Alex Horne: Wordwatching, Komedia, Brighton

Rewarding trip round the Horne
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The Independent Culture

Since 2003, when he was nominated for the Perrier newcomer award, Alex Horne has built himself quite a niche with his own brand of interactive, lecture-style, comedy shows.

Not content with the achievement, the 31-year old Cambridge classics graduate has sought to secure a further legacy by introducing a new word to the English language.

The quest to show us what words are worth and, more specifically, to get the word “honk” in the dictionary as a euphemism for money, as well its current onomatopoeic meanings, is the subject of his latest tour, a new book and a recent article in The Independent.

The live journey begins erratically and Horne is distracted at times, perhaps suffering from playing Komedia’s club room rather than its theatre space, the latter being more suited to the comic’s style. The segueways of the ginger Horne become protracted at times when the audience are over-eager to join in, but, when proceedings settle, Horne resumes his journey into “word-dom” (yes, two can play at this game, a fact Horne acknowledges by allowing audience suggestions for new words).

Other than the new usage for “honk”, Horne has a list of nine other words, phrases (including “mental safari” for a period of instability) and one rumour (about the height of a TV personality) but these endeavours often feel like the padding before the real odyssey culminates in a rapid sequence where Horne shows how he has managed to get some of his words in print, broadcast (most amusingly on Countdown where Horne was an able contestant) and what response he has had from the publishers of the main dictionaries.

Fortunately, the amiable performer is as able to shoehorn jokes into his show as much as he is his new words into the public domain, mostly cute wordplay such as noting that the arrival of his new baby meant that he had to buy “a baby alarm, for crying out loud”.

Though Horne’s hobbyhorse is something of a niche within a niche and, arguably, it is ultimately more entertaining for him than for us, he is charming and never smug about his endeavour. Sadly, it fails to absorb as much as it ought to despite some flourishes such as his manipulation of Wikipedia that both informs and amuses.

Horne’s own press material points to what might have been. In his press release, the story of how the word “quiz” passed into everyday usage is recounted. It’s an example of an engrossing fact that would have not gone amiss of used in the actual show, a show that has an ambitious premise without the overall vision to match.

Touring to 7 May (020 7598 7222)