Reviewer: Dave Cunningham
The Public Reviews Rating:
Bad luck for anyone hoping to catch Adam Hills’s 2012 tour – it lasted just one gig. Parental illness and professional commitments prevented Hills from writing new material and he forgot to cancel the booking at the Lowry. But this gives him the chance to indulge his fascination with the general public and to generally ‘Mess Around’.
Hills extends the old comedian’s routine of chatting with the audience so it becomes the basis for the whole gig. He ad-libs jokes based on input from the front row and from tweets received before, and during, the gig. Hills gets lucky and finds a group who justify his faith that people are inherently interesting. A heavily tattooed skinhead gay couple inspire a debate as Hills posts their photograph on twitter and invites suggestions for a title for a prospective TV show on the toughest gay bikers ever. Suggestions include ‘The Fairy Bikers’, ‘50 Shades of Gay’ and ‘The Hairless Cockbook’. Hills acknowledges that ‘The Pink Helmets’ might be going too far.
A patron’s absent girlfriend is understandably gobsmacked when Hills telephones her for a chat. He seems chuffed when she later sends him a text. Hills organises treats for a birthday girl although she makes it clear that cash would be her preferred option.
It is hard to imagine any other comedian who could makes this formula work. The success can largely be attributed to Hills’s incredibly engaging personality. His charm is such that he can actually get away with flirting with an 18 year old who is sat next to her father. Hills pushes his luck even further sending dad out shopping for birthday treats during the interval.
The second half is more conventional featuring a surprising number of showbiz anecdotes. Really did not expect to hear a comedian reminiscing about his appearance on the Royal Variety Show in this day and age. Hills is now best known as the presenter of ‘The Last Leg’ – the alternate view of the Paralympics. Hills’s approach to the subject is a strange mixture of awe-struck respect and jokes that test the boundaries of taste. He recalls the less than affectionate nicknames the Paralympians had for each other and manages to make the recounting of a swimming race featuring an armless contestant both inspirational and hilarious. Hills objects to the word ‘disabled’ and suggests ‘mutant’ as an alternative. You wouldn’t park your car in a space reserved for mutants would you?
Hills proves to be a man of his word; displaying his prosthetic limb that he painted in the colours of Team GB after he lost a bet that his native Australia would win more medals than the UK.
‘Mess Around’ is a risky approach to comedy. A performer can’t hope to get lucky and find an audience willing to play along every night. Hills acknowledges that he might be testing the patience of even this most cooperative of audiences. It will be fun to see Hills perform more conventional material rather than just rely on his charm and ability to respond to developments at speed.