Review – Harry Hill at Monkey Business

Monday, June 11 2012

Harry Hill has been doing the bizzo at north London club Monkey Business recently – Pete Kelly went along to be LiF's eyes and ears

Harry Hill

Harry Hill is using this summer as a chance to play some smaller venues and try out new material. It comes at an interesting moment in his career. There are question marks over the future of the phenomenally successful TV Burp, which for a decade has been about the only thing you could watch on ITV1 without having to shower afterwards. There are talks of him moving to Channel 4, where he first gained cultish national fame, which would come with the chance of making a feature film.

So here we have him, perhaps for a brief time only – unless rumours of a new tour come to fruition – as he started out: just a man with big collars, a few props and a microphone. The night I saw he performed at the Monkey Business comedy night, above the Sir Richard Steele pub in Camden – more are coming up at various venues In July. It’s a chance to see Harry Hill in the raw: without the luxury of filmed segments, a team of writers, or interspersed with clips from peculiarly awful TV shows. Also, in theory, it’s chance to see him start out again with fresh material, without the comfortable support of ten years’ worth of running gags and catchphrases.

As it turns out, he ended this gig with a slightly awkward reprise of his familiar “FIGHT!!!” gag that brought in the commercial break on Saturday nights week in week out. But in general, despite regular appearance of stories about his Gran, and the final, brilliant section where he brought his ‘son’ Gary – a ventriloquist’s dummy that, unless I’m much mistaken, was the same as the one that played Alan Sugar in TV Burp – there was almost no dependence on familiarity for laughs.

The thing that really comes across is just how odd an act he still is. Before they become honed into a tight set of well-constructed running jokes and call-backs, much of his material, when viewed objectively, is just a man yelling out bizarre turns of phrase or building strange stories without obvious punchlines or even endings. Like Vic and Bob, he can miss the mark for long stretches of time, but when he hits it’s about as funny as anything you’ll ever see.

Being so well-loved and well-known, there was never any chance that he would die on stage, but you do realise that his style requires no small amount of bravery – or at least an admirable faith in his own idea of what’s funny. Some of his out-and-out jokes are undeniably cheesy and often playground-level silly, but they’re delivered with such enthusiasm and come amidst such a torrent of ideas – you really don’t know where the next bit of material will be coming from – that it’s hard not to be won over.

If you had never heard of him before (and there are surely very few people in that position) you’d never guess from this performance that he was a primetime Saturday night favourite, or had on numerous occasions won over the audience of David Letterman’s Late Show in the U.S. At heart, he’s still the genuine eccentric who was set on his way by the late Malcolm Hardee – a man with a true eye for the oddball.

No doubt over the coming months, the act will get slicker and gel into something more familiar to fans of his TV shows. But, before then, these dates are an irresistible chance to see material coming together for a truly strange, unique figure in British comedy.

4 stars


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