Pushing the Aubergine: Harry Hill’s stand-up comeback

Posted: December 29, 2011 in Comedy Reviews
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Having seen Harry Hill in stand up only twice in my life, bookended by avidly watching his  TV shows on Channel 4 and ITV, I was eager to find if he had kept the music-hall magic alive after being tied to a desk for the last few years. Standing in the tastefully decorated splendour of the cosy Battersea Barge on the Thames, next to the iconic presence of the adjacent power station, the red curtains at the end of the room fluttered while fewer than 100 Christmas party goers tucked into their fine fare.


An evening to remember: Harry's first stand-up gig in a while is revealed.

I wandered back stage, being a guest of the organiser, Lady Harriet (billed as “Post Totty on Acid”) and there I found a quiet, reserved and bescarved Mr Hill carefully writing notes on his hand and sitting next to his tattered suitcase. It’s a lesson for any new and nervous stand up that even a comedian of his experience, skill and talent can show some trepidation before a performance. Harry seemed to have some reservations about  the venue and the crowd as well as performing stand-up in such  intimate circumstances, the detail in his notes belying his belief in the army adage of proper prior preparation preventing piss-poor performance.

Backstage at the Battersea Barge 14/12/11

Harry Hill in all seriousness

Just before his pending stage entrance, Harry stood up and listened behind the curtain as a vertical Tonto may divine the exact nature of an approaching audience. Resplendent in his uniform of flapping collared shirt, dark suit jacket with ever present Harrow Hill FC badge and platform trainers, he stood like a child evacuee from World War II, clutching his suitcase and looking beyond the curtain to an unknown reception. After a drawn out introduction from a proud Lady Harriet, Harry Hill bounded onto stage with a child’s Christmas  enthusiasm.

From the first second in front of his audience, Harry engaged with the crowd, forming a laughter connection that was to last throughout his set. His mocking of the clichéd “What’s-your-name? Where-you-from? What’s-your-star-sign?” gambit of comedians immemorial helped this no end. His voice became its famous rasping projection of the self confidence of an East-End costermonger, filling the venue with his London brogue.

After the brief introductions, the audience were then treated to some of Harry’s edgier material, including jokes about Sharia law, Britain’s legacy in Iraq and pubic hair. He avoids being offensive, even at low levels on the Clarksonometer,  due to his three attributes: he’s funny; he’s ludicrous and he’s Harry Hill. His familiarity breeds contentment and his geniality laughter.  Thrown together with bathetic interludes (including Beyonce’s advice on keeping pigeons) his delivery helps to keep all seriousness and political intent from his ramshackle suitcase of mirth.


A fitting home for his first "son", Garry

In the latter half of his performance, Harry reverted to surrealism tinged variety in his amateur ventriloquist act featuring his “son” from his first marriage, Garry Hill.

Father and Son

Like Father like Son?

The audience’s appetite, having been whetted by his  cutting edge humour, seemed to be less rapacious for these mock end-of-pier capers but they chuckled along convivially as one would when watching a funny (ha-ha) uncle perform a party piece after the Christmas pud is finished. This kept them amused until Harry launched into a five minute anecdote about how his prejudice against “aborigines” got him into trouble in a restaurant in Australia. The terminal sledgehammer punchline proved a fitting finale to his act and stamped his comic authority on his return to stand-up.

With his audience whooping for more, Harry gave one last victorious lap of honour with a little musical number on how he helped John Lennon rework “Imagine” from its original incarnation of a list of adhesives, initiating that quizzical stupor in the crowd wondering where the hell he was going with it before the brain smack of a clincher at the very end.

Backstage at the Battersea Barge before the show

Harry sends himself boss-eyed with excitement

Striding off stage with props in hand and a relieved smile, Harry and Garry were surrounded by applause that followed them back stage and into a welcome return to a possible stand-up tour. Cherish those dream tickets when they become available as, judging by this thunderous forty minutes, Harry Hill’s stand-up is back and  is as entertaining as ever.

  1. insiderphil says:

    Apologies for the confusion, Jo. It was meant to be his return to stand-up after announcing his retirement from ITV. I would have loved to have been at the Horne Section gig. Just my cup of chai.

  2. greg says:

    I saw him in June at a small 60-80 person gig called comedy on the green at a lovely pub in Hammersmith/Shepherd’s Bush (well their cellar cum mini comedy venue).

    I’d never seen him live before and it had always been an aim as I worship the Harry Hill Show, both as a kid when it aired and now with torrented 90s tv rips and do rather enjoy tv burp. Having only seen his vhs/dvd released stand up before I was blown away by just how much better he is in the flesh than on screen when doing stand up.

    It was also a consistently excellent set, he really hasnt lost anything in his time off. Although there were no props and it seems from your description to have been a largely different set. I really cant wait to see more of his stand up.

    I just hope a dvd release of the Harry Hill Show on dvd will happen sooner or later.

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