism, which Britain was at the height of its rule during the book’s publication.
It would feel ingenuine of me to make something that’s meant to be looking at the original War of the Worlds book with a contemporary eye and not address these things. Whereas the tripods and the aliens are cool and thrilling, there’s a lot of underlying subtext about humanity’s (read: Britain’s) response to a more advanced civilization attacking out of nowhere, and how that information is disseminated that I think is really fruitful for discussion.
There’s a whole narrative of me struggling to unpick the tangles and contradictions of H.G. Wells. On the one hand he becomes a champion for human rights and an outspoken critic of apartheid, but on the other he can frequently use language that is less than ideal, and although spoke of gender equality, still had numerous affairs.
I think of the things that have really surprised me is the look at local newspapers during the Victorian times. I like it because it started out from a single sentence about a telegram, and revealed this high functioning system of papers that were produced both locally and nationally.
There would be reading rooms in pubs across villages and towns where one could go and hear a reading of the latest news, sort of like how you can get 24 hour rolling news now, but with a pint of beer.
It’s clear that even though there wasn’t something with the immediacy or wealth of information as the internet or television or radio, people still had a need to understand the world around them and what was going on.
No matter what time you find yourself in, people still seem to have the same basic desires that come up over and over, and that is something I wasn’t expecting to find from just looking at how someone in Victorian times might find out about Martians. I thought the answer would be they just wouldn’t, or they might a week later, but there was a pretty robust means of communication even without all the technology we have now.
Q: You’ve brought some other very talented people onto your podcast. Tell us about some of them, who are they, how did you find them, how do you utilize them?
A lot of this is partly an attempt to bring in the aspect of guests that you can get on other shows. Being a comedian, most of my contacts are other comedians I perform with and so it gives me an excuse to spend time with them and also introduce my audience to these incredibly talents folks. These would be guests such as Hannah Platt, Josh Jones and Tom Little.
Here I get them to read out bits of the dialogue and play characters, where sometimes it will be straight as written in the book, other times like with Jade Fearnley, Bexie Archer and Tom Burgess, we’ll play around a little more to add some humor in.
Sometimes if I’ve got a guest who’s a comedian but has a specific knowledge outside of comedy it’s a great opportunity to use their knowledge and save some precious research time. Alastair Beckett King and James Shakeshaft run an ace podcast called Loremen that’s all about unusual Folk Tales, so there’s a really nice natural overlap that we’re both looking at the past with a funny view.
Ross Brierly likewise is a professional horse racing expert, and an excuse to be able to invite him on and use that knowledge on something as ridiculous as Martians invading was just too good an opportunity to pass up.
Alongside comedians, I’ve been lucky to speak to, both on and off podcast, experts about particular topics. Simon Guerrier is a BBC producer I was put in contact with from a random email I sent to a presenter called Samira Ahmed, who both worked on an H.G. Wells documentary.
I also spoke with an author of a book on the Victorian news cycle for a specific question that wasn’t covered in articles. This was again just from sending an email directly, and often there’ll be no response, but it’s heartening to see how frequently people do get back in touch.
Q: Talk a little bit about yourself. In particular, I’d love to hear more about your background in comedy, influences, etc.
I started comedy in 2013 (I think, I don’t really know what counts as ‘starting’ as that could mean anything from professional which I was by no means a that point, or doing it regularly, which was also not necessarily the case then) and performed big absurdist bits.
My big influences for comedy at that time was Steve Martin, Emo Phillips and Tony Law. I guess that hasn’t changed so much, but I think I’ve discovered more about my own voice and what works with me on stage.
Performing music with the comedy has sort of crept in over time until eventually I realized that if I’m largely performing 10 – 15 minute sets it’s a lot to tell an audience ‘ok! Here’s a made-up story, and here’s some jokes and now a song and now back to a story’ there’s just not enough time for so many different threads.
Since starting I’ve been nominated for the BBC New Comedy Award in 2017 and taken my debut hour show to the Edinburgh Fringe and across the UK last year and early this year. I also do improv with Murder Inc, who do longform mystery shows based around an online suggestion.
I love stuff that is very silly and stupid but very smart at the same time. Eric Andre, Monty Python, Maria Bamford all spring to mind.
Q: You describe yourself as “a musical comedian,” tell me more about that? Who are some of your musical influences?
I think of myself as a musical comedian as in someone who is a comedian that is also musical. Maybe that sounds stupid, but what I mean is that I perform music and write songs but the focus is on them being funny. I will also use music as a means of making an observation or a joke. Real talk: I just use a guitar on stage and do jokes that involve it.
Billy Bailey, Flight of the Conchords, Tenacious D are all people who are and have been hugely influential in terms of what I’ve wanted to do. I also have massive respect for artists such as Weird Al Yankovic who does parody songs (he does write his own music too which is really great and funny), although performance-wise that’s not where I’m at.
I’ve always been drawn to songs that are funny regardless of whether they are by comedians or not. Randy Newman whilst not a comedian, writes hilarious songs, as does John Grant and 10cc. There’s a lot of humor in song writing that I think is underappreciated, but I absolutely love it.
Q: One of your interludes includes a light-hearted segment exploring what it would be like other well-known musical acts (Lady Gaga, Kool and the Gang, etc.) did a musical version of War of the Worlds. Let me turn the tables and pose that as a serious question. If you could select one other musician/group to do a musical version of War of the Worlds, who would it be? And why?
Aha! What a great question, and a tricky one too. There’d be a few that spring to mind. I always find it weird that the musicians that go into big stage musicals often aren’t really the ones that you’d think naturally fit. Like, who listened to U2 and thought, these guys need a musical, let alone one about Spiderman?
In that vein the Killers of modern bands would probably have a great bash at it, but I’d rather not hear that.
Guys that sprung to mind immediately were Tom Waits and Laurie Anderson, maybe together, but then again, I’m not sure if that’s fair as I’d just love to see them do anything together.
So having to choose one, ok, here we go. I think I’d really like to see someone like LCD Soundsystem do a concept album of the War of the Worlds. They have such a great way of wearing their influences on their sleeves, and also an ironic detachment that I think would be perfect for where we’re at now.
Q: Do you have plans for any future WotW related projects?
If we get into a future where the germs aren’t destroying us and the live show can happen, and I finish book 1 and 2 of the podcast, I think I’m ready to move on from War of the Worlds.
Although as said before, my creative output is a bit of a meat grinder of pop culture references and weird ideas my head throws out fed through what an audience will put up with, so there’s no doubt it’ll come back in some form like an unexpected belch.
Q: What else are you currently working on?
I’m making quite infrequent videos that go on my social media stuff, as well as writing new songs and bits for when I can go out into the world again.
Q: What are the best ways for my readers (if, indeed, they exist) to find you online?
I’m on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @edyhurst (or/Edyhurst) where you can follow me for podcast news, videos and jokes.
I also have my website www.edyhurst.co.uk