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Best Foot Forward

by Adam Hills

January 9, 2019.Beth.1 Like.0 Comments

This review contains spoilers

Adam Hills says, “I once heard a theory that there are two types of Comedian- the ones who are naturally funny and the ones that funny things seem to happen too.” This book is an autobiography by Adam Hills, covering his early childhood growing up in a family that loved comedy, being a 19 year old kid at his first open mic stand up gig at the Comedy Store in Sydney all the way too his current gig hosting the show The Last Leg.

Adam Hills writes this book himself, and while it doesn’t have the same feel as his speaking voice, the tone is extremely Australian and completely genuine. Less funny then you would expect, it’s more like sitting down for a chat with an old friend then hearing a practiced routine. This is not to say it isn’t funny though, as there are many laugh out loud moments, and hysterical stories and characters within. Stories of growing up in the bush, playing rugby league, cricket and tennis with his brother and neighbours and listening to comedy tapes in long car rides seem strangely familiar, as if you were there with him, due to his comfortable prose. He discusses life growing up with a prosthetic foot, and how no one ever treated him differently because he never really acted differently. Even experiences the average person wouldn’t have had become regular and mundane, such as sitting in the prosthetics office waiting for his foot to be made, or slinging it over his shoulder and limping home after breaking it on a particularly hard rugby kick.

I admit I picked up this book because I wanted to hear about his leg. As someone with a disability, I love to read and watch others with disabilities, as if across page and screen we are sharing a nod of sympathetic comprehension of our shared experiences. Imagine my disappointment when Adam says on page 11 “ok, that is the last you’ll read about my foot for a while.” It comes to make sense though. He discusses his first, and last for thirteen years, show in which he jokes about his foot. After his gig, an older comic named Richard Carter came up and told him he shouldn’t talk about his leg, because he wasn’t good enough yet. His advice was to work out how to be funny first, because he currently wasn’t able to talk about his leg and make it count. His agent added that if he spoke about it now he would become known as the one-legged comedian who isn’t able to talk about anything else. 

Adam Hills is definitely more than just a one-legged comedian. And “making it count” is a theme seen throughout his anecdotes. After his first show at the Edinburgh Film Festival, a reviewer described his comedy style as “‘sun-drenched, celebratory humour” that left the audience ‘stumbling and smiling into the street, suffused with good will’”. This is a sentence that can describe his style still. This book is stuffed full of anecdotes showing that humour doesn’t always have to be shocking or offensive to land. Positivity can be powerful and, in many ways, more lasting.

This is not to say this book is full of sunshine and rainbows. Adam Hills touches on how hard the comic scene was for women, relating stories of female comedians and colleagues being harassed, sexually heckled and dismissed. At no point does he put these women down though, stating frequently and firmly how strong, funny and resilient these women are. He also discusses his father’s death from cancer. Previous stories highlight their close relationship and the huge impact he had on Adam, so his death is profound, heartbreaking and poignant.

Adam Hills has had a long and varied career which is enlightening for those of us who only know him from the Last Leg. He discusses all the various Stand Up gigs he had, meeting the Queen and, (a seemingly bigger deal), meeting the Muppets. He talks about his time hosting the show Spicks and Specks, and peppers the pages liberally with name drop after name drop, from Australian comedians to his (somewhat surprising) close friendship with Whoopi Goldberg.

The Paralympics are mentioned towards the end of the book, and while he says in the chapter “Para-dise” how at 12 he didn’t think of himself as disabled, he later states that “the next ten days were to be the most influential of my life…” The Paralympics were full of people his age, active and healthy, and “…missing the same bits”. The way he goes on to describe his experience is indeed celebratory and suffused in good-will. The experience is discussed both personally and professionally. Professionally he is amazed at the elite-ness of the sport, the skill of the swimmers and the speed and fluidity of the wheelchair athletes. Personally he is amazed at all the people who look just like him.

Four years later he is asked by Channel 4 in England to host a late night highlights show with a slight comedy angle, and so the Last Leg was born. When working out how the show would run, Adam and co-host Alex Brooker were having a chat backstage about their own experiences, and it was decided that was it. “What felt to me and Alex like a completely normal, yet joyous, conversation was to the casual observer a revelation about disability”. 

I would definitely recommend this book. It was a heart-warming, joyous read with surprising depth. Adam Hills is as charming on the page as off it, making for a completely enjoyable and entertaining few hours. I can’t wait to see what he does next.

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