Adam Hills jogged onto stage and brought an immediate, exuberant atmosphere to Assembly Hall. Within moments he had an audience member up on stage with him for a chat and had appointed another gentleman sitting in the front row to be his time keeper, since he didn’t have a watch with him. The largely Scottish audience took great joy in his riffs on Edinburgh and watching Hills learn how to say ‘Gonnae no dae that.’ ‘I just love having a chat,’ he admitted at one point, seemingly apologising for the ten minutes of off-the-cuff, brilliant comedy he’d just put on. I’m sure everyone would have been perfectly happy to chat for the whole hour, but there was an even better set waiting for us.
Happyism is far more than ‘just a chat’. It’s a show of many subtleties and gentle shifts in tone; a long joke about reclaiming words turns into a deconstruction of Australian (and British) attitudes to racism, before being turned in on itself and on Hills as he critiques his own approach to comedy. Though it may seem as though it is only Hills’ gleeful personality that is driving the show towards its fantastic conclusion, the truth is that an incredibly sophisticated and thought-provoking structure underlies the whole thing.
But enough of the deep stuff. The real point to make is that no stand-up has ever made me laugh with such inhibition. Happyism isn’t just the show’s title but its make-up too – Hills is happy, the audience are happy, even the lights occasionally explode in joy (something Hills worked into his show with aplomb). He showcases a range of talents beyond pure conviviality – his knack for accents is uncanny, his audience interaction second to none. He makes material on the Australian elections completely relatable and utterly engrossing, even when discussing fairly niche news stories.
When Hills drew close to the 50 minute mark and asked his audience-friend for the time, the man refused to tell him in the hopes of letting the show run longer, voicing the wishes of the audience. No doubt to my shame (the office will never let me live it down) there were tears in my eyes when he announced he was starting to wrap up. All I could think was, ‘Gonnae no dae that’.
Yet even there Hills subverts and exceeds expectations, with an adieu that combines the mirthful with the meaningful. He makes us happy.