Adam Hills – In Conversation

Britain and Australia have long since enjoyed a symbiotic relationship when creating stars as a result of sharing a similar underdog sense of identity. Since the 1950’s this unique coalition has been key to creating some of our greatest entertainers with everyone from Clive James and Barry Humphries to Kylie and Jason making the all important long distance connection with British entertainment. In terms of comedy, the Australian sense of humour shares many similarities with its British counterparts, sharing our comedy heritage in exchange for their invaluable contribution to our collective cultural identity. From Milligan and Python to Billy Connolly and Eddie Izzard, this geographic influence has been an integral part of our shared culture and has been a significant contributor in bringing together our two nations. Making his stand up debut in 1989, writer and comedian Adam Hills grew up on a splattering of British comedy which helped to form the foundation for a lifetime in entertainment.

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For over a decade, Hills climbed the ranks of the Australian comedy scene though there was one aspect about him that remained hidden. Born with a unique disability which meant his right foot was unable to develop resulted in the use of a prosthetic leg. This was something that Hills decided to keep under wraps both from the audience and the comedy community as he deemed it totally irrelevant. Indeed, throughout the nineties he never felt the need to disclose such an inconsequential aspect to his life. Yet in 2001 following the international security crisis triggered by September 11th, Hills was to have an embarrassing moment in airport customs when travelling to the UK when his leg triggered an alert. This resulted in a crowd of security guards hounding him, suspicious of his potential terrorist activity which made him think that this would be ideal comedy material. Suddenly he realised that it was ok to reference his disability as a device in his act which was a breakthrough..


Making his Edinburgh debut in 2001 when he was nominated for the prestigious Perrier Award was a natural right of passage for the all conquering comedian. Coming to Edinburgh from Australia where he had performed a plethora of sold out stand up tours, Hills was already a seasoned performer on the international circuit. Despite having an awareness of Edinburgh and its influence on the direction of European culture as a whole, being so far away means that Australian comedy isn’t so directly connected with the festival than its international counterparts. Narrowingly missing out on the award in 2001, it was the Edinburgh Fringe which cemented Hills’ love for the British sense of humour and encouraged him to return in the succeeding years. 


More inline with the American comedy scene, Hills attended the famous Just For Laughs festival in Montreal throughout the nineties becoming the first Australian comedian to perform here. In hindsight both Montreal and Edinburgh provided crucial platforms for Adam to cultivate his act and moved his career on to the next phase of his comedy journey.


His slow but steady progression through the Australian comedy fraternity had now earned him celebrity status and in 2005 Adam secured hosting duties on the comedy panel show Spicks and Specs alongside team captains Alan Brough and Myf Warhurst. As a performer, Adam has always found it easy to step into the compère role when called upon and is comfortable being the guy in the middle with administrative responsibilities. He compares hosting a panel show with arranging a dinner party: it’s your responsibility to ensure that all guests are welcome and having a good time, you control the pace and subject matter. This demands a particular set of skills which not all comics possess in the ability to present. Luckily Hills has always been an exemplary communicator which proved a benefit when cultivating his broadcasting style. Such a relaxed but authoritative tone made Spicks and Specs one of the most popular comedy shows in Australia and a reboot in 2018 cemented this. 


A soaring passion for sport brought on by keen interest in rugby league from a very young age has always followed Adam into almost everything he’s done. In 2008 he was selected to join part of the Australian broadcasting team at the Beijing Paralympic Games. Since Sydney in 2000 the attitude towards the Paralympics has changed and no longer were these athletes treated with patronising sympathy but sheer admiration for their sporting achievements. Yet in Beijing, Adam could see a change on the horizon as this generation of athletes didn’t just want to be on the same level as their able bodied counterparts but had the burning desire to surpass them. Never before had Paralympic sport been so confident of taking on the world and this appealed to Adam’s forthright attitude. Finally disability was slowly awakening from its social slumber and was happy to take centre stage.


When Channel Four won the exclusive rights to the 2012 Paralympic Games in London, it was met by a glowing sense of liberalism from the disabled community. Possibly with the exception of the late great Helen Rollason, the BBC had always provided conservative coverage of the Paralympics and despite using the same broadcasting team to preside over the action, it was difficult for it to be anything other than an anticlimax. Devoid of competitive passion, humility and more importantly light hearted banter, the corporation’s presentation seemed out of touch with society’s modern approach to diversity and disability. It was time for a modern approach to inclusion and together Channel Four and London 2012 aimed to bring the Paralympic Games bang up to date. This was the sporting event for the modern, inclusive, forward thinking age and athletes like Ellie Symonds, Johnnie Peacock and Lauren Steadman were proving that sporting heroes could come in every form.


A refreshing new approach to a national event required an irreverent nightly topical show to perfectly compliment the action. Channel Four are blessed with an unrivalled reputation for comedy and entertainment and therefore required a show to incorporate all of these elements. First broadcast on the opening night of the Paralympic Games, The Last Leg set to wrap up all the day’s biggest talking points with celebrity guests, music and chat all presented by Adam. With reporter Alex Brooker who had joined Channel Four as a researcher, he was right at the heart of the day’s action, reporting live from the Olympic Park. The first guest in the studio was the writer and comedian Josh Widdecombe who quickly developed a comedic rapport with Adam which was the perfect antidote to Brooker’s irreverent and outrageous take on the day’s sport. It very quickly became apparent that the chemistry between Adam and Alex was something very special which was only made better by the middle class tones of Widdecombe. This unlikely formula proved successful and it was only a matter of time before Josh and Alex became permanent fixtures.


The Last Leg was one of the most popular aspects of Channel Four’s Paralympic coverage and the dynamic trio added another dimension to proceedings which producers realised had the power to outgrow London 2012. Still in the age of the emergence of social media, the show was able to express political views in a way rarely seen on British television. For the first few years of The Last Leg, Hills was able to give passionate, honest rants about the biggest stories of the day which proved to be a big part of the show. Yet with the influx of keyboard warriors on Twitter, he soon realised that there was enough self righteous people ramming their opinions into the news feeds of the collective consciousness that it was no longer suitable for him to add to the discussion. Therefore for the past decade, Adam has attempted to remain impartial to the biggest issues happening around us just to reduce the constant divisive debate.


This intellectual, poised, authoritative tone has transformed Adam into one of Britain’s leading broadcasters which made him the perfect candidate to front Channel Four’s first ever charity telethon. Cancer remains one of the biggest killers in the UK and around the world but until 2012 had remained off the radar for a charity telethon. Regularly associated with the BBC juggernauts Children In Need and Comic Relief, it had been a long time since commercial television had attempted to create their own version of the British telethon but now thanks to the talents of the great Davina McCall and Dr Christian Jessop, Stand Up To Cancer was able to add to the influx of the television charity fundraiser. Having such a personal attachment to cancer research, Adam felt compelled to lend his face to such a worthwhile cause and has been involved with each and every campaign ever since. It was here that he realised the immense talent of Davina McCall as a consummate broadcaster and was able to learn alot from her onscreen presence. Finding the balance between emotional pleas and entertaining dialogue is a difficult balance to perfect and Adam remains in awe of Davinas’ broadcasting pedigree. All these elements have contributed to Stand Up To Cancer being an important date on the entertainment calendar and Adam feels proud to have contributed to such a worthwhile initiative. 


So whether he’s performing stand up, presiding over sports coverage or hosting a national entertainment extravaganza, Adam Hills remains one of the most versatile and enduring performers in British television. It is extremely rare to encounter a writer and comedian who remains in demand all over the world whilst maintaining popularity throughout. This is testament to both his formidable talent as a comedian and communicator and his passion to bring joy wherever he goes. It was a great pleasure to welcome the all conquering Adam Hills to Beyond The Title and with such an exciting and varied career behind him it will be fascinating to see what awaits the comedy maverick.