Steve Hughes: Storm

Note: This review is from 2006

Review by Steve Bennett

If a towering heavy metal fan with scraggly hair sidled up to you on the bus and started sharing his theories about the New World Order, the afterlife and how the Sky News ticker is conditioning our thinking, you'd probably hop off at the next stop, leaving him to get back to lining his baseball cap with aluminium foil so the FBI can't steal his brainwaves.

But although Australian Steve Hughes's theories are beyond the fringes of mainstream thinking, he's charismatic, intelligent and funny enough not only to keep you listening, but also to persuade you that he might just have a point.

The signs aren't all that good from the start, when a noisy audio montage, in which the sound of American schoolchildren robotically chanting the pledge of allegiance is crudely spliced with Hitler's Nuremberg rallies. Hmmm. Clever point.

Thankfully, his actual material is a lot more subtle than that. First, he gains our confidence with some inoffensive banter on national stereotypes, of the type, but superior to, what you hear in comedy clubs every night of the week. But all the while he's confessing that he's only buttering us up for the more tough-to-digest politics later on.

Even with this section, he starts with material that it's hard for any middle-of-the-road liberal to disagree with: the shameful treatment of the Australian aboriginals or the fact that his government's slavish devotion to the US mean they've needlessly collected enemies thousands of miles away.

But gradually he pushes the envelope more and more, imploring us to question what we're told, to be aware of the language of propaganda, to see how a Western industrial-military complex might benefit from the subjugation of its citizens and a never-ending holy war with Islam. His argument is not that a lumbering America was stupid to attack Iraq and Afghanistan and so provoke more terrorists, but that's exactly what the Pentagon intended in the first place. It's an audacious new take on the America-bashing so prevalent among left-leaning comics, bringing new angles to this deservedly well-covered and important topic.

Some jokes aren't jokes, but political statements. Other get claps as much laughs ­ the audience consciously applauding the sentiment behind them rather than making the involuntary reaction of laughter. But most are very funny, and recognised as such.

Hughes occasionally turns back into safer comedic territory, with largely inoffensive material about Nazi documentaries or sharks, to get the audience back on side. But it's only a skilful detraction to buy him more time to expose his world view, damning America's far right, the blatant erosion of our freedoms or the highly visible signal of US intent that is Guantanamo Bay.

This is exactly what political comedy should be ­ intelligent, provocative, profound, and topped off with good, solid gags. See him while it's still legal.

Steve Bennett


Review date: 1 Jan 2006
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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