It’s always good fun to see a comedian who has worked out precisely what they do best. John Hastings has found what he does best and by Christ he’s going to do just that for a whole set. This is a show that’s less about saying funny things but rather more about saying things in a funny way. That’s a pedantic but important distinction. I’ve seen better written shows, smarter shows, but quite rarely have I ever seen a man turn a phrase with so much charisma.
Hastings puts me in mind of a less annoying Robin Williams. Now, I don’t mean that they have similar material, just a sort of frequency both men are operating on. I also don’t mean to disparage Robin Williams but as talented as he surely was and as much as I enjoy some of his work, I don’t think I’d ever be able to sit through an hour of stand-up from the guy. He’s just a bit much for me, a bit grating after a while. I hope this makes at least some sense, suffice it to say John Hastings is channelling some Williams energy, with those exhausting edges sanded off. At any rate, if you vibe with Robin Williams, I can’t recommend this show enough.
Hastings is brilliant with the crowd too and like all the best audience work, the punchlines and goofs are not predicated on what the audience says, with Hastings keeping himself firmly in control of the exchange. I shudder to remember a great many comedians who’s shows I’ve seen downright maimed because they refused to learn the lesson that regular people cannot be relied upon to be funny.
I get the feeling that he’s is a comic equipped to deal with any eventuality. I’ve seen very few comedians that are as quick-witted off the cuff as this. The show was full of little stumbles and unexpected breaks in rhythm, interruptions and gaffs which Hastings expertly just assimilated into the show, like the Borg but for jokes. Where others rely pretty rigidly on their setlist, simply ploughing through to the next bit if things go awry, Hastings is deeply receptive to his audience. The result is a tremendously flexible performance that I think will serve the show well on any given night with any given crowd.
As I say though, it’s not an especially well-written show. While Hastings is an inventive comedian, finding laughs in a great many unexpected places, he certainly reaches for some low-hanging fruit throughout, the sort of lines that would elicit a hearty groan were he a less likeable performer. There’s a tradesman-like sort of quality to the writing. It’s solid work but with minimal mechanical flourishes. What really carries the show is that charisma. He’s a delightful guy to listen to for an hour at a time and even if the material isn’t as innately funny as it could be, he knows exactly how to present it in the funniest way possible.
I feel like the best way I can sum it up is that this show is the premier argument for comedy as style over substance and I do not mean that as the backhanded compliment it sounds like. I mean that in the sense that John Hastings spins style into substance with such skill that it barely matters at all what he’s saying, it’s all in how he says it.