Arts: Comedy: A different box of frogs

Harry Hill Corn Exchange Cambridge
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KEN FORD, the hirsute man who models positions in The Joy of Sex, is wearing nothing but a pair of sky-blue shorts and a plastic policeman's helmet. To an adoring audience, he is performing complex dance steps while belting out the song, "24/7". It may sound like an outtake from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, but it is in fact a perfectly normal routine from Harry Hill's new live show.

Hill's is a bizarre parallel universe where the inhabitants speak fluent nonsense. It is populated by parading badgers and mythical creatures which are half-Channel 4 newsreader, half-Dr Who baddie, and go by the name of "Zeinab Badalek".

It's best not to analyse Hill too deeply. It is rather like Surrealist painting: the meaning is that it has no meaning. Surrender to his barrage of apparently random phrases, and it soon becomes mesmerising.

You may find yourself hooked by the elaborate series of "relay gags" he keeps coming back to. For instance, early in the show on the first night of his UK tour, Hill threw into the air the idea of Andrew Lloyd Webber experiencing nightmares after eating lots of cheese just before bed-time. Throughout his act, he returned repeatedly to juggle with this joke, which culmin- ated in the thought of "Bob Monkhouse scantily clad, singing a sea-shanty. Of course, that was one of the Lloyd Webber musicals that never made it past the nightmare stage."

Hill's other knack is to highlight the comic potential of the most ostensibly run-of-the-mill phrases. He got a round of applause when he suggested that his keyboardist's Yamaha was "a joint Christmas and birthday present". He has a canny awareness of the trivial things in life being the most important. It is deliberately daft, defiantly apolitical humour.

The one time Hill mentioned the Balkans war in passing, he hastily added: "I don't think we'll go there." Occasionally, a joke will be stretched beyond its natural life and test the devotion of the most loyal Hill-ista.

Comedians' attempts to be wacky often look like self-conscious, sub-Vic and Bob contrivances. But Hill's great achievement is to keep his lunacy fresh and surprising. What other comic would have thought of coming on stage dressed in a Welsh woman's national costume, riding an OAP's motorised tricycle and singing Catatonia's "Road Rage"?

So it's meant as a compliment when I say that Harry Hill is as mad as a box of frogs.

James Rampton

Bristol Colston Hall (0117-922 3686) tonight. UK tour continues until 6 June