Barry Hilton aka The Cousin is one of South Africa’s most successful and popular stand-up comedians. Apart from his own solo shows he has also hosted TV productions, and regularly tours abroad. He speaks about his latest show, B.E.E., at the Baxter
What’s the show all about?
B.E.E. stands for Best of Everything Ever. I thought, if Rod Stewart can do it, so can I. I also figured, I can’t sing as well as he can and he’s not as funny as me, so my show won’t affect his business. I’ll be doing some of my best older material right alongside some of my latest jokes and stories.
You’ve established a very successful career as a stand-up comedian who keeps things clean. Is this proof that you don’t have to have a potty mouth to be big in the business?
Johnny Noble, of Biltong and Potroast fame in the 1980s, who gave me my first break in comedy, also gave me these wise words: “Keep it clean and you will ALWAYS be in the scene.” I’ve stuck to his good advice and it’s served me well. It’s also not that difficult (I do all my swearing off stage).
What topic is totally taboo for you when sending things up?
I don’t make fun of peoples’ pain, suffering or disabilities. However, I lost my brother four years ago to cancer. Days before he died he phoned me from the hospice and said: “Come and see me as quickly as you can because I am going to die soon. The doctor hasn’t given me long, what shall I do Barry?” I told him to commit fraud and the judge would give him nine years. As sick as he was, my brother screamed with laughter. I’ll always remember that. I used, and still do use, humour to deal with difficult situations.
And you celebrated 30 years of comedy as a career last year – did you ever think you would last this long – did you ever want to pack it all in?
I never thought I would last this long. I’ve wanted to pack it in on numerous occasions. But not from the comedy, from the freeloaders and leeches who seem to drain everything out of artists who are trying to do well. The comedy flame burns brighter every day in my heart and soul.
Who are your comedy inspirations – who do you admire?
Richard Pryor is my ultimate comedy hero. One of my greatest regrets is that I never got to see him perform. In South Africa, Johnny Noble, Mel Miller and Joe Parker are legends. Watch this space for Ndumiso Lindi, he’s really funny and has both feet on the ground.
We believe you performed on five of the seven continents last year, as well as in many African countries. It seems your brand of humour travels really well?
I did, and I’m just back from five cruises that took me from Hong Kong to Vietnam, Brisbane to Sydney, Sydney to Darwin, Hong Kong to Busan and Darwin to Fremantle, so yes, it literally travels well. I’ve performed successfully to people of every nationality this year and last – including a few South Africans. The highlight for me this year so far was being shortlisted alongside comedy genius John Cleese for Best Comedy Act Dubai and headlining the sixth anniversary celebrations of the Take Out Comedy Club in Hong Kong, as well as being the first South African comedian invited to perform in Singapore and the MGM in Macau.
You’re actually something of a Cape local – you went to school here in Obs and then trained as an electrician. So why did you abandon us for Egoli?
There was not enough work for a comic when I left. Thank goodness it’s all changed now with some of our greatest comics still coming out of Cape Town. My favourite places are Plattekloof on the hill and Panorama on the flat bit. Go figure.
What was the last live show you saw – and how did you find it?
I watched James BuSTAR – a brilliant comedy juggler on the last cruise I worked, the Dawn Princess. He is an absolute riot! He did juggling for a very funny and interesting 40 minutes and didn’t stop talking. He is just great. I laughed like a drain and hope to bring him to South Africa soon.
What do you do to relax?
I go fishing or cycling. I’m also a woodwork fanatic, believe it or not Whose cousin are you, really?
Are you talking DNA or artistic? If DNA, my parents’ brothers’ and sisters’ children. Artistically, I’m everyone’s cousin. I just can’t remember names.
• B.E.E. runs tonight and tomorrow. Call 021 680 3989.