Adam Hills certainly takes a while to get his show into gear, spending the first 20 minutes or so of the Inflatable DVD chatting to the audience – or closer to 40 minutes if you count the bits edited off into one of the extras.
For the room, he’s a generous host, making everyone feel welcome – even the rather ‘enthusiastic’ fan in the knitted hat who’s seen him 81 times in three years. He knows quite a few people in the theatre by name, and the friendliness extends both ways: when it’s quickly revealed that this taping comes on his 40th birthday, the audience want to sing him ‘Happy Birthday’ .
The idea’s scotched when Hills tells them the song’s in copyright, so couldn’t be included on the DVD. But the improvised solution is to ‘sing’ it in sign language, translated by the interpreter who’s on stage throughout. She might be seen as a gimmick – certainly for the home audience she’s more sidekick than a public service – but she certainly provides the Australian with another element of spontaneity.
Indeed sign language is the first topic on the agenda when Hills does finally get going – talking about how it’s much less politically correct than you might think. While the fun but lengthy preamble is aimed more at those in the room than those in their armchair, this kicks off the main 50 minutes of the show, which proves funny and uplifting.
When tackling subjects such as the Paralympics, he could be seen as mocking the afflicted – but he does so with such humanity it’s the same as joshing with your mates, rather than sneering at the weak. He’s obviously been on the receiving end of plenty of similar quips himself as he has an artificial lower right leg, which gives him one foot in the camp of the Olympians, for want of a better phrase. But primarily the jokes about what bits they might be missing only emphasise their achievements.
Indeed, a greater risk is falling into the precipice of sentimentality. The title comes from the idea that some people you meet inflate you, and others deflate you. The notion is introduced in memory of friend who spread joy – and when he’s telling it through the invention of a small child, it’s as sugary as toffee-coated candy floss – yet he just about pulls it off.
In more prosaic routines he talks about the Dutch’s inherent niceness and, obligatory for any comic entering their fifth decade, the prostate exam. They are not inherently brilliant routines, but have their role in contributing to the bigger, feelgood picture. It works, as Hills skillfully pulls off the feat of ‘inflating’ even the most cynical viewer.
This DVD has limited release in the UK, available only in HMV. That’s possibly because it’s originally an Australian release, filmed in Melbourne’s Athenaeum Theatre. There’s the occasional line about Telstra, Wil Anderson or Tim Tams, but it’s not exactly baffling. And if it’s cheer you want this Christmas, Hills has it by the bucket.
- Adam Hills: Inflatable is available from HMV, priced £9.99.