Steve Hughes is an angry man. The first night of his new tour in front of a strong and parochial crowd at the Sydney Comedy Festival reveals that mental breakdown and years of battling depression and addiction coupled with his own belief that aspects of his routine from over a decade ago are becoming reality has transformed his comedy from his sharp, ironic mockery to blunt-edged social commentary.
The first half an hour of his act, in front of his “test audience”, is pure comedy. Mild self-deprecation, making fun of hippies and body hair. It’s the old Steve Hughes, even if his close-cropped greying hair now makes him look gaunt as he sits and drinks from a coffee mug or stalks the stage talking about his hairless scrotum.
Then, with a warning that the easily offended should now leave, he becomes something else. The next hour or so of Hughes’ set is like an angry TED talk rant. It’s still funny, often hilariously so, but this is scathing social comment peppered with humour, rather than the other way around. It isn’t just comedy anymore. This is a full-on verbal attack as he prowls the stage, taking on feminism, gender identity, gender politics, gender fluidity, gender something something and issues of freedom of speech, sometimes skating close to being a stand-up self-parody of an RWNJ YouTube channel in doing so. Not everything comes off – his routine about the leftist “word pyramid” is easily deflated by replacing the words “Nazi”, “fascist”, “racist” and “sexist” with “social justice warrior”, “snowflake”, “cuck” and “Libtard”, for example – but to witness Steve Hughes inhabiting this ranty, angry persona is to see an effective example of the frustration some of us within the community have with what they view as the weaponisation of political correctness. He’s like Jordan Peterson if Peterson was funny and ironic, instead of ironically funny.
Into his extended rant, he’ll suddenly drop an absolute pearler, like the one about his girlfriend freezing to death because he wouldn’t let her inside, and context becomes everything. That’s the genius of Steve Hughes tonight, and while the set isn’t pure comedy and the jokes aren’t always there, he never loses the audience, closing the show with some old-school stuff he would literally get shot for if he tried it in America. Tonight was the debut of a new Steve Hughes – if people were offended by him before, wait until they get a load of him now.