Barry Hilton – Original Review

Note: This review is from 2007

Review by Steve Bennett

Barry Hilton is said to be one of South Africa’s most successful stand-ups – and it’s clear that the smallish but almost exclusively expat crowd who’ve come to see him in the West End do hold him in affectionate regard.

His nickname is The Cousin, reflecting the genial familiarity that extends to him welcoming fans in the foyer of the Lyric Theatre as they arrive. It primes the audience brilliantly, so come the time he takes to the stage, they are more-than willing to laugh at anything he says.

And laugh they do; he sparks guffaws a-plenty regardless of the fact that his material is based on the slightest, most blandly generic observations you could image. The sad but inescapable truth is that you don’t become popular by being too challenging, but this lightweight, mainstream, nothing-to-say comedy credits the audience with almost no intelligence. As such, it can become pretty boring, pretty quickly.

Yet the guffaws still come throughout the 90-plus minutes, some of which can perhaps be attributed to the emigrant audience finding comfort in a familiar accent, And even though he says nothing, he says in it in a very assured way.

He, and his fans, love a good accent. Parodying the English with a blokish ‘Awright son, innit?’ is enough to set them off; as is an Australian ‘crikey’ or a Frenchman straight out of ’Allo ’Allo. Who needs substance when a silly voice will do? That, or a stutter, or attempting a Bollywood dance despite his bulk, or sticking his finger through his trouser flies. Sophisticated it ain’t.

One of the best responses he gets is simply by saying ‘I saw that Brokeback Mountain…’ No gag, just the thrill of expectation of what he might possibly say on this subject – he’s going to do a gay joke! And that’s exactly what he does, something to do with a camp South African star wanting to be stabbed in the arse.

It’s one of the few oblique references to his homeland Hilton makes; that and the occasional word of Afrikaans slang. He may be concerned to keep things international as he’s not on home ground, but his material is so universal, with so few distinctive features, that his nationality is irrelevant.

Instead he worries about whether the fridge light goes out when you shut the door, spreads a bit of distain for women in general and his two ex-wives in particular, does an innuendo-laden bit about snooker’s balls, holes, cues, pinks and browns, describes how Muslim women in niqabs look like letterboxes, and describes how women go shopping, and so on. But his favourite topics are lavatorial, with the easy-to-translate word ‘kak’ so often used, it’s almost like a catchphrase.

Aside from that, his stock-in-trade is that bizarre form of observational comedy where the observations don’t even ring true. One very well-received line is ‘Have you noticed when you go to a Chinese restaurant, there’s never any Chinese people there?’ But that’s not true, is it? And even if it is, how is the statement of fact hilarious, apart from the fact it’s go the tempo and rhythm that sounds like it might be joke.

You wouldn’t get away with this sort of stuff if you didn’t have some talent; and Hilton has the confident quickfire patter of a Catskills New Yorker, a hugely expressive face and an agility you mightn’t expect from his well-padded frame. And he’s strong at the limited amount of audience banter he indulges in.

But strip away the likeability the technical skill, and Hilton appears to be a comic of little substance.

Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Lyric Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, London
January 21, 2007

Review date: 21 Jan 2007
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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