Interview: Adam Hills

For the past 20 years or so Adam Hills has introduced his show with a little audience banter. Now the stand-up comic has decided to go completely off-script – and to chat his way through his entire performance. ABIGAIL SALTMARSH reports.

Adam Hills has always loved ad-libbing but audiences in Norwich are unlikely to have seen him chat to theatregoers for more than 15 minutes or so.

Now, however, he has decided to let fate steer him through his current tour and when he arrives at the Playhouse this weekend he promises two nights of sheer spontaneity.

'I decided to do this after I realised the beginning part of my shows, where I talked to the audience, was actually the best bit,' he said.

'So I started seeing how long I could keep the chatting up for and when I experimented at festivals in Australia and Edinburgh, I realised I could easily keep going for an hour or more – and just how much fun could be had with it too.'

Adam, who has built up quite a following in Norwich over the years, said from the moment he steps into the spotlight takes hold of the mic, the show could go in almost any direction.

'It is really whatever springs into my mind when I walk out,' he said. 'It depends on who I can see out there, and who I start talking to. I tend to look for someone who looks like fun and then we are off.'

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He admitted the free flow show does make him nervous but said the anxiety goes hand-in-hand with excitement.

'Doing this is a different kind of nervous to how I normally feel before a show. When you do a show to a script you have to keep it all in your head and you have to keep it fresh – that makes you nervous. With this tour I have to make sure I empty my head before I step out on stage, and it is great fun.'

If basing a whole show on audience interaction is quite a contemporary take on stand-up performance then Adam has dived even deeper into 21st century improvisation in his most recent shows by incorporating tweets, texts and blogs as well as chat.

During the interval, he will frequently post comments about his ongoing banter with the audience and then in the second half report back from his followers elsewhere in the world.

'In Colchester, I had a group of musicians who could not think of a name for their band. I tweeted about it and then we discussed the suggestions. It is bizarre when you have people in Germany, America and South Africa joining in during a show.'

Adam, who has a new DVD, Inflatable, coming out this Christmas, began performing as a stand-up comedian in 1989 at the age of 19.

Since 1997, he has produced 10 solo shows, which have toured internationally, and has performed at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the Melbourne International Comedy Festival and the Montreal Just for Laughs festival, earning three consecutive Perrier Award nominations for his Edinburgh shows in 2001, 2002 and 2003.

Best known down under for his role hosting the Australian ABC music trivia show Spicks and Specks, he also appears on television regularly in the UK on the likes of Live at the Apollo, Never Mind the Buzzcocks, Mock the Week and Ask Rhod Gilbert.

'I have been doing a chat show in Australia, which is based on this format, although it includes sections where I talk to guests too,' he explained. 'But I would love to do a whole show like this in the UK – on television or radio – I think it could be great fun and those watching would be able to see how a narrative evolves over time.'

In a series of shows in London at the beginning of the show, he said, one audience member declared she would like a date. The following night, Adam lined up three prospective boyfriends, and over the course of the run, the romantic story developed on a nightly basis.

'A similar thing happened in Norwich last time I was here – although that show was not entirely based on talking to the audience as this one will be,' he pointed out.

'One night we had some members of the band Kunk in, and they said they had not played a gig for a while. I suggested they turn up the following night to play in the bar and that people might like to come to see them play. They did turn up and it was a great evening.'

And he added: 'That is what is so exciting about the shows in Norwich this weekend too – almost anything could happen!'

n Adam Hills performs Mess Around at the Norwich Playhouse on October 8/9, �12, 01603 598598,