The last time I remember seeing Lee Hurst was back in the late 90’s when he was one of the regular comedy panellist on the light-hearted BBC sports quiz “They Think It’s All Over”. Since then the show’s original team captains, Gary Lineker and David Gower, have become two of the most recognised TV ambassadors of their respective sports, while Hurst seemed to have disappeared from television entirely.
Rumours persisted on the Dark Internet that Gower and Lineker had sacrificed Hurst’s soul to Beelzebub to elevate themselves to become the Lords of television sporting punditry.
Untrue. Rather than spending the last two decades trapped in the ever-lasting Fires of Hades by dint of a Mephistophelian intrigue Lee Hurst had, in fact, decided to scale back his TV work to run his comedy venue, The Backyard Comedy Club in Bethnal Green (www.backyardbar.co.uk).
In 2010, while the club was being renovated, he took up touring again and last night his 9th tour – Comedy Show No. 9 – arrived at the Art Centre, Swindon. And I dragged myself out through the early stirrings of Storm Doris to reacquaint myself with Hurst and his work.
The show started with Northampton comic Andrew Bird performing warm-up duties. He very nearly put me off immediately by opening with the old “alright Swindon, what about them roundabouts, eh?” gambit. Bit lazy. I mean, we have pop-up brothels now, why discriminate against the pop-up brothels?
However, I rather warmed to him by the end of his 30 minute set. He coped well when his audience participation section was limited by two-thirds of the audience working at Nationwide – it turned out I was gate-crashing some sort of Building Society night out – and his material – once he got going – was conversational, self-depreciating, varied and funny.
And then Lee Hurst: Despite a recent history of ill health he remains the gangly, grinning and restless bundle of good-natured physical tics I remembered from his late-20th Century pomp. He also looked to be genuinely enjoying himself in front of a receptive audience and all the years compering at his club meant his material was delivered with an unforced assurance.
The comedian was match fit. But was the comedy?
Some of it I really enjoyed. Too much modern stand-up comedy is built artificially around a grandstanding theme that plods to a manufactured conclusion. There’s a lot to be enjoyed in free-wheeling story-telling where the comedian simply gives the audience 60 minutes of laughs before ending on their best material.
That said… I don’t know. I almost wish we’d had half an hour more of Andrew Bird and half an hour less of Lee Hurst. By the halfway point Hurst’s patter got a little tired. It was patchy. There were some wonderfully dark asides, but some of it was a bit old fashioned. I can imagine enjoying him far more as a comedy club compere, in bursts, rather than glutting on him as the headline act.
It’s a wonderful thing that the Dark Lords Lineker and Gower haven’t dispatched him to the Underworld. He’s an absolute professional, a master of his craft and I left the show with a lot of residual good will.
But am I glad it’s all over?
I am now.