With the ABC’s music trivia show Spicks and Specks calling it a day this month, Adam Hills is bringing with his Spicks and Specktacular farewell tour to Sydney and around the country. Andrew P Street quizzes one of our favourite stand-up comedians about saying goodbye, bizarre audience gifts, and his possible new career as a costumed vigilante.
Adam, looking back, how do you feel about Spicks and Specks ending? It’s been a pretty huge part of your life.
It’s weird to be over here in the UK at the moment. You know, I’ve got this completely different life as a stand up comic, and I’ve been doing some TV spots and I’ve been doing a lot of stand up and I think it won’t really hit me until I get back to Australia. By the end of the season of Gordon Street when I find myself going “Oh, OK, normally I would be doing Spicks and Specks now” – that’s when it’s going to hit me.
When I spoke to [Specks team leader] Myf Warhurst she said it had only just dawned on her that she didn’t have a job next year.
The good thing for me is I’ve always got stand-up. I never wanted to let that go. So for me I will just go back to doing stand up and keep doing Gordon Street [aka Adam Hills in Gordon Street Tonight] and keep coming over here to do stuff in the UK.
You were quite well-known prior to Specks, but this is what brought you into Australia’s lounge room. It turned you from “respected stand up comedian” to “Australia’s Sweetheart Adam Hills”.
It’s all kind of gone hand in hand. You know I kept doing stand up the whole way through while doing Spicks and Specks, but it wasn’t until the ABC put one of my comedy specials to air that all the people that watched Spicks and Specks watched that and I had so many friends go ‘Oh wow, we didn’t realise you were funny.’ [laughs] I mean, I’ve been doing stand-up for 15 years, how did you think I have gone that long without being funny?
I imagine that stand-up and hosting a show would be two very different skill sets.
That’s true. I may rip off one or two jokes per episode, but generally I am kind of a ringmaster. I guess it didn’t occur to people that I could do that for an hour and a half on stage. It wasn’t until they watched the special where they went “oh, hang on, he can do that without all the other guys around him.”
It’s odd to look at people like yourself or Stephen Fry on QI or Paul McDermott on Good News Week: people who are extremely adept comedians and yet whose job it is not to be funny.
It is, and one of the bigger things I learned from Paul McDermott was while the person on your left was having a chat and doing something funny he would always look over at you and give you a bit of a smile. Part of it was reassuring, but also part of it was looking over to go, “I know someone else is being funny, I’m just seeing if you have got anything you would like to add.” I always thought that was such a lovely thing to let everyone on the panel know “don’t worry, I know you’re here. If you’ve got something, that’s great, if haven’t don’t worry because there’s another person being funny right now.”
I imagine it would have been a good training ground for Gordon Street, which is much more of a one-on-one interview show.
Yeah, definitely. I think with Gordon Street, the one thing I had to learn from series one, was I had to learn to be a bit funnier.
The difference is on Specks one person is telling the story but there are another five up there on the panel, all of whom could chip in any moment. And on Gordon Street, it’s me and Hannah Gadsby over in the corner and maybe a couple of other people. There is actually more room for me on Gordon Street so I’ve got to learn to fill those gaps a little more. [laughs] Possibly I’ve become a bit complacent towards the end of Spicks because I knew that Alan [Brough] would always have something to chip in with or Myf would always get me out of a hole. There just aren’t as many people to dig me out of a hole on Gordon Street.
Your last few local stand-up shows have been mainly improvised on the night, but I imagine a Spicks and Specks live show is going to be a rather more epic undertaking?
We are putting in some big production numbers this year and there’s a lot of set design going into it. We’re having a full week of rehearsals and there’s going to be a director and a chorographer. So it’s a bit of a staged musical in a way. It will be very weird to go from touring around the UK doing an hour and 20 minutes every night on my own to then suddenly going to the Hordern Pavilion in Sydney which is something like 3,000 people and having Myf and Alan and a band and a whole touring crew with us. [laughs] Meanwhile I’m sitting alone in a hotel room in my underwear drinking whiskey that an audience member brought to the show a couple of nights ago.
That’s the sort of calibre of audience that you want to have.
True! For some reason when I started the tour in Portsmouth someone turned up with cupcakes with my face on them and the when I got to London, someone had baked a cake in the shape of a fire engine [Hills’ breakthrough show was titled Go You Big Red Fire Engine] and then another couple left a bottle of whiskey backstage. Another couple turned up with a full length adult monkey suit for no apparent reason. They just thought I’d like it. [laughs] My audience is nothing if not generous.
What do you think you’ll miss the most about Spicks and Specks?
You know, what I think I will miss the most which – and thankfully it’s the kind of thing I can do without Spicks and Specks – is hang out with Alan and Myf. We genuinely love each other and we have a ball together. We have to make an effort to make sure we catch up because there is something special about the three of us sitting around a table bouncing off each other, and that’s the one thing I would miss.
Well, if you’re looking for a new project to do together, and now that you’ve got a monkey costume, maybe its time for the three of you to move from panel variety shows into becoming a crime-fighting team?
[laughs] I don’t think people realise how funny Alan is and I don’t think they realise how funny Myf is either because on Spicks and Specks we always have the format that we have to come back to, but when we are bouncing, I am generally the least funny of the three. I just simply watch Alan and Myf, just cacking myself. So yeah, a crime fighting team could be great!
Spicks and Specks ABC1, Wed 8.30pm until 23 Nov. Spicks and Specktacular Hordern Pavilion, 1 Driver Ave, Moore Park 2021. 15–18 Nov.