Richard Hammond has turned his hand to stand-up.
The Top Gear presenter – once the subject of a scathing Stewart Lee routine – has performed his own set in New York’s legendary Gotham Comedy Club.
He spoke about his recent kidney stone surgery and British reticence when he appeared at the club’s regular Wednesday-night new talent showcase.
The gig came after a difficult warm-up gig in front of fellow open-mic comics in a smaller basement venue.
He took to the stage for his BBC America series Richard Hammond’s Crash Course, in which he tries his hand at various challenges.
In the introduction to the episode, which aired in the States this week, Hammond said he was ‘facing one of my greatest fears: performing a stand-up comedy routine. I’m either incredibly brave or totally insane.’
On entering the venue, he added: ‘I’m more scared of this whole place and all it stands for that anything else.’ And when pointed out that he had taken part in many driving stunts far more dangerous than this, he said: ‘That’s just death. This is worse.’
Hammond told his mentors, US comics Jim Mendrinos and Eddie Brill: ‘I’m not funny. I have never written a joke in my life. I’d rather be the guy just introducing things.
‘If I walk out in stage at home everyone knows who I am because I’m a big deal. I won’t have that here cos I’m just a small Brit.’
Before Hammond took to the stage, Mendrinos said: ‘He’s either going to do wonderfully or he’s going to have a heart attack because this absolutely terrifies him.’
During his set, ‘The Hamster’ spoke about his kidney stone operation and recalled how: ‘my innards … turned into a boiling cauldron of white hot agony that are threatening to eviscerate me onto my living room carpet right now, I shall die stranded, a burnt out husk of a man, lying amidst my entrails like so many bloodied eels.’
And although he made mistakes, such as not making enough eye contact with the audience, he left the stage to applause.
Afterwards, he said: ‘So maybe Leno or Letterman won’t be calling me any time soon, but I can say I faced my greatest fear and I’m still alive.’
And he admitted that he had developed a taste for stand-up on the strength of that first gig.
Praising the ‘surprisingly supportive and kind world of comedy’, he added: ‘I really wish my Crash Course was longer because I know I could do better. It could become an obsession.’
The episode was part of the second series of Crash Course, which has just started on BBC America. BBC Two has just screened the first series – five months behind the US – which focused on Hammond’s attempts to drive various types of heavy machinery. In the second series, he expands the challenges away from driving.
Hammond and the rest of the Top Gear team have not always pulled off comedy successfully. Their humour was denounced as ‘lazy, feckless and flatulent’ by former guest Steve Coogan last year, after Hammond used the same phrase to describe a Mexican sports car. The incident prompted a complaint to the BBC from the Mexican ambassador.
Earlier this week, it was announced that the presenter will front a hidden camera show for BBC One this Christmas. Richard Hammond’s Secret Service features actors, including comedians Mike Wozniak, Rachel Parris, Catriona Knox, Steve McNeill and Jacob Edwards, pranking members of the public.
Here is his stand-up set: