Sean Hughes: What I Meant To Say Was..., Gilded Balloon, Edinburgh

Still worth the trouble
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The Independent Culture

It is nearly 20 years since Sean Hughes won the Perrier Award in Edinburgh. At the time he was the award's youngest winner, aged 24. Now 43, the Irishman complains that he feels like the oldest living comedian. "The younger people in the audience will think this is a documentary," he warns, adding later, "I am the only comedian who could get Alzheimer's during a gig." As if to underline what passes for the show's theme, towards the end Hughes says: "This is probably the last time you will ever see me."

Woe is him indeed. The ravages of time have left the comedian baffled and he says it is this state of confusion that has kept him coming back to stand up. In terms of his show structure, confusion reigns further as topics appear and reappear. While this meandering isn't in itself an insurmountable problem, some of Hughes' material shows that his bemusement has affected his shtick too and prevented him from taking a fresh look at some aspects of life. "What's the deal with red carpets?" he asks in almost a moment of caricature; he could have asked the same question of his iffy riffs on telephone banking or the hoity-toity nature of champagne.

Still, all is not lost. The pressure is clearly off Hughes and this is a blessing as well as a curse for the show. The Irishman, who now sports a beard to hide the "fat face" he got from giving up smoking, is at his best when he decides to push his luck: "Michael Jackson? A paedophile died. That's really sad. He had so many drugs inside him he could have won the Tour de France."

Hughes does not spare himself his own cruel broadsides either. Upfront about his own shortcomings, he reckons that his best chance of marriage would be with an intruder or a homeless person and he says that he looks forward to the Jehovah's Witnesses calling as a cure for his loneliness.

Never asking us to feel sorry for him, he nevertheless does ask for more laughter. This in itself becomes a running joke with his Monday night crowd, a label he reinforces each time the laughter stops rolling. "Everyday is a Monday for me" he remarks as if seeing his own reflection in the lulls and wittingly or unwittingly paraphrasing one of his musical heroes Morrissey. It's not entirely a blue Monday in terms of mood and material, but there is a bittersweet edge to the evening for sure, making for a poignant experience for anyone who has followed Hughes' career and still pictures him in the bloom of youth. Or at least without the beard.

To 30 August (0131 622 6552)