The lengthy night began with Australian comic Steve Hughes, who coincidentally had come to my attention just this week courtesy of some old YouTube clips doing the rounds. Hughes, whose laidback Aussie metalhead persona belies a keen intelligence and socialist agenda, had a wealth of strong material to draw back on in a set full of decent climaxes. Every time you would have thought the opening act should be wrapping up on a high, on he went, until it turned out he had done a full hour. Most unusual and certainly well-received, for what it was worth he was more a co-headliner than a mere warm up man.
After nearly a year of working closely together, Hughes and Hunter seem to be very good pals. In fact, Hunter was never far away from name-checking his fellow comic throughout his own material. Come to think of it, when you stripped away each of their stand up caricatures, there was a lot of common ground in the themes of their work. Both are clearly interested in people and in human behaviour, and both can make their points through both their appearance and their ‘fish out of water’ status in the UK.
Hunter began his act with a quick disclaimer to the audience, many of which he assumed would only know him from panel shows and not his live work. It came with a warning: “Stand up comedy is art,” he drawled with a grin. “TV is business.” He quickly recapped his previous shows – most of them featuring the n-word in their titles – so the uninitiated knew what to expect. Then he went into some of his best work of the past year and later riffed off the audience. The show covered racism (always a big subject of his) to a grand finale of Sex and the City 2 and all things in between (“I din’t remember their names, so I just called them Narrator Girl and Super ‘Ho”). Although not new, I loved his thoughts on the Jonathan Ross/ Russell Brand debacle and how comedy has become a target in its wake: “you see the word ‘comedy’ on the door and you’re not going to expect the motherf**ker on the stage might be joking?”
Putting in a near 90-minute show with ease demonstrated what a natural performer Hunter is. Although he’s good when interacting with the audience, last night the last ten minutes of the show seemed a strange time to start doing it. That’s when it became clear he might be a little worse for wear, which was actually quite fun, considering you don’t see comedians really doing that in venues of that size these days. But when he noticed things tailing off he got back in his stride smartish, finishing off with the Sex and the City routine – and the touching observation on how the film illustrates how people want it all in this day and age neatly captured him at his best.
Great company and a great evening all round, it might not have been quite what the audience was expecting, but it did the job all the same.