Ricky 'Hitman' Hatton and Frank Bruno, Gordon Craig Theatre, Stevenage
Friday 11 July 2008
The news that Ricky Hatton was to try his hand at punchlines, rather than punches, seemed initially like some fancy footwork to sell tickets for a handful of after-dinner-style shows. However, I should not have had too many doubts about the tenacious Mancunian's ability with the witty riposte. After all, he once cut down his opponent Floyd Mayweather, in word if not in deed, when he said: "If there were such a thing as reincarnation, Floyd would want to come back as himself."
Whether as a comedian or as a world boxing champ, Hatton deserves better than this cavernous space. But the entertainment generated its own warmth, with "opening act" Frank Bruno, an apt reminder of where sport and showbiz meet, dealing one-liners like: "The taxman was my hardest opponent."
Hatton followed Bruno's agile, hearty performance by going straight for the jugular. Referring to the black curtains behind him, he opened: "The last time I saw curtains like this I was saying goodbye to my granddad." His traditional influences were clear – what you would expect from a man friendly with the late Bernard Manning and who hails from "the people's republic of Sardonia", a nickname for Manchester based on its unique brand of self-deprecating gallows humour.
Sporting a waistcoat and looking more snooker than out-of-the ring boxer, Hatton addressed those who have dubbed him "Ricky Fatton" by joking that his tailor told him he was a size mark-F: "one size up from a marquee". On Mike Tyson: "If you found him in bed with your missus, you'd tuck him in, wouldn't you?" The gag reminded me of the Trevor Griffiths play Comedians in which a character jokes: "My dad said that if he came home and found [the former Manchester City star] Colin Bell in bed with the old lady, he'd brew him a cup of tea."
Griffiths' play pointed the way to alternative comedy, but tonight Hatton showed that tradition was alive and well, in a leaner and seldom meaner form – though one off-colour joke about literally "taking his missus out" didn't get much of a laugh. Hatton may have a copy of Manning's joke book but I don't think he's reading from the same songsheet in the wider sense.
The evening inevitably progressed into a narrative of Hatton's career thus far. During one particularly frustrating bout, he tells us, his trainer advised him: "Wave your arms around a bit more. You never know – the draught might give him pneumonia." The career retrospective gives Hatton a personal touch to his stock jokes, something he would do well to develop if he's even semi-serious about a parallel career as a comedian.
Bournemouth International Centre tonight (014 256 74765)
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