Barry Hilton interview

South African funny man on his worst gigs and best jokes

Interview, Hot seat

Have you been to the UAE before?
I’ve been to Dubai about four or five times: it’s very big and very fast. Every time I go there it’s bigger and bigger, and all I want to do is get myself a car with a CD hanging from the rear view mirror and drive with my foot on the dashboard.

My husband is from Benoni (Johannesburg)
Serves him right.

He’s obviously excited to see you, but will non-South Africans get your jokes?
Yes, my jokes are about life: about stomach pains or children or paying the mortgage. It’s all the same principles, just because we come from other countries doesn’t make us alien, we just talk slightly differently. People have this misconception that all South Africans ‘taulk laihke thees’ but we do actually speak in English.

You’re from the East Rand too, what was it like growing up there?
Well burglars used to come to our house and then we robbed them, and my children used to jump over the fence and bite dogs. Yes, it was a tough place to grow up, but it is a beautiful place and you are what you are in life and I grew up in a working class life.

Does growing up in a tough environment make you funnier?
Absolutely, just look at all the humour that comes out of the working class parts of the North of England.

Why is your catchphrase ‘the cousin’?
The true story is that I am useless at remembering names, when I was a youngster I talked a lot and so had lots of friends, and I would introduce everybody as my cousin so I didn’t have to remember anyone’s names.

And who’s your favourite comedian?
Richard Pryor. He painted such a picture as he performed. He’s the best comic I have ever seen and probably ever will see. I just loved the way he explained things and the way he used his body to emphasise points. And my style, if I may be so bold, has naturally developed in the same way.

From highs to lows, what was your worst gig of all time?
In was actually in Dubai. I flew over for a big air freight company and they had this massive L-shaped tent, and he announced the buffet and me simultaneously so as I got up on stage 500 people got up to make themselves lunch.

I’m sure your Laughter Factory gig will be more responsive...
They’re fantastic, and the UAE is a great place to perform because it’s like the United Nations. In fact, I’d love to come and live in Dubai because it’s in the centre of the world. Although I’d have to get a mobile phone with a thing in my ear, that’s obligatory.

What’s the best country you’ve ever been to?
South Africa. It’s getting a little bit sad at the moment, but I’ve grown up here.

Speaking of patriotism, who’s going to win the rugby?
New Zealand. I think South Africa might make it into the semis, but, how’s this: I don’t like rugby, I hate cricket and I don’t drink Castle – your husband will tell you about what that is – so maybe I’m really not South African.

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