Andy Hamilton’s Hat Of Doom

Note: This review is from 2008

Review by Steve Bennett

Andy Hamilton’s a very prolific man. A regular on Radio 4’s News Quiz, and countless panel shows from QI to I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue, he’s also a writer with an impressive track record, from Drop The Dead Donkey to Trevor’s World Of Sport. A second series of Outnumbered is coming to BBC One soon, and his Hell-based sitcom Old Harry’s Game is returning to the radio.

With all this activity, it comes as little surprise that he’s never toured before, despite more than 30 years in comedy. Where on earth would he find the time?

But his debut also proves that stand-up is a very particular skill that can only be perfected by doing it – however funny you can be in a different environment. No amount of witty badinage with Stephen Fry is any preparation for a solo live show.

Hat Of Doom, therefore, feels much more like an amiable but asinine ‘audience with…’ evening that a gag-driven stand-up show. Instead, he offers a few bon mots about the state of the world, a handful of showbiz and personal anecdotes, a bit of Q&A and a song, before off to cocoa and bed. It’s a polite and genteel evening of diversions, lacking much structure or objective.

Hamilton’s in no rush to get from one joke to the next, happy just to chat away with his audience, which is heavily skewed towards the stereotypical Radio 4 demographic of upper-middle aged and upper-middle class – as a quick show of hands for market-research purposes proves. This is a crowd for whom ‘Moneybox Live’ is a viable punchline.

Topical material is where he made his name, and tonight we have a few gentle jibes about the credit crunch, the doomsday warnings surrounding the Large Hadron Collider, and the folly of the war on terror (‘you can’t defeat an abstract noun’).

He does occasionally bare some satirical teeth, but on targets long gone. While Gordon Brown gets off relatively Scot-free, there’s a lovely line about Tony Blair’s failings compared to his predecessors; John Major is beautifully described (but in a gag Hamilton attributes to his one-time writing partner Nick Revell); while the most pointed barbs are aimed at Margaret Thatcher.

Satire isn’t the essence of the show, but a sop to fans who came to see him on the strength of The News Quiz… in the same way the new definitions to old words that he occasionally tosses out will please those who love that round on Clue.

Instead the topics – picked semi-randomly from a hat Hamilton passes personally around the audience – spark anecdotes: of the time he was nearly killed by a hippo in Africa, of encounters with strangers of trains, of his bad parenting skills. Each tale is tagged with a neat one-liner, but the stories themselves just bumble along pleasantly, rather than deliver a roller-coaster of laughs.

Alongside these, there’s some audience interaction as Hamilton persuades us to enact Armageddon. Then he recounts a couple of stories from the music hall that Roy Hudd told him, and shares a couple of admittedly hilarious gags that he’s heard around the place, one of which, about how to confuse a Daily Mail reader, certainly comes from a current circuit comic’s set.

He never passes these off as his own, but you wonder why a writer of his pedigree needs to do this at all – and why he hasn’t created a show with a greater sense of purpose. The material always gently enjoyable, and is sometimes better than that, but as a show, it’s rather too lightweight to satisfy.

Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
October 2, 2008

Review date: 1 Jan 2008
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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