Adam Hills In Gordon Street Tonight returned to ABC1 this year, now simply known as Adam Hills Tonight. Is he perhaps midpoint toward a Rove McManus-like one-name eponymous branding? Adam, or perhaps, even Hills. [Note to ABC program directors: If, like Rove, you ever take the show to LA, maybe try the title Hollywood Hills?] But not much else changed. Although his second banana Hannah Gadsby now seems to have stepped up to take on a welcome Bert Newton/Peter Hellier presence next to Hills.
But really, any further comparison to McManus is unwarranted. Hills chats and listens to his guests, where McManus just reels off a series of questions and jokes. Hills seems to have a warm rapport with his audience, when he interacts he encourages them to be in on the joke, not the butt of the gotcha-pranks McManus often pulled. But most of all, McManus would never have gone off on one like Hills did on the UK version of his chat show, The Last Leg. Imagine an angry McManus calling someone a "dick"... his mum demographic would require a year's worth of his cheek-pinching 'aw shucks' before they could ever forgive him. But not Hills, he just went for it.
In March, Hills went viral with his tirade against legendary US comedian Joan Rivers. Hills had taken umbrage with Fashion Police host over jokes she had made about UK singer Adele's weight. They were nasty jokes but rather tame by Rivers' standards (her show has also recently earnt the ire of Lady Gaga, who accused co-host Kelly Osbourne of being a bully on the show). So, in a segment of his show, where he was spouting off what was grinding his gears that week, Hills was already wielding a sharp tongue as he called out bankers and councillors. Then he landed the big one: "If you make fat jokes about Adele, you're being a dick."
At first, as the volume of his voice got louder and the pen is his hand pointed evermore wildly toward the camera, Hills face still possessed the shadow a smile. He was delivering schtick, albeit a sharp schtick. He quoted Rivers' tweet that poked fun at Adele's Oscar ("it was the only one wearing spanks") - but he also laid some blame at Oscar host Seth MacFarlane's feet for opening the Adele joke floodgate. But the smile was gone as he then related how Rivers carried on with the 'fat jokes' on Letterman, where Hills claims she blew out her cheeks and made the universal hand gesture to indicate someone is fat (waving your hand out in front of you stomach) when once again referring to Adele.
By then Hills was yelling: "Fuck you!"
He seemed flabbergasted that Rivers "dare" make fun of "one of the best female role models on the planet". He then took aim at Rivers with the type of punchline that would find him at home on Fashion Police. He swiped at the 80 year-old comedian with: "You're so insecure about your own face you've spent more money on it than the producers of Life Of Pi spent on that tiger." Not quite finished, he then called her "a jaded, bitter old mole". Adding, "Get yourself a plastic surgeon to manufacture yourself a new soul and stop being an enormous hypocritical insensitive dick."
Hills celebrates episode four with his guests
To return to Hills' show now, is to return with that well-publicised moment at the forefront of your mind - or, at least, it is for those of us who are easily manipulated by all the colour and movement of media scandals. In the old Gordon Street days, pre-internet notoriety, Hills' weekly gig was never a go-to show. It was more of a flick-by-to-identify-that-it's-not-QI-and-keep-flicking-unless-hang-on-that's-Martha-Wainwright-might-have-to-watch-for-a-bit kinda show. Then you'd likely remember just how how funny Hannah Gadsby can be until you mind drifts off to thoughts of the good old days of ABC live comedy... whatever happened to Pate Biscuit and Bongo?
But now, there's a chance that one of Hills' guests will slip up, maybe even make a fat joke. Then maybe Hills will once again unleash the wrath of his inner YouTube commenter. What now makes Hills' show a priority is the chance that we might get to see him effing-out an unsuspecting Kitty Flanagan or, better still, Father Bob Maguire.
But five weeks in and nothing has yet set Hills off. Despite the show's title now seeming less homely (and taking suburban Gordon St back off the map), Hills' ABC1 show is still of a gentle nature. There's nerd jokes, guests like Lisa McCune and Hills even recited Banjo Patterson with his wife. He also managed what must be the only piece about online nudity that won't warrant a NSFW subject header if you email the clip around the office. Hell, even the once raucous Ruby Wax practically purred in Hills' presence.
Hills' nudity is safe for work
Hills' pal Dave O'Neil couldn't even provoke him. If ever there was to be a moment destined to trigger Hills into using those "four simple words" he so eloquently directed at Rivers ("don't be a dick"), this was it. However, all stayed calm, no chairs were set on fire and no prosthetic legs were whalloped over heads.
O'Neil was recalling a bad gig moment for Hills. That bad gig involved a stand-up spot for a local football club. There was something about a wonky stage made out of milk crates and a trestle table and a club members' mother cooking a barbecue down the back. What made the gig really bad though was that O'Neil had been asked to start with a football joke and the one he chose to open with referred to an AFL player who happened to be the son of the barbie cook. It seems jokes about her offspring's struggles with losing weight weren't appreciated - O'Neil barrelled on, claiming he threw in one last dig about the son's penchant for fried foods before getting off the topic of football.
Oh no, Hills must be about to say a big old "fuck you" to his guest for daring to make fun of this sporting role model. They'll probably have to halt the show for O'Neil to collect himself and make a hasty exit after Hills calls him "bitter" and "jaded". Surely, he can't call him a mole though - that could be seen as promotion for Seven's returning reality challenge The Mole. Will Hills have time to think up something more appropriate before the slapping starts?
And then... nothing. Not even one "dick" was lobbed at O'Neil. Huh? Was it because O'Neil himself had identified as 'fat'? Was it that the sensitivities of an AFL player are not as delicate as those of Adele? Was it that Hills was actually running through his Man From Snowy River lines in his head and wasn't concentrating on the story as much as he would if it was tweeted to him? Was it maybe that the context of the comments made them seem less inflammatory (the story was from long ago)? Or was it just that O'Neil was sitting next to Hills whereas Rivers had been a safe distance away at the time?
Really, the show needs a quality unleashing from Hills or some of us are going to return to watching Fashion Police.
Adam Hills Tonight screens 8.30pm Wednesdays on ABC1. It also screens again throughout the week on ABC1 and ABC2, it also streamed on iView.
Fashion Police screens 8.30pm Saturdays on E!. It also screens again throughout the week.