Sean Hughes: Ducks & Other Mistakes I've Made

Note: This review is from 2010

Review by Steve Bennett

There’s plenty of thoughtful, reflective humour in Sean Hughes’s current show – but, my, does he make the audience work for it.

He performs with little apparent motivation, so unwilling to show any enthusiasm that whenever he threatens to build up any momentum, he dissipates it immediately with downbeat asides. Yet when the half-full auditorium respond in kind, he’s quick to bemoan the Thursday night audience’s sluggishness, complaining that he’s not getting the reaction he feels his material deserves. To which the answer always has to be: well, whose fault is that?

Such grumpiness is intended as playful – I think. His intent isn’t always clear, compared to someone like Stewart Lee, who may chide the audience for not being up to speed, but only as a way of sending up his own pomposity and pretentiousness. Hughes, however, only serves to make the atmosphere even more downbeat than before.

Perhaps it’s the unique circumstances of this show, which is Hughes’s first since his father died last week – although previous reviews suggest he has a penchant for prickliness which long predates that. He postulates that mentioning his bereavement so early in the show, and straight after a hard-edged gag about Israel, might have been what turned the mood, though actually his frankness about the death and his dad’s last few weeks, is touching and humanising. We are absorbed by it, even if it isn’t laugh-out-loud hilarious.

That is the tone for much of what follows as the introspective Hughes, who turned 45 the day before the gig, much to his weary chagrin, ponders the effects of aging on his looks and his sex life, his failure to form a meaningful long-term relationship, quitting smoking and other such concerns of the middle-aged. Some of this falls on to familiar ground for stand-ups of a certain vintage – rectal examinations are especially hack – but there’s a cantankerous charm beneath the low-energy complaining. However other insights, on topics ranging from snoring to Jesus, are more original, and he can certainly craft a well-judged phrase.

He also proves he can write ‘joke jokes’ with a nifty bit of wordplay here and there, but then he’s quick to distance himself from it, as if something as structured as a gag is beneath him – more Tim Vine territory, he points out. It’s another of his – successful – attempts to disrupt his own flow.

The audience, though quiet, are content to indulge him, even when he attempts to rile them with some provocative banter. If you weren’t already a fan, you might not cut him quite so much latitude, but a full 20 years after winning the Perrier, he’s been around long enough to earn it. Perhaps after such a time he, feels he’s nothing left to prove, so keeps himself on that knife-edge of losing the audience for his own challenge.

He never does lose them – at least not for more than a moment – but equally he doesn’t take the room on the sort of emotional comic ride of which you suspect he is more than capable… if it wasn’t for his own languor.

Review date: 13 Nov 2010
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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