Russell Hicks - From The Heart
Leicester Comedy Festival, February 2017
Small audiences can often create a special and intimate gig, as the performer has a wealth of self-effacing material ahead of them based on the very evident fact that hardly anyone has shown up to see them. What usually happens though, is that the comedian will persist with delivering their prepared material albeit adapting it to suit the room. This can be done quite skilfully by many, can still be highly amusing and it is probably all good experience for the performer just as long as it doesn't happen too often. Russell Hicks, however, throws that out of the window. In fact truth be told, he throws many of the conventions of comedy out of the window, and as a result has an inimitable style that had the entire (but small) audience roaring with laughter.
This is riffing at it's best. Often referred to as improv, Hicks bases almost his entire act on audience interaction. He has the natural charm required to get punters to divulge surprisingly personal details and the relaxed quick-wit to make that information into a story, parody or anecdote that entertains in a non-threatening and hilarious way. These days the term "improv" has been appropriated in comedy circles to some extent to mean a fast-paced way a performer can slot random audience suggestions around their prepared material in a clever way, but taken at its most literal level can simply mean that an entire show is improvised by a performer to incorporate whatever they find when they arrive on stage. In a full and easy hour Hicks only ever delved very lightly into existing material, and seemed to do so almost reluctantly as if he felt guilty at having too much fun bouncing on and off the audience and so should try to deliver at least some kind of narrative to his show in order to seem professional. He need not have made that concession as the audience shared a delight at his comedic intelligence and speed, their enjoyment perhaps tainted only by the knowledge that if the house were full this would probably be even better. As it was, it was brilliant.
Why then, had he failed to get an audience even in double-figures? Arguably a cold Sunday night in Leicester at a venue on a building site is not an ideal location for a gig. But there were other shows in very similar slots, and even gigs both immediately before and after this one at the same venue that at least had some bums on seats. And this is after all, right in the middle of the not-insignificant Leicester Comedy Festival. Perhaps it was, as he eluded to, just down to a lack of promotion on his part? But perhaps also, his own and very deliberate refusal to engage with Social Media backfires slightly as a massively missed obvious marketing channel? Whatever the reasons it seemed a shame that more people at the festival weren't able to enjoy this absolute comedy gem.