Bill Hicks, Slight Return, The Pleasance
Monday 30 August 2004
In life or death, Bill Hicks can do no wrong in my eyes, something I feel it's important to declare.
In life or death, Bill Hicks can do no wrong in my eyes, something I feel it's important to declare. I know that people tire of the clichéd comparisons that pit him against other comedians, and of the resurrection of his name at any given opportunity. Indeed, Chas Early, who has revived the iconic American comedian, repudiates this approach in Hicks's name.
Nevertheless, for those people like me - the converted - this is an absolutely must-see show and there are surely enough of us to pack The Pleasance Hut for the Edinburgh run. Before and after seeing the show, I was struck by how ambitious it is, but the love Early has for his subject carries it off. From the point of view of appearance, movement, facial expression, delivery and content, Slight Return is a triumph of mimicry, research and writing.
In the decade since Hicks's death there has been a wealth of material he would have got his teeth into: the Bush "election", the second Gulf War and the War on Terror, Gap kids watching Michael Moore movies and so on... Either by transposing the structure of previous routines on to these subjects or using the essence of Bill, Early conjures up something that doesn't take the name of his hero in vain (though he relies too much, perhaps, on Hicks's pornographic bent).
The full force of his act will never live up to seeing Hicks live, but remember: this is theatre, and the anticipation of the punchline is not the only factor at work here. In this comedy by proxy, there is another layer between the comedian/ actor and the audience.
The dual narrative is more obvious in Nick Grosso's Killing Paul McCartney. Jake Wood plays stand-up Tommy Kay, whose set takes place in the context of a night in the pub with Rosie, his flatmate, actress and sort-of girlfriend. The act, a scripted "stream-of-consciousness" journey with no real punchlines, soaks up real and fictitious audience interruptions, so you never quite know where you are. Why you are there falls into place when the routine turns to Paul McCartney's views on milk, or, more to the point, why it matters to us what celebrities say. Why do we listen to them? Why have we come to see Tommy? There is a tension between the respect commanded by the two entertainers, McCartney and Kay, which finally serves to underline the ephemeral nature of the majority of stand-up.
The playwright Grosso has been described as both Harold Pinter and Oscar Wilde on amphetamines. I would have added Samuel Beckett to the pot. As his character says: "People say to me you never get to the point, Tommy. The truth is there is no point."
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