Steve Hughes: Big Issues

Note: This review is from 2012

Review by Steve Bennett

For an outspoken spokesman for the non-compliant counter-culture, Steve Hughes can be remarkably mainstream.

He’s got routines about all those baffling coffee choices in Starbucks about those elaborate revolving toilet doors on intercity trains and about how Steve Irwin’s 2006 death was no surprise after a lifetime of poking dangerous animals. Hacky observational comedy of the simplest – and least interesting – kind.

Yet he is forgiven these weak points, partly because he does at least express them with a witty flourish of language, but mainly because they have little relevance to the bigger picture: a consistent and passionate comedy outlook driven by his distinctive convictions. Suspicion is the single defining trait – or paranoia, depending on where your sympathies lie.

And the bigger picture, as the show’s title suggests, is this grizzled Australian’s main concern. His material contains almost as many references to such global ideas such as the ‘corporate Satantic matrix’ or humanity’s ‘singular consciousness’ as there are C-bombs. Which is a lot.

His instinct – no, his compulsion – is to question authority, in whatever form it takes, from CCTV surveillance to health and safety. Sometimes you suspect he’s disputing orthodoxies just for the sake of it, but he’s of the opinion that apathy is the biggest threat to freedom, and is determined not to join a populace complicit in the erosion of their own rights.

Even if you don’t wholeheartedly agree with his worse-case-scenario outlook, Hughes is funnier, and more gentle, than the preachy politics might suggest. Well, for the bulk of the show at least -– in the closing third or so, he spends a lot of the comedy capital he’s acquired as he mounts his soapbox and pushes the message ahead of the jokes. Received wisdom is here dismissed with a derisory snort, rather than the piercing barbs which characterise his best routines.

Hughes’s fans will have heard some of this before; as it’s not only the same issues that have consumed him for the past decade or so, but some of the same routines, too. However newcomers to his work are in for a treat, and there is enough fresh writing for this not to be merely a ‘greatest hits’ tour on the back of a couple of high-profile telly gigs.

As well as his outsider politics, Hughes comes across as the ultimate road comic – the product of a life of hard, transient living that provides a vicarious fascination for the more buttoned-down component of his audience… which, compared to him, is pretty much everyone. But he’s charming with it, widening his appeal.

Hughes still has the earthy demeanour of the heavy metal guitarist he used to be. But with his stand-up he proves himself a skilful lyricist, too, able to condense his big ideas into a pithy, elegant punchline. One brief routine about privacy ends with the payoff ‘How come my house has more rights than I do?’ which is typically efficient and eloquent.

Kudos, too, to opening act Sully O’Sullivan – who didn’t push the boat out in terms of originality, and had a forced cadence that’s too obviously fake – but he got the job done with skilful audience banter, and some perfectly dropped punchlines that provided an appealing twist to routine set-ups.

It all makes for an entertaining night of subtle sedition – sticking it to The Man, but with a smile.

Review date: 5 Feb 2012
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Leicester Square Theatre

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