Comedy

Harry Hill Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith
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The Independent Culture
Harry Hill could be managing director of Surrealists `R' Us. His show opened with a grainy home video of the five-year-old Hill in his back-garden befriending Elvis after removing a thorn from his foot. He builds Elvis a nest in the garden - he is not allowed inside - learns "the ways of Las Vegas" from him, and powers his house by linking a cable to the static electricity created by Elvis's polyester suit. You get the picture.

There are few things more tiresome than self-consciously "Look at me, aren't I clever?" wackiness, but Hill throws himself into his stream of silliness with such gusto that you can't help but like him for it. From the moment he ran on stage in an agent orange Cilla Black wig singing "Hawaii 5-0" to the tune of "Cockles and Mussels" and shouting out catchphrases willy-nilly ("Rose for the lady, sir?", "The last two jacket potatoes in the shop"), he captivated with craziness.

But like a synchronised swimming display, there is a lot going on under the surface. Wearing his trademark thick glasses, brothel-creepers, tight dark suit and white shirt with fly-away collars, he plants the seed of an idea and then several minutes later returns to reap it. "With those cereal variety packs," he mused mid-way through the evening, "you get two packets of Coco Pops. Where's the variety in that?" Not content to leave it at that, several minutes later Hill added, apropos of nothing he had just been saying, "I don't even like Coco Pops."

Even his one-liners have a chopped logic about them. "You don't see as many clowns as you used to," he reflected. "The thing is, with those big feet, they couldn't get away from predators." Rabbits get caught in the headlights of cars, he explained, because "they collect car registration numbers. They only ever collect one."

But he's not lost in his own weird world; he's alert to off-the-cuff opportunities for comedy, too. When a glass shattered at the back of the auditorium, he said, quick as a flash, "Ooh, contact lens. Don't get the hard ones, sir, get the soft ones." When there was solo applause for a routine, he quipped: "One person clapping is always a bit embarrassing - particularly after sex, I find." And he mocked an audience member slow on the uptake: "I wouldn't want to be on your side on The Krypton Factor."

The show tended to drag from time to time - we probably could have done without an elongated spoof of Quincy. But by the end, as he was musing on the efficacy of bee-pelts as pea-cosies, the only person in the venue not laughing was the inflatable Santa sitting atop an inflatable reindeer at the side of the stage.

n Harry Hill is at the Lyric Theatre, London, W6 (0181-741 2311) to 31 Dec

JAMES RAMPTON

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