Sporting a fresh haircut (gone are the long metal locks), a wiry frame and the obligatory heavy-metal ‘uniform’ of black jeans and black T-shirt, Steve Hughes takes to the Melbourne International Comedy Festival’s biggest stage with no more fanfare than a casual wave and a sip of water.
The Australian drummer-cum-comedian recently moved to the UK with great success, lapping up praise at the Edinburgh Fringe and on a solo UK tour.
He quit his day job as drummer for Sydney black metal band Nazxul to make the move and it has paid off, with his latest show — While It’s Still Legal — pulling one of the biggest crowds of the festival.
The leap from heavy metal to comedy is interesting, and gives Hughes much of his edge, and fans by the look of it, with a large chunk of the male audience members sporting long hair, goatees and their favourite black metal T-shirt. A joke about a burglar stealing everything but his 300 heavy metal CDs gets one of his biggest laughs.
But Spinal Tap it ain’t — there isn’t a tour story to be found in Hughes’ set. In fact, he seems keen to break away from his musical past towards the sort of topical and unashamedly political stand-up of George Carlin (who he references several times in his show).
It’s an approach that works, mostly. But unlike Carlin, or Henry Rollins, who made the leap from rock icon to spoken-word maestro seem effortless, Hughes’ material lacks originality and his reliance on targets such as mainstream media, the nanny state and technology make him a bit of an acquired taste.
But his delivery is right on the money and he has an endearing charisma that makes you listen even if you think you’ve heard this one before.
Hughes is able to straddle that line between serious and silly, first making us think, then laugh, often at the absurdities of everyday life. He has brains, charisma and the gift of the gab; he just needs to work on the content.