A PACKED Lerwick Legion was treated to over two hours of classy stand-up comedy with a strong dose of left-wing politics courtesy of BBC Radio 4 mainstay Jeremy Hardy on Tuesday night.
Hardy does everything a fine comedian should: witty, intelligent spiels tackling both substantive topics and more light-hearted matters, regularly drifting off on mildly surreal tangents, poking fun at friends and foes alike, and never short of a self-deprecating barb.
This was the last show of his first ever tour of the Highlands and Islands, and he mentioned several times just how much he’s enjoyed himself. There aren’t many places, the mild-mannered 53 year old noted, where you ask for the best place to see seals and the answer is “Tesco”.
Much of the first half of his set honed in on the manifest shortcomings of UK politicians – and not just obvious targets like George Osborne (who “wears the look of a man who’s soiled his trousers without anyone noticing”) and Nigel Farage (“a character in the way that it would be better if he was fictional”).
The Greens, who Hardy voted for in May’s election, didn’t escape his gaze. Why, he wondered, did they replace highly respected, well-known MP Caroline Lucas with an “unknown Australian amnesiac” in Natalie Bennett?
He rightly chided the mainstream media for constantly inviting climate change sceptics (“usually shrunken former chancellor Nigel Lawson”) to debate the issue with experts when there is consensus among 98 per cent of scientists that it is a manmade phenomenon.
While he identified the surge in SNP support as owing more to discontent with New Labour and the Tories than narrow nationalism, Hardy struggles to empathise with those filled with national pride.
He doesn’t even feel patriotic about the Streatham street he lives on, while he found doing his own family tree a crushing disappointment. Stretching back a full two centuries, the farthest his roots went beyond his native Hampshire was Norfolk.
There was one grouchy fella in the audience, perhaps a Ukipper, who cursed frequently for the first 20 minutes before – on his way to the exit – drunkenly slurring at our table that Hardy was “the unfunniest funny man ever”.
He was very much mistaken – as the overwhelmingly warm reception from most of the other 199 spectators testified.
In an era of runaway global capitalism that increasingly seems to treat humans as mere numbers in a spreadsheet, it can be easy to become despondent.
So, having spent yesterday writing about the savage effects the latest Osborne budget will have on Shetland’s most needy, Hardy proved the perfect tonic for this correspondent – and a timely reminder that lefties can have a sense of humour.
While informed throughout by his fairly orthodox, well-informed socialist values, Hardy’s set was by no means wall-to-wall politics.
Into the second half he expressed relief that (almost) everyone remained ensconced in their seats, especially given his usual demographic (“a harsh wind goes through a Radio 4 audience like a knife through butter during an interval”).
A passage deconstructing the vagaries and limitations of the British diet provided one of many highlights, and he even managed an original take on the obligatory rural joke about sheep.
Talking of a visit to Palestine and the hospitality of locals who insisted on feeding him copious quantities of lamb, he left the region feeling like he had “a whole sheep inside me – the opposite of what happens here”!
He tackled what Shetlanders refer to as “knappin”, the way in which he found himself talking Mockney to impress his car mechanic, and suggested that dogs probably speak a form of Afrikaans.
Hardy preferred the days when politicians addressed the nation with the words “Hello, cannon fodder…” rather than what we have now – upper class klutzes waxing about how the foolish masses should “chillax” about a few pesky cuts.
Among many other amusing asides was a routine about the humanist celebrant who conducted his mum’s funeral service – and turned up bearing a “borderline Showaddywaddy” outfit and the persona of a CBeebies presenter.
Any monologue tipping towards the two-and-a-half hour mark is probably a tad overlong, but it didn’t seem to bother the captivated crowd.
Hardy’s routine is a potent cocktail dressing up his persuasive message about making the world fairer in feel-good mirth making, and all the better for it.
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