Sean Hughes: What I Meant To Say Was...

Note: This review is from 2009

Review by Steve Bennett

With his sizeable belly and scruffy stubble, it’s hard to imagine this haggard figure was once the heartthrob of the comedy world, the youngest winner of the Perrier award. But the ravages of age suit Sean Hughes’s cantankerousness; with 43 weary years on the planet, he’s certainly got the bitterness to underwrite his cynicism.

But middle-age spread has affected his material as much as his waistline; and there’s a noticeable flabbiness to his delivery, especially in a decidedly scrappy first half. Once he hits his stride, however, pearls shine through – even if he’s never going to be disciplined or focussed enough to strike every line square on. He accuses the people of Maidenhead of sluggishness, though he surely has to shoulder his share of the blame.

He could do with a warm-up act, because he’s not that great at doing it himself. He comes on stage in a braided tunic – his tribute, he says, to Michael Jackson – to idly thumb through a table of props, settling on the local newspaper to inspire him, as so many acts have done before him to localise their material.

Hughes gets some laughs out of the parochial reporting, but just as many items fall flat. Frustratingly he returns time and time again to the paper’s lead story, about late-night rowdiness at a petrol station, with what seems like increasing desperation and diminishing returns. But although the awkward callbacks rarely work, now and again they hit the spot; which is pretty much the pattern for the first half. For every considered routine, from crappy TV to quitting his 60-a-day smoking habit, landing the laughs, there’s some unfulfilling ad-libbing or distracted musing.

He mocks Michael McIntyre for his bland observational style, but comedy’s man-of-the-moment wouldn’t let gags slip through his fingers like Hughes does, even though the Irishman has a lot more to say. McIntyre isn’t the only comic Hughes takes a pop at, more controversially berating official national treasure Stephen Fry for doing so many adverts. ‘He knows everything,’ Hughes opines, ‘except the meaning of integrity.’

This spark of iconoclasm comes to the fore in the second half, a more considered, sharper stand-up routine than the first. This more impressive takes in the personal – from the inevitable complaints about aging to the recollections about settling in Dublin after spending the first five years of his life in London – to his irascibly opinionated takes on the big issues.

Still not everything works, for which the crowd are again blamed. ‘That gets a round of applause in other places,’ he sighs, prompting a willing, but unrewarding, ovation. And even he admits this is a show that those in his age bracket will enjoy more than others. ‘Think of it as an education,’ he tells the teenager in the front row, who would no doubt be baffled by his routine about Phil Oakley and the Human League.

For his demographic, though, there are more than enough unique observations and smart gags to justify the ticket price, even though it remains frustrating that he never really grabs the gig full-on to show his distinctive material to its best advantage.

Review date: 5 Oct 2009
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Maidenhead Norden Farm Centre For The Arts

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