DeAnne Smith’s Writerly Comedy


“I’m definitely not a musical comic,” DeAnne Smith assures me, but not with the kind of vehemence a President of the United States might employ to deny shagging an intern, nor even the type St Peter might use to thrice deny knowing Christ as a prologue to bitter weeping. It’s merely a statement of fact, provided because I seem to ‘recall’ – erroneously, it turns out – DeAnne being a musical comic. In my head, I picture her wielding a ukulele. It’s an image wedded to the first memory I have of the slight, svelte, well-dressed (collar and tie, sometimes even a jacket) androgynous pixie in glasses, performing in the line-up of Ali McGregor’s late night variety show at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival some years ago.

More recently, I’ve seen DeAnne at story-teller nights where the point has been to spin a narrative more than get laughs – although DeAnne does both rather readily. Point is, in my head, she started out as a musician whose between-song patter has grown to be the main feature. You know, like Billy Connolly – if you’ve been following him since his folkie days as a member of the Humblebums.

“I have only just started playing the ukulele this year,” DeAnne informs me. “I have literally three songs that I do. Maybe four. But it’s all so very new. I’ll probably play some songs in one-hour show, and if I’m doing a spot – like, say, half an hour, I’ll punctuate the performance with a song. But it’s not where I started, or where I’m coming from.”

Ah, now that’s the other thing I seem intent on being vague about: DeAnne’s origins. I’d almost certainly sign a statutory declaration stating my belief that she is Canadian, though very little supports that contention. In those more recent ‘story-telling’ gigs, she's told of having lived in Mexico - but that's not where she's from either.

So where did DeAnne Smith start? How did she start? Where is she coming from?

“I don’t know where I’m coming from,” DeAnne laughs. Stylistically, she says, her approach to comedy is “from a kind of ‘writerly’ place”. Geographically, however, she’s all over the place, having grown up – and studied – upstate New York.

“After university, I lived in Baltimore for about a year and a half, and worked at a publishing company and on a street outreach team,” she recalls, “which was kind of fun.” It’s more fun nowadays, when DeAnne’s out in the street, accosting passers-by in order to distribute pamphlets advertising her show – the fine art of ‘flyering’. “People say, ‘Wow that takes a lot of guts, approaching strangers to come to your show’,” she explains. “I used to approach strangers all the time on the streets of Baltimore, asking them if they needed condoms or clean needles. To give someone a flyer for a comedy show feels like nothing.”

DeAnne almost hit the stand-up stage in Baltimore. She got as far as going to an open-mic venue, but the night was cancelled:

“There weren’t enough people. I just never went back. I guess I didn’t have the guts or the desire. But it was something that had been in the back of my mind for a while.”

From Baltimore, Deanne “hopped to Mexico”, where she lived for the next five or six years. “I moved to Mexico for no real reason. I was just young and I wanted to do something different. I think I went for a bit of a lark, to do something different, and it was how my life became: I’d go to the beach, I’d teach English…”

While teaching English, DeAnne started writing humorous columns for online publications. And in time, she realised, “it would just be easier to get up and say this stuff, rather than taking so much care of my vocabulary choice and syntax.” Thus, when DeAnne Smith finally did start doing comedy, “it was definitely from a writing point of view than a performance point of view”.

DeAnne’s first foray into open-mic comedy didn’t come in Mexico, either, although she says that’s where she “got bit by the bug”. It began with a CD DeAnne’s girlfriend, an engingeer working on a project for Sirius Satellite Radio, burned for her, featuring comics and material from one of the station’s shows. She didn’t know DeAnne had any interest in comedy. Nor did DeAnne. “Listening to it awakened all this desire in me,” she explains. “It didn’t make me happy and relaxed, it made me feel jealous and angry. I could feel this clenching in myself: ‘I wanna do this. This is what I should be doing.’ So I did that.”

Not directly, mind. It still took another step before DeAnne got to the stage. “My girlfriend wanted to go to Mime School. In Montreal. There’s a mime school in Montreal!” (A very good one, it seems: l’Ecole de Mime, Montreal.) “I went, ‘Okay, I’ll go with you.’ Very whimsical. So basically I moved to Montreal to be with a mime.”

DeAnne also made study plans for her new life in Montreal. She applied, and was accepted, into a masters degree at a writing school. “I deferred the writing thing for a year and started doing stand-up at open mic rooms, and decided that’s what I wanted to do.”

Makes perfect sense, then, DeAnne Smith’s writerly approach to stand-up comedy. “So many people get into it with a theatre background or an acting background,” she says. “I just threw myself into it. I feel like I’ve been catching up with the performance aspect of things. But I think it works for me because I’m very much myself on stage – there’s not a lot of pretense there.”

The origins as a writer and the lack of pretense – along with the cute pixie androgyny – contribute to whatever it is that sets DeAnne apart. And something certainly does, stylistically. I just can't quite verbalise it. And although DeAnne agrees that something does, she can't - or won't - name it either. “That sort of thing is not for me to say. I don’t like to get involved. I probably should – I’d be better at promoting myself if I knew how to better articulate what I do and what I’m like…”

Probably better this way. Let other people - fans and critics - come up with descriptions. It's only when she finds one she likes that she should adopt it as her own, I tell her. “Good,” she agrees.


So back to that CD that inspired DeAnne to pursue stand-up in earnest. Who was on it? And were some of them – whisper it – a bit sh*t, in order to inspire the clenching response?

“That was part of it,” DeAnne confirms, unwilling to name the comics who seemed to solicit more approval from the audience than perhaps they deserved. “Hearing the audience’s response made me feel I oughta give it a try!”

One comic who did stand out for being brilliant was Maria Bamford. “She was amazing. I was like ‘Who is this person?’ I guess that was the immediate instigator to get me going. I started doing open mic and I never looked back.”

It wasn’t too long before DeAnne was visiting Australia for the first time – here for the 2008 comedy festival season. “It was fun. It went well and I met a lot of people. I wasn’t really thinking about making it an annual thing, but when all the deadlines for the 2009 festivals rolled around again, I realised I should come back again because I’d done a bit of groundwork. There was a tiny bit of buzz, so it would be silly to not come back the next year, and to come back in two years when everyone’s forgotten about me.”

It was when she was back in 2009 that DeAnne made her debut on Good News Week. “That was really good for me – it helped people know who I am.”

It’s also the reason we assume this American comic is Canadian.

When DeAnne first came to Australia and had to register for the Adelaide Fringe, she “didn’t know anything about anything”, she says. “George Bush was president and I hadn’t lived in the States in about eight years. I had to choose a ‘country of origin’ so I just put ‘Canada’ because that was where I started comedy and that’s where I lived.”

When she appeared on Good News Week, she would have been known as the comic from Montreal who had performed on the Australian festival circuit the year before. “They were talking to me a lot about Canada, and I just kind of went with it, and I regretted it – I lied to the nation! Unfortunately, my little lie has been reinforced because I meet a lot of people who say, ‘I know you were Canadian; you don’t seem like an American; those Americans…’ – and they start trash talking to me about America.”

Subsequently, DeAnne has spoken of her American origins on stage and on her website. Most people are hip. “I don’t pretend that I’m not from New York. But I hadn’t lived there for a while. During the George Bush years, I was like ‘I had nothing to do with that!’”

Currently, Montreal is still home to the comic, although she spends a lot of her year travelling, performing in Australia and the southern part of the United States. “I think the way I approach it is to make everywhere home, and any audience you’re performing for, that’s who you want to reach. I’ve been on Roadshow with Melbourne International Comedy Festival and played some really out-of-the-way rural towns and I’ve maybe looked out into the audience and thought, ‘Oh gosh, I’m not gonna connect with these people; we’ve nothing in common…’ and then go out there and do the show and everyone has a really great time. It’s hard to know where something will work better than somewhere else.”

There are, of course, subtle changes a seasoned comic can make to cater to different audiences. “If I’m in front of a rural crowd of middle-aged to older people,” DeAnne explains, “I might play up the ‘sweet, innocent’ angle a bit more just to get away with the things I want to say. And then, if I’m at the Feast Festival, in front of a group of lesbians, say, I might play up a slightly more aggressive or hard-edged angle. It’s just knowing what you can get away with in front of different crowds. It comes from experience and also instinct. You start to adjust onstage.”

Again, part of what helps DeAnne do that, is her image. People do assume she’s younger than she actually is. Which she readily acknowledges. She puts it down not just to her looks, but also to her spirit. “I have a brother and sister who are quite older than me – my brother is 11 years older than me and my sister is 7 years older. I had this revelation the other day: I’m in my 30s but I have this ‘kid sister’ energy. I keep waiting to outgrow it, but it just doesn’t happen.”

It might happen. In time. Perhaps it should have already. Perhaps that's why her next festival show is called About Freakin' Time. “It’s about time in general, and nerdy aspects like time travel, the concept of ‘forever’ and the passage of time, that sort of thing.”

If you haven't seen DeAnne Smith live yet, you really should this time round. It's About Freakin' Time.

Microphone adj

Adam Hills: Go You Big Red Fire Engine. Again.

Oh woe is me! Having had the utter joy of blowing all my savings (and a fair whack of those of other family members) at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival last year, I’m kind of distraught that I can’t be at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival this year. Despite this, it’s still nice to do the odd interview. However, as my only outlet is ABC NewsRadio at the moment, it’s a matter of choosing someone who’ll appeal to a demographic of adult professionals, who is available – while the studio’s being refurbished – for a face-to-face chat, with (until I can do this fulltime for money) flexibility. The choice came down to Charlie Pickering, late of Triple J, and Adam Hills, an ex-pat Aussie who tends to return from the UK come Festival time. Hillsy, who is presenting his new show Go You Big Red Fire Engine II, was the perfect choice.

Adam came and met me at Egg Records on a Saturday, and was as happy as a kid in a toyshop: marveling at the badges, the Japanese pressings of Kiss CDs in miniature album-replica sleeves, the other various collectible knick-knacks. Before we got down to business, I put on James Taylor’s first and self-titled album (released by Apple Records all those years ago), preceding it with a suitable lecture – (“note the song ‘Something in the Way She Moves’, the inspiration, as well as the first line, to George Harrison’s ‘Something’”) – to whet the man’s cultural appetite. Then I left him to listen, and browse, while I went about my business closing the shop.

We still couldn’t get down to the business of doing an interview until I’d played Adam a bit of the Grey Album (a remix of the Beatles’ so-called White Album and Jay-Z’s Black Album, perpetrated by one ‘Danger Mouse’) and a couple of tracks from Dsico that No-Talent Hack’s album of mash-ups, Booty of Choice. The interview itself flowed easily.

I’ve been accused of ‘liking’ the comic Adam Hills – by someone who has never actually gotten around to seeing him live, of course. See Adam Hills and tell me whether or not you also like him: Hills has a broad appeal without pandering to the lowest common denominator; he entertains whole families without being innocuous. His observations are mostly spot-on, and when they aren’t the generalisations lead to such good laughs that you don’t nitpick. That’s the most important thing, of course: Adam Hills is funny. This is not merely the best, but the only reason, really, to ‘like’ any comic.

This interview was broadcast on ABC NewsRadio on Saturday 27 March 2004 (the first weekend of the 2004 Melbourne International Comedy Festival, at which Adam Hills is performing his latest show, Go You Big Red Fire Engine II) and is podcast right here.

Soundbite: ‘Feed the World’ – Adam Hills (from the CD single Working Class Anthem)

I grew up in the 80s. I grew up in an era when you could take a positive message to the world. I grew up in Australia wearing a shirt that said, ‘Relax’. ‘Choose life’. ‘Don't worry, be happy’. I grew up in an era when you were told that you could not only ‘feed the world’, but you could ‘let them know it’s Christmas time’. And I have a slight theory as to why there's such a high percentage of obesity in America as compared to the rest of the world. I think it’s because in 1985, a group of English musicians got together and put out a song that told us to ‘feed the world’. And then a year later, a group of American singers told us, ‘we are the world!’

C Adam Hills

Demetrius Romeo: Adam, you’re one of several Australian comics who base their careers in the UK. Why is this?

ADAM HILLS: There’s just so much work over there. There are at least 120 different comedy nights in London alone and I’ve done four or five gigs a night in London. You turn up at the first venue, you go on stage, and as you walk on, the club owner calls a taxi. It arrives as you walk offstage, you get in the taxi, you go to your next venue, you arrive and the MC sees you and says, “right, I'm gonna do five minutes and put you straight on”.

Demetrius Romeo: So how does that compare to Australia?

ADAM HILLS: There isn’t really a comedy club circuit here. For someone who loves doing stand-up, which I do, to be able to work five or six nights a week and in those five or six nights, maybe do up to ten gigs... that’s why I’m there. I mean, you can spend two weeks doing club gigs in Sydney. You can actually spend three weeks now, and pretty much gig every night, but then you don’t do those clubs for another six months or something because the audiences see you doing the same gear. So basically, I come back now to do the Adelaide Fringe, the Melbourne Comedy Festival and then maybe three or four weeks of the year, touring around Australia.

Demetrius Romeo: Surely when you come back, you notice differences in the comedy industry. For example, at the moment there are more comedians and locally produced comedy shows on television than there have been for possibly a decade-and-a-half. Do you ever feel that you should have been here to get one of those gigs?

ADAM HILLS: [Laughs] Well, yeah, but to be fair, I’ve been offered a lot of those gigs as well. I’ve had a fair few offers to do various bits and pieces in Australia, one of which was, the host of a re-vamped version of Sale of the Century. Oh yes, I could have been the new Glenn Ridge. But also, with a lot of the other TV shows that are on at the moment, I was approached to be on a fair few, and I kind of went, “well, no, because then that just ties me to Australia”, and at that stage I was starting to get a bit of a career going in the UK. Now I just want global domination, basically.

Demetrius Romeo: Now, you do very well in the UK: for the last three years, you’ve been nominated for a Perrier Award at the Edinburgh Festival, which is for the best show of the Festival. Unfortunately, you haven’t quite cracked it – ‘always the bridesmaid, never the bride’. How do you feel about it?

ADAM HILLS: You know what, after being nominated twice, a lot of people in interviews said, “do you think you’ll be nominated for the third time?” and each time, my stock answer was, “You know what? I’d love to be nominated for the third time and still not win it ’cause I reckon that would be really funny”. And then when it actually happened, I thought, “you know what, I really shouldn’t have said that!”

The thing about being nominated for an award in something like the Edinburgh Festival is that suddenly there’s a lot of pressure on you; every night that I’ve been nominated, I’ve had a terrible show, just through nerves, and through the audience being weird but mainly through me. I’ve just panicked and walked out on stage and gone, “um, I’m supposed to be really funny… and now… I don’t know… ahhh” and just completely capitulated. I’ve since found out that every comic goes through that. It’s all par for the course. And to be nominated for anything three times is a pretty big compliment.

Demetrius Romeo: Okay. The hard question: would you prefer to be nominated a fourth time, or would you prefer that they just leave you alone next time?

ADAM HILLS: Oooh, that’s the big question, and I don’t know the answer to it. It’s a weird one.

Soundbite: ‘Oh Yeah’ [excerpt] – Adam Hills (from the album Go You Big Red Fire Engine)

You go anywhere in Australia and you ask an Aussie to do something, and he’ll do it. Doesn’t matter where you are. You go,
“Mate, you wanna go backpacking through Europe?”
“Oh yeah. Yeah, I’ll give it a shot.”
“Do you want to bungee jump off a bridge in New Zealand?”
“Yeah, that sounds all right.”
“Do you wanna fly a paraglider into Buckingham Palace?”
“Yeah! Come on! Let’s go!”
In fact, I reckon the Australian motto on the coat of arms should just say, “Australia – Oh Yeah!”
I think this positivity came about because we were sent there as convicts. White Australians were sent there as convicts. On the worst ships you could find. The whole way, there must have been blokes in manacles going [with English accent] “It’s gonna be horrible. It’s gonna be awful. I’m gonna hate it.” And then the boats docked at Bondi Beach. Every convict looked up and went, [in Aussie accent] “Oh yeah!” And a nation was born!

C Adam Hills

Demetrius Romeo: ‘Go you big red fire engine’ has been a catchphrase for you for a few years now. How did that all begin?

ADAM HILLS: I was doing this thing where I would get an audience member up on stage and turn them into a rock star, and get them to yell their name to the audience. The audience would yell it back and they’d get a big round of applause. I was playing a thirty-seat venue, so I was trying to get some energy into the room. And this guy, instead of yelling his name, told me that he was a fireman. And I said, “come up here and we’ll do the whole thing”, and when I said, “right, yell you're name”, for no reason he yelled, “Go, you big red fire engine!” And then the crowd yelled it back, and he kept going for five minutes and I just said, “that’s the most up-lifting and pointless thing I’ve seen in my whole life”. There's no reason for it, it’s completely stupid, and yet everyone in the room had a smile on their face. And I said, “that’s it; I’m gonna name my next show Go, You Big Red Fire Engine”, partly because in Edinburgh in 2000 I was long listed for the Perrier Award and I was getting really stressed out. I decided then that I was gonna call the next show Go, You Big Red Fire Engine because there’s no way that I could get that stressed about a show with a name that stupid. And then what happened was it was nominated for a Perrier Award. But then it became a catch-phrase. Natasha Stott Despoja yelled it in Parliament at one point when she was Leader of the Democrats, as my crowning achievement. And I was gonna leave it at that, but audience members kept coming up to me after the show saying, “we were hoping you were gonna say, ‘go, you big red fire engine!’ again. We really like it when you yell that”. And I just thought, I really have to reprise it because people seem to want me to say it. And being that it came about from a mad audience member, I figured that if audience members want me to say it again, I’ll say it again.

Demetrius Romeo: Now, that title also appears on a CD!

ADAM HILLS: Yes, yes, I released a CD version of the original show, Go You Big Red Fire Engine.

Demetrius Romeo: You’ve also had another CD, which was a fundraiser for the fire brigade. It was the Australian National Anthem done in a very particular way. Tell us a bit about that single.

ADAM HILLS: When I went to Edinburgh I had an idea to play around with the Australian National Anthem and I had seen a band in Sydney do… I think it was the music of ‘Stairway to Heaven’ and the lyrics of ‘Gilligan’s Island’. They combined the two, and that really stuck in my head. ‘Gilligan’s Island’ was playing around in my head and then I went, “what if you put ‘Advance Australia Fair’ in there?” And then came up with [sings ‘Advance Australia Fair’ to tune of the theme to Gilligan’s Island]

Australian’s all, let us rejoice
For we are young and free,
We’ve golden soil and wealth for toil,
Our home is girt by sea.
Our home is girt by sea.

And then I kind of played around with more. ‘Beverly Hillbillies’ worked as well. [sings ‘Advance Australia Fair’ to the tune of the theme to Beverly Hillbillies]. All of these started coming together and then they just rattled around in my head. I was actually in a shopping centre one day, listening to ‘Working Class Man’. As it was playing, over the top of the music I was just going [sings ‘Advance Australia Fair’ to the tune of ‘Working Class Man’] and started going, “Oh my God, it works for ‘Working Class Man’!”

Music: ‘Working Class Anthem’ (‘Advance Australia Fair’ to the tune of ‘Working Class Man’) - Adam Hills and the Comedy Brig-Aid (from the CD single)

ADAM HILLS: So then I got permission and put this single out with myself, the Scared Weird Little Guys, Mark Trevorrow, Paul McDermott, Libbi Gore, Tripod and then a whole chorus of people including Greg Fleet and Steady Eddie bangin’ it out like a ‘Band Aid’-type thing.

Music: ‘Working Class Anthem’

Demetrius Romeo: Adam, what can I say but ‘Go, you big red fire engine!’

ADAM HILLS: ‘Go, you big red fire engine!’ indeed.

Demetrius Romeo: Thanks very much.

ADAM HILLS: Pleasure.

Music: ‘Working Class Anthem’

Like to know a bit more about Adam Hills? Here's a bunch of other interviews – although, in hindsight, they really are three variations of the same story, more-or-less.

The following article originally appeared in the May 6 2002 issue of Revolver.

Burning Down the House: Adam Hills gives it up for the fireys.

Some time in the late ’60s, the Beach Boys’ in-house acid casualty and resident genius, Brian Wilson, chose to abandon the now legendary concept album Smile. Ever the perfectionist, Wilson had been ensconced in the studio recording infinite takes of various parts of songs, with the ‘Fire’ section of the so-called ‘Elements Suite’ proving particularly elusive. It was this section that broke him: a particularly intense recording session happened to coincide with a devastating blaze that destroyed a fair chunk of (depending which myth you choose to believe) either California, or his studio. Convinced that the Fire sessions had been responsible for invoking the flames, Wilson apparently aborted the album and binned the mastertapes, the odd song from sessions cropping up in simpler form on subsequent Beach Boys releases.

Aussie comic Adam Hills may be able to identify somewhat with Brian Wilson. On the night that he first unveiled his show Go You Big Red Fire Engine, Hills and his mates decided to adjourn for a couple of post-show bevies at a local watering hole known as Q Bar. They got there just in time to see it go up in flames. In fact, it was Adam and his mates who first spotted the fire. “We grabbed as many people as we could and went straight out the door,” he explains. “The whole place was evacuated and three people were taken to hospital with smoke inhalation. The building was completely gutted.”

Watching those big, red fire engines come and go was all too much of a coincidence, and Adam’s agent agreed. It turned out that Adam’s next gig, at the Fringe Bar, would most likely also be cancelled because that venue caught fire on the same night. “Two different clubs in one night,” Adam acknowledges, laughing off my suggestion of a ‘curse’. “It was only two; I don’t think it’s technically a ‘curse’ until there’s three.”

Ah, but there was a third. Well, almost. When Sydney’s Comedy Store relocated to Fox Studios, Adam Hills was acting as MC at its gala opening. He happened to be on stage when the smoke alarm went off. Thankfully, that time at least, it was a false alarm: a combination of too many cigarette smokers in the audience and not enough ventilation in the venue had set off the smoke alarms. So it doesn’t really count.

Despite the freakish coincidence of two fires, the show certainly went on for ‘Go You Big Red Fire Engine’: in addition to being recorded and released as a comedy CD, the show earned a Perrier Nomination for Adam at the 2001 Edinburgh Fringe Festival. As is the custom, nominated shows get to play at Her Majesty’s Theatre in London.

“That was about mid-October,” Adam explains, “so I decided to donate all funds from that performance to the New York Fire Department.” That should have dissipated any remnants of a curse.

But if it didn’t, Adam’s next project will. He has just recorded ‘Working Class Anthem’, a song consisting of the words of ‘Advance Australia Fair’ sung to the tune of Jimmy Barnes’s ‘Working Class Man’. It has been in Hills’s repertoire for a while and Adam has wanted to release it for almost as long, but has been unable to obtain permission to do so until now.

“When I got back to Australia this year, Triple M asked me to sing ‘Working Class Anthem’ at the Fire Fighters concert and I thought it’d be great if we could release the single for them. Without a word of a lie, that day I got the call saying, ‘guess what, we’ve got permission!’”

Joining Adam on the song is the Comedy Brig-Aid – a horde of comedians featuring, amongst its ranks, the likes of the Scared Weird Little Guys, Bob Downe, Paul McDermott and Tripod. In addition to the single being very funny, all proceeds will be donated to the Australian Fire Authority Council. “On a selfish note,” Adam admits, “I’d love a number one song. But on an altruistic note, I’d like it to raise lots of money.”

The following interview originally appeared in Revolver in the first week of February 2002.

Adam Hills’s Happy Feet

“At the risk of sounding cheesy, September 11 made me question what I do for a living and whether I really help people,” explains comedian Adam Hills. “Three days after the attacks I was gigging in Paris, and there was an American guy in the audience. I started to do some material about how Americans are an optimistic people, and that if any country could get through this it would be America. He laughed harder than anyone in the room and I realised that he really needed to laugh about America again. Since then I’ve been doing a lot of material about the ‘War on Terror’ and how it affects us all, especially ’cos I’ve been spending time in the UK. I was on a flight five weeks ago when someone stood up and yelled that there was a bomb on board and we were all going to die. He was bluffing, and was eventually offloaded, but it was very scary. The more I talk about that flight, and laugh about it, the less scary it becomes.”

Although he should be packing for his flight back to Australia, Adam has taken time out for an e-mail interview to discuss what, at this stage, will be his next show, tentatively entitled Happy Feet. It takes its name from a song that was popular during the Great Depression. “It was a very tough time, and yet some really up-lifting songs were written to buoy the spirits,” Adam explains. “In fact, entertainment was about the only business that improved during the ’30s. When people are down or scared, they want to laugh, and that’s where I come in.”

Adam Hills is not only one of the most optimistic, happy people you will ever meet, he is also quite possibly the ‘nicest’ comic this side of Michael Palin “I love comedy, and I love comics,” he insists when pressed. “We are a breed apart, and I think we should support each other whenever we can, ’cos it can be a harsh industry. But I’ve met so many brilliant and supportive people along the way that I don’t really know why I’m supposedly the ‘nice guy’ of comedy. I don’t mind it, as long as I’m also considered to be one of the funniest.”

Hills is one of the funniest. He is utterly and irrefutably hilarious, as his 2001 Edinburgh Festival show Go You Big Red Fire Engine proved: it received a Perrier nomination for ‘most outstanding up-and-coming stand-up comedy or comedy cabaret’. Not that this has changed Adam: such an accolade “does more for your self-belief” than anything else, he says. “You’re still only as good as your next gig, and an audience will heckle you regardless of what you’ve been nominated for.”

Despite a bunch of television offers that came after the nomination, Hills is adamantly dedicated to developing his stand-up rather than using it as a stepping-stone to other show-biz gigs. “I believe that stand-up is a legitimate art form,” he says. “Television can’t really capture it; there is something magical about the live experience”

A live CD, however, is not out of the question. For those who missed last year’s Australian run of Go You Big Red Fire Engine the show was recorded for posterity. “The idea of Go You Big Red Fire Engine is to take the phrase as far as I can, so if it makes it onto the charts I’ve achieved another goal. Plus, I grew up listening to Bill Cosby, Billy Connolly and Robin Williams albums, and I love the idea of being in the same category of the record store as them.”

Although, like everyone, Hills does have “a few ideas” for film and television, and even a book, kicking around in the back of his mind, he can’t “give away too many secrets” just yet. The next big project is a “major world tour” for later this year. After that, Adam is “very keen” to break into the US circuit. In short, he sums up his plan as “world domination, my friend, and nothing less!”

The following interview originally appeared in the 2 October 2000 issue of Revolver.

Dream a Little Dream

“I wanted to be doing something in Sydney during the Olympics,” nice-guy comic Adam Hills offers as the reason for his current spate of appearances on the Sydney comedy circuit. He claims that the week of Comedy Store gigs he recently completed was “partly an excuse to be here for the Olympics, and partly to enable me to do my little bit for Sydney.” That, of course, is only partly true. Following his success at the Edinburgh Festival last month, Adam is breaking out of his standard Sydney mode – serving as MC or the twenty-minute feature act – by road-testing an hour-long show he calls My Own Little World. If ever a successful Edinburgh act would go down a treat it would be this one; providing, as it does, a kind of international humour, it can’t help but appeal to a multicultural metropolis undergoing ‘welcome, valued guest’ mode as Sydney is at present. And if ever a traveled comic felt happy to be back home, it is Adam. After four months of international success, he returned triumphant to play his first gig – in a beer garden in Bundaberg – and was chuffed. Looking skyward from the stage of the partially covered garden and being able to see the Southern Cross, he says, forced “pangs of Australian nationalism” to flood over Hills. Aussie, Aussie, Aussie! And furthermore, oi, oi, oi!

Adam Hills has been dedicated to comedy for most of his life. As a kid, he listened to Bill Cosby and Billy Connolly albums while his mates were listening to music. A high school career as a debater, public speaker and valedictorian taught him that being able to make a speech that “purely existed just to be funny” constituted just about “the best feeling ever”. After beginning a journalism degree, Hills got wise to his true vocation after a mate dragged him down to the Comedy Store’s open mic night. “As soon as I saw that,” Adam confesses, “I thought, ‘oh yeah, I have to do this for the rest of my life’.” It wasn’t very long at all before he found himself writing gags for 2Day FM’s then-breakfast shift hosts, Wendy Harmer and Agro. A year and a bit later, Adam found himself heading interstate to host the breakfast shift on Adelaide’s equivalent of 2Day.

“I did that for four years,” Adam says, “until I decided I was sick of getting up at four o’clock in the morning and wanted to do stand-up again.” Adam is grateful to have made the discovery this early in his career that he doesn’t enjoy broadcasting as much as he does live stand-up. Adam thus differs from many other comics, for whom stand-up is merely the first step towards television or radio. “All I have to worry about,” he says, “is how to make a better show on stage, rather than ‘How am I gonna be more famous?’” As far as he’s concerned, the audience can tell when comics are doing stand-up “just as a step along the way” as opposed to doing it “for the art of stand-up”.

Does the fact that Hills has just returned from the Edinburgh Festival prove that he is interested in perfecting the art of stand-up? “My bank balance would reflect that,” Adam offers, laughing. “I’m certainly not doing it for the money.” The first time you go to Edinburgh, Adam claims, “you know that you’re going to lose a lot of money”. You look upon it as a business investment that “may pay off” some time down the track. It wasn’t until his third Edinburgh Festival that Adam broke even – which meant that, through contacts made and the work that followed thereafter, he finished that year ahead of the game. This recent visit, Adam’s fourth, was the best. Adam received five-star reviews and sell-out crowds, as well as the best comic training. “I ended up doing something like fifty-six shows in twenty-three days,” he says. “I learnt what you’d normally learn in a year of doing stand-up comedy.”

It’s not hard to see why Adam was so successful in Edinburgh. Not merely because of the universal appeal of My Own Little World, incorporating, as it does, national anthems and recognisable caricatures. Hills offers a distinctly happier world view than many fellow comics on the world stage. “A lot of comics are very cynical and very world-weary,” he observes. “If you’re watching that for an hour at the end of the day, it can be quite draining.” Adam’s own attitude is to have fun and to “play” with the audience. Besides, he says, when you’re doing shows in places like the Gold Coast, it’s hard to be grumpy on stage. “Everyone’s spent the day on the beach; imagine me walking out and going, ‘well, isn’t life shit!’ It just doesn’t sit right.” In Adam’s Own Little World, life is frequently filled with joyous song – each one a loving piss-take, of course.