Adam Hills, King’s Theatre, 20th March 2016

So Glasgow has a comedy festival every year that I haven’t really ever taken advantage of. I watch stand-up shows a lot on tv, but haven’t really seen many live. Bill Bailey a good few years ago. Simon Amstell last year. I think that’s it.

I hadn’t actually looked into the programme this year, but I’ve been a fan of Adam Hills since I saw him on Mock the Week in about 2008 or 2009 I think, then followed his Last Leg programmes since the 2012 Paralympics. I didn’t even know he did much stand-up these days, but when I saw a Glasgow date as part of his tour / the Comedy Festival I thought it was about time I got out and experienced live comedy again.

The evening didn’t start well when I completely failed to find the car park nearest the theatre, ended up back on the motorway and had to wind my way back through A GAZILLION traffic lights to find another place to park, then leg it the whole way along Sauchiehall Street.  The ticket said it was a 7.30pm start, with a support act, so I figured it would be ok if I was a tiny bit late.  I got there bang on 7.30pm, rushed into my seat and Adam Hills appeared on the stage a moment later.  I thought he might be introducing the support, but it turned out there was no support and the show was starting.

Well I say the show was starting. I’m not sure the show ever started. Hills does a fair amount of audience interaction, invites contributions and plays around with that for a while at the beginning of his shows.  The Glasgow crowd were so involved, inspiring Hills to run away with himself and tell stories about previous visits to Glasgow, experiences of the Edinburgh festival, none of which seemed to be planned, but were hilarious none the less.  He kept saying, in fits of laughter, “the show hasn’t even started yet!” and trying to get going, but another comment would inspire another anecdote or story or joke and it would take off from there.

My favourite was the 71 year old lady in the front row, whose 67 year old self-proclaimed “toy boy” shared his home-made viagra alternative, to which she spryly started climbing on to the stage to whisper in Adam Hills ear, “and he’s a minister too!”. Hills almost ended himself, I thought he was going to hand her the mic to drop, and exit stage left as nothing could top that. She is my new hero, I want to be exactly her when I’m 71. Even better, I discovered afterwards they are both on Twitter. Heroes.

I’ve seen a few interviews with Adam Hills where they describe him as “the nicest man in comedy”. He can certainly claim that title based on last night, when he presented a group who had travelled all the way from Dingwall with a bottle of Prosecco for their efforts, checked that a couple who had tweeted about almost missing the show had actually made it, and checked that the wheelchair users in the restricted view area could see the screen before he played a video.  It was all sincere, genuine and somehow also funny. Especially him trying to establish where the hell Dingwall was and why for them it was a toss-up between his show and an open-top bus parade.

Crap photo but I didn’t want to hold my phone up during the show, tried to sneak a quick shot just as he returned after the interval

In the second half, after a good amount of time reading out audience tweets, which led to more stories, he was finally able to get on with the show proper.  That’s not to say all that preceded this wasn’t funny, it most definitely was. He is sharp and quick to respond to comments, is a natural story-teller, engages the audience even when addressing a particular person and he never let any of the contributors/hecklers dominate or take him off his topic too much. Each story was kind of related in a way that still made sense, or made a point. I genuinely smiled the whole way through, laughed out loud frequently and had tears running down my cheek on more than one occasion.

I hope he hadn’t prepared hours of scripted material because it seemed like he only got to perform a fraction of it, but what he did fit in was brilliant, well observed, energetic and at times edgy.

Anything that referenced The Last Leg got rapturous applause, I hadn’t realised it had gotten so mainstream. However we also managed to create a new catch-phrase, so that’s an acheivement.

At the end, which I won’t go into in case you see the show (and you should) he explained that at each show he collects for a local charity, and would be out in the foyer with a bucket in case anyone wanted to donate or say hello. Unfortunately the theatre staff tried to usher us all out the side exits, so a lot of people drifted away into the night without being able to donate. I sidled my way round the back, got shoved out a different side exit, but found a bunch of folk who were trying to get back in the front.  Turned out there was quite a crowd gathered trying to get back in, so I joined them.  It also turned out that Hills was meeting and greeting everyone, posing for photos etc.  So we waited patiently.


When it was my turn I asked him to sign my ticket (message is a reference to the finale of the show) and I managed to have a quick chat with him about disability jokes.  I explained where I worked (a university disability service, which he seemed genuinely interested in) and that were are being moved into an open-plan office with other teams, one of our first reactions was “shit, we won’t be able to make disability jokes any more!” Of course we don’t joke in a nasty way, but it’s that gallows humour thing, when you deal with a serious topic every day you have to have some kind of outlet. He said he understood, and that people would be shocked at some of the things they come out with in the Last Leg office. So I thanked him for making disability jokes ok.  He posed for a photo (again, the bathrobe  is due to the finale) and I shook his hand.  He thanked me for coming and waiting, I thought, no thank you for spending ages in a draughty foyer dressed only in a bathrobe, thousands of miles from home. He was so nice and sweet and awesome.

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I have GOT to get a better photo face

So it was a chaotic, crazy, hilarious night, I couldn’t even recount what half of the show was about, but if you get the chance to see him live, please do, it is bound to be an experience, and an extraordinarily good one at that.

Simon Amstell Citizen’s Theatre 18th March 2015

I can’t remember how I came to see it, but somewhere or other, it came to my attention that Simon Amstell was coming to Glasgow to play the Comedy Festival.  I used to watch Never Mind the Buzzcocks when Amstell presented.  Hell, I used to watch it BECAUSE he presented. He was funny, sharp and witty. I may have watched an episode or two of Grandma’s House but never really took to it. Then a year or so ago I saw a stand-up show of his on telly.  He was funny, sharp and witty. Very funny. As well as insightful, endearing and thought-provoking. That’s a lot of qualities for one person to convey.  So I was keen to see him in person.

Having persuaded my often-time partner in musical adventures, Susie, to come along we met up beforehand for a bite to eat and a much needed catch-up then headed down to the Citz. The Citizen’s is a beautiful theatre, but a tad out of the way. Nevertheless we boldly set out on a chilly March evening.  We were so glad to get into the warmth we headed straight to our seats.  We had pretty good seats at the back of the stalls. I didn’t think Amstell was that kind of comedian, but I would be very wary of taking seats right down the front of a show just in case.

I also wasn’t expecting a warm-up act, but that is what we got.  A Norwegian stand-up called Daniel Simonsen.  He was good, and funny, but I was bothered by his accent and couldn’t get over the thought that it was an exaggerated put-on heavy Norwegian accent. I have met many Norwegians, and visited Norway and have never met anyone who speaks English like that. Certainly not one who lives in England. Maybe it was part of his act? I don’t know. But I found it too distracting.  Probably not an issue for the majority of the audience.  He did get some proper laughs though, and served his purpose as a warm-up.

After a too-long break, Simon Amstell came on.  Whilst there was a little of his awkward on-screen persona, he was very comfortable on stage, immediately engaging with the audience, talking to the front row (actually telling one person to uncross their arms and cheer up, so definitely glad we weren’t there) and shouting back to people declaring their love for him.  He spoke to almost everyone who stood up and left for the loo/bar/whatever, asking what they were doing and building it into his stories. But none of it was rude, it was genuinely funny without making fun of anyone. Plenty other comedians could learn from this.

His show brought in usual themes that I’ve seen him cover before – social norms and their absurdity when scrutinised, his father’s enthusiastic Judaism, his own homosexuality and relationship difficulties and a fair amount of introspection.  But it wasn’t too dour or heavy on the shoe-gazing, it was properly laugh-out-loud funny throughout.  He retained the wittiness, sharpness and thoughtfulness that makes him so appealing.  He spoke so passionately about some issues – including his veganism that for a moment I thought, “Yes, that makes sense, we should all be vegan!” then I remembered that I was allergic to nuts and soya (and eggs, but that would be less of an issue here) so I’d pretty much have to be a fruitarian. I think even Amstell would think that was going too far.  He talked intelligently about feminism and people with autism (separately).

One of his messages was to live in the moment, not to let opportunities pass you by.  Amstell is the same age as me (35) and I definitely think there’s something about no longer being “young” but in no way being ready to be “middle aged” that makes you evaluate your life so far and start planning what to do with the all too short remainder.  It certainly chimed with me.

I had a great time, a good and much-need night out filled with laughter, but found myself thinking about what he said for the days afterwards.  I found the opportunity to put some of this into practice a couple of days later during my “wee dance class” as I usually call it. When I was off on maternity leave with baby no. 2 I took her and child no. 1 to a “Dance with Babies” class where mums put babies in slings and danced everything from Cha Cha Cha to Belly Dancing and Ballet.  It was enormous fun, and I didn’t mind being a complete novice dancer among others in a similar position, and anyway we had babies strapped to our chests which we could hide behind.  We have recently started going to “Dance with Toddlers” where the small ones gambol around our feet while we dance.  No hiding behind baby. No sling to hold in flabby post-baby tummies. And on Friday I was the only one there that wasn’t the instructor or the trainee-instructor.  Was it more embarrassing to admit I couldn’t handle it and leave, or stay and dance, effectively on my own? I stayed, and tried to bear Amstell’s advice in mind while shimmying and swaying and learning new Rock ‘n’ Roll steps.  I tried to live in the moment, let myself go with the flow, enjoy it and not feel self-conscious.  I think I succeeded. Life lessons from a stand-up.  Who knew?