Harry Hill: Pedigree Fun! – Live Review – York Grand Opera House
By Roger Crow, October 2022
Oh my aching sides. I’m well aware that for the past hour or more I’ve been laughing. Belly laughs, chuckles, rib-ticklers. You name it, Harry Hill has flipped a switch at the Grand Opera House, and York’s great and good have jumped on his comedy train and happily gone along for the ride.
Converting that gloriously insane merriment into words is a little like trying to describe a dream. It made perfect sense at the time, but the morning after? Not so much.
So a little context. Like many of Harry’s fans, I’ve been following his career for decades. The late night Channel 4 shows which tried to capture some of that madness, but felt a little half baked and then the time he struck gold with TV Burp. That weekly ITV review was a perfect marriage of an age-old format and a blissfully surreal comedian poking fun at the most inane TV moments of the week. For a decade I watched every episode, and those catchphrases would become part of everyday speak. And when he did similar things on Sky and ITV (Alien Fun Capsule), nothing would make me laugh as long or as hard.
All of which brings us back to one rain-lashed night in York and that gig. The thing about Harry is he doesn’t seem to have aged a day in 20-plus years. The big collar, shiny head, specs and suit are such an iconic uniform that we feel we’re in safe hands from the minute he walks on stage. There’s no warm-up act, just a film involving Michael Parkinson, factory production, random words, and… well I’ll stop there as it clearly makes no sense but does a perfect job of setting the scene for what follows.
Harry bounds on stage and launches into a routine about the difference between ‘tray bakes’ and ‘tear and shares’. A routine… that goes on all night. Makes no sense on page, but on stage? It’s so infectious that I find myself yelling: “Tray bake!” long after the show has finished to a mate.
“Anything is possible”
Another running theme is about life in the 1970s, and it’s here that Harry gets rather dark, but still insanely funny. Oh, and visual gags about a baby elephant; having something in his shoe, or maybe his sock, and Gary (the son from his first marriage), who makes a noise like a dog chewing on a bone and comes out with a series of one-liners. Harry (or is it Gary?) fluffs one gag about an ark, which only adds to the comedy factor. There’s also stuff about a clown, inflatable packing bags from China, and songs beginning with certain letters.
When an ice cream walks onto the stage at half time, yes really, we all take a well-earned rest.
Okay, a lot of the above may have happened in the first or second half. It’s all a bit of a blur now. I do know it’s one of the best comedy gigs I’ve seen since this time last year when Tim Minchin played Blackpool. That involved an epic trek from Yorkshire in a hire car, so just going to York was an absolute dream by comparison.
On the subject of cars, Harry does a routine about a certain car-buying service and an alleged queue-jumper which had the audience in hysterics. It also involves a story which sounded like he’d quoted a whole chapter of the bible, and a process for calming down that involves five-minute rice, four-minute rice and so on.
By the time he wraps things up, the audience look a little bemused. Is he coming back? Is the show over? Did that just happen? Am I a tray bake or a tear and share? We eventually file out onto the rainy streets and some sort of normality returns.
What an extraordinary few days it’s been. Last week I saw Bob Dylan play Hull and this week Harry Hill played York. The only way things could have been more surreal is if they did a double act where Harry spent most of the night behind a piano and Bob paraded round the stage in a big-collared shirt singing about tray bakes. I’ve realised that just about anything is possible on stage, and also know that Hill is such a polarising comedian that not everyone will be on his wavelength (as my better half will testify). I do know that when Harry returns one day, I’ll be there, still debating whether I’m a nicely sliced selection of baked goods or a doughy commodity for dividing up between friends.
If laughter is the best medicine, Harry Hill has just given everyone at the GOH York an overdose. And thank heavens for that.