Steve Hughes ‘Big Issues’ tour, The Glee Club, Birmingham; March 28th 2012

 

Much hailed as a champion of sorts in the European metal community, Australian stand up comic Steve Hughes brought his brand of sharp, quick to the point comedy to Birmingham’s Glee Club on March 28th. However, while heavy metal is certainly a key part of the comedian’s identity (and thus routine), it tends to be overlooked how this is truly not the main, driving point of his act. There is always much more to a person than one asset of them on display, and the audience of the aforementioned night was treated to more than one side of Hughes as he shared his experiences as an Australian, music lover, colonial and occasional drug taker on a tour which looked at (and also bathed in) mocking the concept of political correctness.

Political correctness – or PC, as it’s often abbreviated – isn’t a new target for comedy; many stand ups prior to Steve Hughes and his supporting act Sully Sullivan have built their own careers and reputations out of saying what they want to crude, uncensored effect, even if it meant alienating much of their own audiences like with the case of Frankie Boyle.

This in turn seems to lead to two unofficial “camps” in regards to the issue of tearing PC values – those who get it right, and get applause for speaking “the truth”, and those who get it wrong, and are ironically criticised for being trashy and offensive.

In the case of Steve Hughes and Sully Sullivan, two men from Australia and New Zealand respectively; their material put them in the camp of Getting It Right as they used their positions as cultural onlookers in England to rip apart notions of what can or can’t be said in modern society. One constant theme throughout both sets that highlighted this was the topic of racism, as Sullivan and Hughes looked at it from a colonial Pacific angle: for Sullivan, it was how if you placed the word “fucking” in front of every word referring to an ethnic group (including your own), typically racist terms like “Paki” or “Kiwi” would lose their negative impact. For Hughes, it was how ideas of racial superiority were tied into the mentalities of people seen as living on “stolen land”, such as Israel, America, Canada and Australia to name a few.

This isn’t to say that racial politics and a colonial background were even the most important part of Steve Hughes’ ‘Big Issues’ tour – rather, they were really a side part to the comedian’s own routine when he discussed body image, crime (making direct reference at one point to the London Riots of 2011) and his own experiences as part of a musical subculture, where he mercilessly took jabs at heavily dressed goths in Melbourne din the summer as well as celebrity figures like Lady Gaga who in his eyes represented the corporate, insincere side of contemporary music along with the X-Factor. Dressed in a leather jacket and a black, Enya t-shirt, Hughes was another reminder to those in his audience unfamiliar with heavy metal music or its subgenres, that metalheads were of all different mindsets and intellects contrary to common public perception. Especially as a comedian who unofficially fell into the camp of Getting It Right in relation to political incorrectness as a stand up act, for his and Sully Sullivan’s interests in breaking down the barriers and constructs on what is considered offensive to some while inoffensive to others. As a whole, this is where Hughes himself is really the most comically effective, as his ability to rip into the subjects of his disdain makes his precise, sharp wit and key timing all the more relevant to his audiences.

 

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