Adam Hills

Aussie comic Adam Hills arrives with an edgy, feel-good show

God help anyone arriving late for Adam Hills’ gig at the Belfast Waterfront Studio. The Australian stand-up spends at least the first 25 minutes berating those taking their seats after 8pm. He demands the house lights are turned on. He runs around the intimate venue, singling out red-faced fans. Chris from Randalstown is humiliated in front of his partner. Daniel from Belfast is teased for sitting alone at the end of a row.

Running back down to the front, Hills drags three punters out of their seats. ‘One of them is auditioning for The X Factor…’ the funnyman quips, referring to the most presentable of the trio, a lad with emo hair and designer specs. Then, nodding towards his hoodie-wearing mates: ‘…and two of them have just broken into a car.’ The place erupts, the teenagers take it in good humour and the show is set to continue.

But, no! There’s a bloke in an Aussie rugby shirt in the second row. Hills darts over: ‘Are you from Australia?’ It turns out he isn’t, but his wife is – and not just that, she was born in Russia and is called Valeria. It’s a gift to the name-, accent- and identity-obsessed comedian, and he milks it for a good five minutes. Hills enquires if Valeria and her husband had ‘a traditional Russian-Australian-Northern Irish wedding’.

It is the 39-year-old comic’s ability to think on his feet – one of which is prosthetic, but more about that later – that makes him such an engaging entertainer. Best known in the UK for his appearances on Never Mind the Buzzcocks and Mock the Week, Hills is a ray of sunshine in a comedy scene often filled with darkness, spite and anger – all of which can, of course, be very funny in the appropriate hands.

Hills, though, prefers to – as the name of this show, Inflatable, suggests – make his audience feel good about themselves. That means joyous routines about hanging out backstage with Michael McIntyre, the unifying nature of Bon Jovi songs and the pleasures of a good poo. Hills also manages to push the envelope into some less expected areas, such as the subliminal racism of sign language, a Welsh farmer having sex with his cows, and a heroin addict dying of a blood-poisoned penis.

The 90-minute performance ends with an edgy bit about the Paralympics. The tale involves an armless, Chinese swimmer, whose butterfly stroke ‘looks more like a caterpillar’ and who repeatedly bashes his head off the edge of the pool. Clearly, Hills’ false foot enables him to get away with the kind of material that would see the likes of Jimmy Carr or Frankie Boyle blasted on the front page of the Daily Mail.

There’s no encore, but Hills’ decision to donate all of tonight’s t-shirt proceeds to a local branch of Women’s Aid ensures that everyone leaves the room feeling energised and inflated – just the way the breezy Aussie likes it.

Andrew Johnston