Review: Adam Hills, Clown Heart

While Clown Heart was at times poignant and very funny, there seemed to be a darker and ultimately more powerful show about life, death and tolerance lurking underneath.

Adam Hills is arguably Australia’s most popular stand-up comedian and while Clown Heart had its moments, it fell short of being the great show it occasionally hinted it could be. It took a while for Hills to actually begin performing material from Clown Heart to a near-full Festival Theatre. Energised by his return to an Adelaide stage (he lived and worked here for many years), Hills spent the first 20 to 30 minutes adlibbing his way though Adelaide-centric material and conversing with audience members. The talented Hills could have done this for the entire set and it would have been an entertaining (albeit light) night out, as he gave away FruChocs, sent a bottle of Sparkling Wine to a 28-year-old fan who has been catching his sets for 20 years (so, since the audience member was still in primary school) and riffed off the audience for some memorable moments. Hills thankfully broke Barry Humphries’ one publicity-seeking Cabaret Festival rule of no F-words (this rule is a touch ironic given this year’s Festival mantra is ‘there are no rules’), as he punctuated his show with some nicely timed curse words. The main messages to take away from Clown Heart is that we should be accepting of everyone and to laugh at death before it has the last laugh. Hills made these points with some moving anecdotes and acute observations. With the deaths of his father and father-in-law in the space of a year, Hills shared much personal information about his family life for some touching moments and laughs, to show that even this loveable good bloke hasn’t got the perfect home life. No one does. Clown Heart was at its best when Hills strayed into political territory. There was some timely material about Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers and the ridiculousness of Reclaim Australia and Pauline Hanson. It was pleasing to hear the nice man of comedy condemn this nasty side of Australia with cutting humour. The final part of the show delved into death and cancer. Hills shared some beautiful moments about entertaining his late father by making him laugh during his last days before introducing a man, Craig Coombes, who has terminal cancer and was given just six months to live but is still here years later. Coombes is bravely laughing in the face of death by getting naked every week for his Naked Tuesday campaign, as he wants to inspire people to “make the rest of your life, the best of your life”. Coombes was on stage to deliver some of his own material after Hills introduced him and told his story. Though at times moving, the final stanza could have been tighter to punctuate the powerful and the hilarious. But the crowd loved it, as a standing ovation accompanied Hills and Coombes as they walked from the stage to the foyer to collect for charity. While Clown Heart was at times poignant and very funny, there seemed to be a darker and ultimately more powerful show about life, death and tolerance lurking underneath. Still, as I walked out of the Festival Theatre, I couldn’t help but be a tad inspired by Hills and Coombes.

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