Life’s good is not just the tagline of an electronic goods company. Three decades of funny later, it also sums up the state of famed SA comedian Barry Hilton. He spoke to Helen Herimbi about his new one-man show, his life and being a jazzic.
‘I’m great,” Barry Hilton says, as he settles into his seat in the lobby of a swanky Cape Town restaurant. “I’ve got the best chick in the whole planet. I have six fantastic children,” he pauses, “I live in PE [Port Elizabeth] which is lekker and I’m in demand all over the world. How else could I be feeling?”
Hilton will bring his joy to the Baxter Theatre this weekend where he will perform his new-ish stand-up comedy show called Barry Hilton BEE (Best of Everything Ever).
“The BEE is obviously a play on words,” he says. When Hilton is booked for corporate gigs, he says, “companies often ask me for my BEE status and I have to say ‘I’m here, this is it’”. That joke aside, the idea for this show was sparked by fan mail.
“We get inundated with e-mails of people saying please can I perform this joke or why don’t I do this one or that story,” Hilton explains, “so one day for fun, I wrote down all of my jokes that I know and it was 27 pages of one-line references so I said to (his wife) Sandy, maybe I should do a best of everything ever – BEE – show. So it’s basically the best stuff I’ve done over the past 10 years.”
A show of this nature would be considered a retrospective but Hilton is light-hearted about it. The man affectionately known as The Cousin says “it doesn’t bother me to look back on the years” because his show “isn’t set”.
“It starts where it starts and finishes where it finishes. To me, comedy is more spontaneous. I’m all over the flippin’ place even though I make sense. It’s my style and I could probably never change the way I do it, but it suits me.”
He gives me an example of this style by reminiscing over a performance at the Mother City’s River Club years ago. He started his set with a gag about a giraffe, following a recent trip to the Kruger National Park.
Then he “got distracted, so my first 35-minute set ended at about 55 minutes. I took a break and was a good hour into my second set when I said, ‘so anyway, this giraffe said to the other guy’, and the man in front of me laughed so hard into his beer that the whole beer foamed out of the glass.”
He’s still laughing. “Comedy is,” Hilton says when he catches his breath, “like a flowing song that never ends. It’s spontaneous and you’re meant to have fun. You can almost refer to me as a jazz comedian. Jazz comedians just do it, they wing it. That’s what I do all the time. I make it up. I work off the cuff all the time. I’m not saying I’m a genius, but…”
His penchant to make up things on the fly pays off through a word he conjures up that combines jazz with comic: jazzic.
With his signature facial movement where his eyes get wide and his forehead lifts up to stretch his hairline back, Hilton says: “I’m a jazz comedian – I love that term – but my audience span is eight to 80 years old. Some comics are abrasive and some are political and others are family friendly. So if I say something ugly then my fans will go ‘hey Baz, woah’ – because they are the fans of my jazz.
“I’m a jazzic.”
He’s also a man with an interesting history in the comedy industry. Citing his father as a very funny man and British comedian Tom O’Connor as an inspiration, Hilton had to leave his home town of Cape Town to really blow up.
“I never really performed here in Cape Town,” he remembers, “in fact, my first gig was in Port Elizabeth. I couldn’t get a gig here. It was very difficult.
“Comedy was like a closed shop, you were either a part of the Biltong and Potroast regime or you were one of the established guys like Joe Parker was. Otherwise you just couldn’t get in.”
But he earned his stripes working as a compere at a strip club where “my comedy became so famous that guys started to come to see me instead of the strippers. They started bringing their wives.”
Now he works on American and Australian cruise liners as a guest entertainer on board.
“They fly me all over the place. I chose to be my own person. I love it.”
Hilton says after this Cape Town run he plans to tour Barry Hilton BEE (Best of Everything Ever) for a year.