Sean Hughes isn’t playing ball. He’s had enough of bite-sized routines and feels that comedy is being whittled down to TV friendly chunks which are slowly eroding its very fabric.

Never one to hold back he prefers to swim against the tide with his new show Life Becomes Noises rather than follow the herd.

“I came into comedy at the tail end of the 80s and 90s when we wanted to shake comedy up and express ourselves, but now it’s opened up the door to people who want to be on TV, people who forget that comedy is an art form and holds a mirror up to society. What’s happening now is shameful,” he adds, shaking his head.

But that’s what happens when you take a seven-year break. “Yes, maybe I’ve got ideas above my station but I stopped because I couldn’t bear the gag, gag, gag, version of comedy, so thought it would make more sense to write books instead.

“And then I realised that while stand-up may not be a compulsion it is an obsession and that comedy heroes of mine like Bill Hicks and Richard Pryor said what they wanted through comedy alone and that I just had to do what I was doing better. So I’ve come back to do it properly ”

And it’s working. This is the third leg of his Life Becomes Noises tour, its popularity speaking for itself. “When I started writing it, I had two benchmarks – it had to be uplifting and unsentimental.

“And because it’s quite personal and emotional I never tire of it because it seems to have a real effect on people, which doesn’t happen very often in comedy.”

Sean wrote the show after his father died, but is keen to stress it’s not about death. “That would be a hard sell,” he laughs. “It’s more about living, our relationships and view on the world. It’s about being in the fore because we all know we are going to die, but comedy is about demonstrating what we have in common as people. So it’s a joy to do even when I’m traipsing around the country.”

Anyone would think he’s missed comedy then? “Yes, I was surprised how much,” Sean admits. “But now I’m a 47-year-old middle-aged man and I can say no to things. That’s the bottom line, so while it’s nice to be on TV you shouldn’t do it for the sake of being on TV if you get what I mean.”

And yet most of us know Sean from the telly, so isn’t that hypocritical? “Never Mind The Buzzcocks was great fun but I didn’t want it on my tombstone, and it’s not what I want to be remembered for. I know there’s a recession but it doesn’t mean that people want bland comedy, where people just knock it out. So I try to stay outside of that.”

He’s a tough customer alright. And yet what do we know about this gruff comic, he of the big blue eyes and Irish accent? Very little in fact: “I’m not interested in celebrity as such and don’t give away details about my life,” he verifies. “I am a lone wolf and don’t hang out in groups. So if you want to see the real me, the stage is where I’m myself. I will never write an autobiography – put it that way.”

Despite this brush off I still want to know some basic facts about his life, such as where he lives? “London.” Does he go back to Dublin often? “Yes my mother still lives there.” Does he consider his sense of humour Irish? “I have my dad’s sense of humour. He’s the one who sent us to Dublin in 1970 at the height of the troubles with broad Cockney accents. But that’s a big part of the show – I’ve always been an outsider.”

Do you think of yourself as Irish? “Yes, I’m Irish in my heart even though I was born in London and came back at 19.” Marriage and kids? “No I haven’t gone down that route. Some people talk about their experiences of changing nappies but I like more thought-provoking comedy and aim to push the boundaries a bit more. I don’t like being put in a box.

“That’s what the next show is about,” he adds, briskly changing the subject, “It’s called Penguins and talks about how we are told by society how to act. It’s ready to roll out already and after that I already know the ending to the next show,” he tells me proudly.

Which must mean that Life Becomes Noises isn’t a fleeting appearance?

“I had a late night with Robbie Williams and we decided we were back for good,” he quips and with that he’s gone, and I wonder if I am any the wiser. Seeing him on stage, it would seem, is really the only answer.

Sean Hughes brings Life Becomes Noises to Didcot Cornerstone on Friday October 18