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Me and my health: Belfast comedian Terry McHugh


New heights: Terry McHugh loves climbing Cave Hill
New heights: Terry McHugh loves climbing Cave Hill
Terry McHugh shares a passion for Celtic with his family

By Linda Stewart

The north Belfast comedian and former yo-yo champion is going on the road with his first new show in two years, 'Mini Strokes of Luck', which takes a very funny and honest look at his experience of suffering two mini-strokes. Terry now lives in rural Tyrone with his wife and three children, Erin (15), Michael (12) and Patrick (8).

Q: Do you take regular exercise and if so, what?

I try to get out for walks and other comedians will vouch for me when I say I pace a few miles when I'm waiting to go on stage. I try to go up the Cave Hill a lot, too. The exercise is good and sitting up there gives me a chance to clear my head.

Q: What is the worst illness you've had?

A: My current tour show is about me having two mini-strokes, but my lung collapsing was worse. The pain was excruciating. It collapsed for no reason - it's called a spontaneous pneumothorax. Basically I was too skinny for my lungs.

Come to my show if you want that explained. I had to have a routine operation but nothing is ever routine with me! I ended up having three surgeries in a week and spent eight weeks in hospital. The scars look like a shark attack and the nerve damage causes me constant pain, but I've learned to cope.

The strokes were scarier. At 39, I've had two mini-strokes. I was told there'd be no after-effects, but I've had plenty. I forgot material - somebody told me they loved a bit I'd done on The Blame Game. They described it and I said, "That's not mine" but they were adamant it was mine, so I watched the episode and it WAS my material. I'd just forgotten it. It was comedy gold, which worries me! How much comedy gold have I forgotten?

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When I'm not on stage I'm assistant manager of a phone shop - I've been working in mobile phones 15 years but I couldn't remember "day one" stuff. A guy asked me how to check his pay and go balance and my brain reacted like he'd asked me to explain quantum physics.

I couldn't count money one day! I was counting tenners - "10, 20, 30" - then nothing, the next number just wouldn't come. It was frustrating and I was scared my brain wouldn't get back to normal. Working helped, because every day I saw progress. I'm much better now but there are still times I struggle to do basic maths and my memory definitely isn't what it was.

Q: How healthy is your diet?

A: I'm not Captain Healthkick, but I've cut back on the processed foods and fast food - however, I still enjoy a bag of Revels and a tin of Coke now and again!

Q: Any bad habits?

A: None! I'm practically perfect in every way!

Q: Do you drink and smoke/if so, how much?

A: I've not smoked in four years. I'm told I drink too much, but I've given up ALL the junk food so I'm keeping Guinness and red wine.

Q: Do you take any supplements?

A: What's a supplement? I might be taking one and not know.

Q: How do you take time out?

A: My time out is when I'm watching Celtic or when I'm on stage. When I'm on stage any problems or worries are gone. Then the drive home is time out - I enjoy a long drive.

Q: How well do you sleep?

A: Not well. There are nights my mind races trying to figure stuff out. The stuff I'm trying to figure out is private, so don't ask!

Q: Do you worry about getting old?

A: I don't worry about growing old - I worry about growing up! As a kid, when asked what I wanted to be, I said I didn't know and I didn't want to grow up.

At 39, I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up and I still don't want to grow up.

I worry that one day my mate and me will grow up and won't spend our time laughing at things that nobody else would get. I worry about whether or not we'll still be laughing at stupid stuff together when we're 50. There's my bad habit!

In those moments I need to stop worrying and thinking, "Will we still be doing this in 10 years" and start thinking "I'm glad we're getting to do this now".

Q: What is your go-to product that keeps you feeling healthy?

A: Comedy. Good comedians can make you forget your world. I suffered panic attacks in my late teens, but putting on Billy Connolly's Two Night Stand or Paddy Kielty's Stir it Up on VHS would take me out of them immediately. Kids, you can Google "What is a VHS?"

Terry's tour "Mini Strokes of Luck" starts on September 21 in Antrim Court House and continues across the north until December. You can find details on Facebook at Terry McHugh Comedy or follow him on Twitter @terrymc_hugh

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