Adam Hills has a new DVD coming out. We thought we'd catch up with him...
Hi Adam. How's it going? We're speaking on a Friday morning, so presumably you're preparing for tonight's episode of The Last Leg?
Yeah, it's a weird day. I usually get picked up at home at 11:30 so I'm at the studios by half 12, so in the mornings I get to have bit of a sleep in. I try and take it easy. I just watch a bit of news and normally go the gym, because then I'm at work for 12 hours...
We have a meeting, and then we have time to write, and then a rehearsal, and then I have to get the script in to the autocue by 8:30pm... so that's my first stress of the day. And then my second stress is actually doing the show at 10pm.
Do you think about the fact you're going out live to the nation?
I'm aware we're going out live, but that's what makes it better, in a way. In that, as a stand-up comic who's used to performing in front of people live, I prefer knowing that my audience are hearing what I'm saying as I'm saying it.
It also makes you kind of 'edit' as you go. If you're doing a pre-recorded show, it might takes two and a half hours to film because you say stuff that you think "I don't know if this is going anywhere, but let's give it a crack", but when it's live every time you think of something funny you instantly go "Is this worth putting out live? If it's not, I'm going to move on."
The thing about live TV is it's a struggle to look relaxed because, most of the time, I've got a producer in my ear giving me a count to the next ad break, or telling me to bring someone else into the conversation, or to move on to the next topic. So there's about five different things going on at once. I'm looking at the autocue to work out what's coming next; I'm listening to the guests; I've got a producer talking in my ear; and there's a live audience all around us that has to be entertained at the same time. And there's an audience of one and a half million at home that need to be entertained too. I'm kind of a slave to about five different masters.
As you say, The Last Leg is seen by millions. Have you ever tried to visualise an audience that size?
No. I used to work in radio very early on, and one of the DJs I worked with would always say "Good morning, listener". He'd always say it as one person. I always thought it was a joke, that he was almost saying "I've only got one listener." He said, "No, people listen to the radio on their own. Don't say 'Hey, Adelaide, how's it going?', because all of Adelaide aren't listening. It's just one person, in a room, or in their car, listening to you." So, I always think that; when I'm on TV, my audience isn't one and a half million, my audience is actually, maybe, two or three people sitting in front of the TV.
In recent years The Last Leg has had to tackle some horrific news stories - they can't be avoided?
I feel a huge responsibility on weeks like that, because say for instance after the Manchester Arena bombing, or the Westminster attacks, there's a huge responsibility to succinctly, in a minute and 30 seconds, or even over five minutes, make a good point but still be an entertainment show.
I feel an enormous responsibility when something like that happens. It gets your nerves jangling. It certainly gets you on edge.
We think you've got it spot on every time so far.
Oh, thank you. You know, it's been weird, for probably couple of months now the news has not been quite so horrific, for Great Britain anyway, and it's been weird going back to just a 'normal news week'. We're going 'How do we cover this when we don't have to be serious or responsible, and we don't have to make a salient, social point?' It took us a couple of weeks to go, "Oh, we just be funny!"
It's partly contractual. I'm contracted to Channel 4, so I stick with Channel 4. I've been asked to do Cats Does Countdown a couple of times and 8 Out Of 10 Cats. But it's mainly because The Last Leg just takes up so much of my time... We all work Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, but I also do work on a Tuesday, and - between doing that and doing stand-up - I just genuinely don't have time to film anything else.
It would be quite nice to do another panel show and not have to be the guy who's driving the whole thing. I kind of like being the host though, because, in a weird way, where you're the guy in charge, it takes the pressure off, because everything you say doesn't have to be funny. Whereas, sometimes I find if I'm on a panel, every time I open my mouth the audience are like 'Oh, he's going to make a joke.' Whereas, when you're the host of the show, sometimes you're just moving along to the next item... so it kind of takes the pressure off a little bit.
As you say, you still perform live regularly. Next up for you is a charity gig for Scope on Monday?
At the moment, what I'm finding really lovely is, because I've not got a tour in the offing, is I can do these kinds of things. There's always a charity gig that I'm asked to do and, often, I can't, because I'm just so busy. For the next few months I think I've got a charity show once a week, which is really lovely.
Scope, in particular, I've done a lot of work with. They've been amazing. I was the Milk Tray man in one of their Milk Tray man ads a couple of years back. I've hosted functions for them before, so the idea of hosting a comedy night was an easy 'yes'. It's a really good line-up of people too.
What I love about Scope is that, on the personal side, they work with people, and I know people that they've worked with and helped immeasurably. Then, on the social side, on the political side, you'll often see them quoted in articles about the effects of disability benefits cuts, or the like, so they're really socially active, as well as being personally helpful for people.
Your new DVD is titled Clown Heart. What does that refer to?
The real point of the whole show is just the idea of laughing in the face of death; that death is always going to get the last laugh, and our job here on the planet is to get laughs in first.
The 'clown heart' story came about because my father and my father-in-law both passed away a year to the day after each other, and I had to explain their deaths to my four year-old daughter in the bath. She asked if she was going to die and if I was going to die, and I said, "Yes". She responded: "I don't want to die, Daddy, because I like my new soap!" The girl was tortured.
A friend of mine, who is a professional clown, once saw me do stand-up and said I had a 'clown heart', which was the greatest compliment ever. So I said to my daughter, "Well, how about I'll live as long as I can, you live as long as you can, and let's just be clown hearts while we're here?"
That, in a nutshell, is the entire point of the show: that we're only here for a short time. And it all came about because of my father's passing. He had leukaemia and, right till the end, we tried to make him laugh as often as possible. When the doctor got to the point where he realised there was nothing more he could do, I realised that I could still make him [my dad] laugh, and that, to me, was really important.
So, that's the point of the show, and it's about raising kids, it's about teaching them about death, it's about laughing in the face of death.
It also involved a guy that I'd met in Australia, who had leukaemia, and his way of dealing with it was getting nude. He'd post nude photos of himself online, and call it Naked Tuesdays. So I got involved with him in the show. He was an audience member originally, and then he became part of the show as well.
It's a great ending on the DVD...
That ending was really lovely. I think I did the show 84 times, and you just hope that the night that it's filmed it all comes off. There was a really lovely spontaneous moment at the end of it all which wasn't planned, which couldn't have gone any better, so, yeah, it all came together really nicely on that night.
The same goes for the ad libbing. I probably spend 10, 15, 20 minutes at the beginning of every show chatting with the audience. Every night it's different and some nights it doesn't go as well as other nights, so you just hope that the night that the DVD is filmed, something happens there as well.
Well, as is shown on the DVD, on the night of the filming there was a woman from Serbia in the audience who had got a visa just so she could come and see you. That's amazing!
Remarkable. What's weird is that, when I'm on stage, at that point I'm thinking "Right, I'm filming the DVD. I'm doing a show. I've got to remember the rest of the show..." but you really just want to stop, and just give her a hug, and go "Oh, my...!" I just wanted to stop and almost have a little cry, and go, "That's so lovely. I'm more touched than I can possibly explain."
You sometimes have a sign language interpreter on stage with you. Do you have any sense of how many people in the audience are actually using her to understand what you're saying?
Having a sign interpreter poses certain problems for a venue that seats 3,500 people [the Apollo], because there needs to be a designated area set aside for the deaf people, otherwise they could be right up the back. The problem is some people book tickets because they've got a deaf relative and they know there's going to be a sign interpreter for them, but if they don't tell the venue ahead of time so they just get normal tickets; they could be in the back row. It's way too far away to see the signer.
The night of that DVD recording the deaf people in the audience were a bit spread out. Some of them were in front of her, and some of them were up on the upper deck and couldn't really see her very well. I ended up doing two nights at the Leicester Square Theatre with the sign interpreter again, purely so deaf people could come and see the show, because they struggled with it on that night.
How much time are you spending in the UK nowadays Adam? It sounds like you're here a lot?
It has been 50/50 [between the UK and Australia], but, a couple of months ago I got an 'Exceptional Talent' visa, which means we can now be here for the next five years full time, so it's given me more time to spend in the UK, so my daughters' accents are getting more and more English!
Do you think you're going to start 'turning British' now too?
Well, it depends who I'm talking to. I'm going to Ireland for the weekend, and I lived in Dublin for a couple of years, so there are still so many Irish-isms that pop into my conversation on a daily basis. I still say, "Thanks a million", I still call things "grand". But then if I spend time with my manger over here, who's got a proper cockney accent, I end up talking a little bit like that for a while... so I'm a bit of a chameleon, or a lyrebird, to put in an Australian term. A lyrebird just copies all the other birds, and that's what I end up doing. I'll just need to keep travelling, so that I can brush up on all my accents!