Most weekends, the line up at the Stand stays fixed from Thursday to Saturday in both the Edinburgh and Glasgow venues. But this week the Glasgow branch was closed for a private function on Saturday, and as Steve Hughes had been headlining there on the previous two nights, they switched him over to Edinburgh presumably rather than let him go elsewhere. As such, he took over top billing, and Joe Heenan, who had been doing a full spot on the other nights, switched over to MC duties.
It was a role he took to well. Very much a blokey type of comic, Heenan joshes good-naturedly with his audience with a big wide grin always fixed to his face. Audience interaction is maybe not his natural element, but he warmed everyone up nicely, and his daft suggestions for how to respond to the announcement of each new act was a winner. (My favourite was, “in the style of Christopher Walken.”)
Tall, curly haired, bespectacled and wearing a very natty suit, Nick Davies performed the opening act looking for all the world like a used car salesman. But appearances can be deceptive, and he quickly proved himself a very capable performer indeed. A Mancunian who has been living in Edinburgh for eight years, much of his material revolved around the differences between English and Scottish culture, and the strange Scots idioms that make it like speaking a foreign language. His routine about directions to Scottish locations was a particular hit.
Jim Park was less of a success, for me at least although he seemed to go down quite well. He performed deadpan humour very much in the style of Norman Lovett, with the same air of someone who had just wandered onto the stage accidentally and felt he might as well do something now he was there. But unlike Norm, who performs this kind of act effortlessly, with Park you could see his mind working the whole time and it just didn’t really come off.
Josh Howie is a Jewish comedian unashamedly inspired by Woody Allen, and it shows. Much of his material consists of the same sort of neurotic intellectual act that Allen made famous, but he has developed his own style around it and it suits him well. One slight problem is that, with his slightly bland looks, unlike say a David Baddiel or an Andy Zaltzman, he needs to announce his Jewishness before he can move on to Jewish based humour, which makes for a slightly awkward moment, but one he manages successfully to integrate into the act. He has good stage presence, and makes some brave choices in material, and I’d expect to see him around the circuit for a long time to come.
Attending one of Steve Hughes’ shows is always part comedy part educational experience. Hughes takes his audience through detailed explanations of the military-economic complex which shores up a world order controlled by a cabal of old money families who control governments and create the world in their own preferred image. But he never forgets to add a punchline. He’s got the look for it as well. With his long straggly hair, wild eyes and big scary grin he looks, for all the world, like he should be an old testament prophet of doom, rather than an Australian former heavy metal drummer.
But Hughes doesn’t do exclusively political material. He casts his eye far and wide over a whole range of subjects, from life in his native Australia, through why straight is the new gay, masturbation in hotel rooms and on to the X Factor, the last two not being all that different come to think of it. The strange thing being that, having seen Hughes several times over the last few years, the majority of the material was not new to me, and yet somehow he has the charisma and the character to make it feel fresh. He has a force of personality that seems to burst off the stage and infect everyone in the venue, and it is this quality that puts him among the most exciting comics working the circuit right now.