Harry Hill: On Bristol's annual Slapstick Festival
15 January 2014
By Louis Emanuel
LOOKING at his more than colourful body of work over the years, Harry Hill appears to be one of modern comedy's most effortless physical comics. Whether its dancing with badgers, wrestling with giant sausages or taking a face-load of green projectile vomit from a pet hamster, Harry exerts a rare sort of physical energy.
But, he insists to me as he settles down to discuss his trip to Bristol at the end of the month, physical comedy is one of his great struggles in writing and producing.
"It is without a shadow of a doubt the hardest form to master," he says, ahead of his appearance at the 10th annual Slapstick Festival 2014 in Bristol at the end of this month.
"Obviously I love it, but what a lot of people don't realise is it's one of the most difficult types of comedy to get right.
"You never know how people will react to it until you get out there and perform it for the first time.
"For this reason, I often think it doesn't get the kind of appreciation it deserves."
And appreciation of physical comedy is what it is all about at the three-day Slapstick festival where he will have a chance to pay tribute to those who have influenced him.
On January 26 at the Bristol Old Vic, Harry will be looking back at key players in the constantly-evolving world of physical comedy at a Sunday night talk named Harry Hill's Top Comedy Moments.
For the event he will be sitting down – a little out of his comedy comfort zone – to field questions about his biggest slapstick and physical comedy influences.
"There's going to be a mix of everything in there," he explains. "Obviously Laurel and Hardy were a big influence on me and still are, but I will also be turning to the modern masters of physical comedy – Vic and Bob."
Asked if physical comedy is on the wane, Harry is quick to point out how good physical comedy has never been lost, but its popularity depends on the acts of the day.
People like Morecambe and Wise merely laid the foundation, in his mind, for what are considered more obscure acts today watched by his children, aged 16, 15 and nine.
"I think physical comedy is actually making a comeback at the moment," he says. "I was talking to Matt Lucas the other day who told me he is working on a silent half-hour sketch based around characters.
"Then you look at Vic and Bob's new show which has just started too – it is simple but effective physical stuff.
"And it will always keep going because it's funny – and that's the bottom line. Of course, it comes in and out of fashion, but when it's executed well, there's something so pleasing about it."
For Harry, the Slapstick festival is a chance to share some of his enthusiasm with fellow comics appearing over the weekend, like good friend Tim Vine. But it is also a chance to involve enthusiastic fans – the real inspiration behind Harry's drive to create comedy.
"I'm always looking for new material, but you never know how it will work until you put it in front of an audience. Particularly with physical comedy, you can't write it, it is something which you just know works when you do it in front of a live audience.
"A festival like this is an opportunity to share and sense the mood about what else is out there and what else works."
The last time Harry appeared in Bristol, he took to the stage at the Colston Hall. His memories of the venue, he says, are unclear, as his visit was part of one of his whirlwind tours.
Pausing for a moment, he recalls the warren-like backstage area. "Of course, I remember, it was getting a bit boring on tour so we did a little remake sketch of The Godfather back there. God knows where that has gone."
Sticking with Bristol, I wonder what he make of our home-grown comedians? "Bill Bailey," he says. "I have always loved Bill. Me and him have been around for a long time and it's a tight-knit community sometimes, comedy, so you get to know each other and I love his work."
And it is this sense of community which organisers hope will spread into the 16 events at the festival which includes talks and performances by a number of well-know comics.
If all the comics and fans at the event share the passion Harry does for physical comedy, it should be a memorable occasion and a fitting way to mark a decade of Slapstick celebration in Bristol.