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Tom Houghton

April 13, 2024

It’s rare for a comic doing a national tour to open up for their opening act, but nothing quite surprises me like Tom Houghton. Known for appearing on The Circle, and with his self-awareness and self-deprecating manner, Houghton is a breath of fresh air and proves that with a mindful approach to his material, he can make the unspeakable laughable.


Houghton covers a wide range of topics in his latest tour, from breakups, travelling, friendships, and family to Charles and Camilla (with a punchline that got pleasurable groans) to Prince George. The darker he got with this bit, the funnier it became, with the man next to me letting out an audible ‘oh God’ when Houghton images Prince George heading to Eton.


There is something about Houghton that’s hard to nail down. Unlike a lot of these comics, which seem to rely heavily on their audience shouting out and slinging insults at them, this forced heckling seems to be the rage now, but it’s lazy and gets a little uncomfortable to watch. Houghton’s got some of this, but sometimes a British audience can be a little overly reserved, but when he shared that his mum was from Darlington, someone called "Charlotte" shouted out, and, just for a moment, it appeared that she may have known him. Other heckles came, but, as Houghton pointed out, the audience seemed very smart; perhaps being at UCL was having an impact on us all.


The best test of Houghton’s comedy and quick footedness came when he was talking about being a Brit in America and how pretty much the worlds you oyster, unless...and just as he was about to give the hook to the joke, someone shouted it out. Rather than ruin it, the heckle actually helped, as Houghton shared a story and nickname that friends in the US gave him and his fellow expat, cruel but pretty solid on the nickname stakes.


He kept coming back to the Royal Family, but only in drips, which seems like a fair topic for a comic who used to live in the Tower of London. One of my favourite lines was how the Old Queen was one of the best landladies he’s had. Mild audience response for a brilliant line, Philistines. But he doesn’t linger on this too much, and I think that serves his comedy well, even if I wanted more. He’s someone who is aware of his privilege without having to be branded "woke,” and with this new show, there does seem to be a new perspective on life, notably him finding his own legs and purpose. Though he's less than polite about his parents, one does get the feeling that his dad, a lord and an invitee to the coronation, is a pretty impressive shadow to be behind. 

"...Houghton elicits the type of laughter from you that makes it hard for you to breathe; your eyes glass over with tears, and you cant look at him for fear of falling off your chair."

There is a depth to Houghton’s writing and performance style that relies somewhat heavily on his acting background, but it’s his delivery when he lets go that brings tears to your eyes. Two of his long bits, the first of which resolved around his mum, a lot of alcohol, and a Spiderman costume, were priceless. Here, Houghton really gives you everything: his observations, his devilish charm, his snide asides, and his brilliant writing. The only time he seemed to lose it was towards the end when the lights went down and he jumped into the audience with a torch, focusing on the one guy called "William,” who he’d been joshing with all night. It was odd, and even now, as I try to be reflective, I am trying to figure out why. Getting back onto the stage, Houghton could sense that it was a bad call, but boy did he make up for it.


His final story revolved around his friend, who, having had a bad time, decided to refocus and do an officer training course over two years in Nepal. Houghton vowed to go and be there for him when he graduated; the rest, quite frankly, was one of the best anecdotes I’ve ever heard. This was written so tightly that not even the slimmest of lights could break through, and his performance was next level. In this moment, Houghton elicits the type of laughter from you that makes it hard for you to breathe; your eyes glass over with tears, and you can’t look at him for fear of falling off your chair. Every step he takes and every word he utters in this moment brilliantly closes his show and wonderfully shows just how aware of his privilege he is.


It’s Not Ideal is a smart, dark, perhaps disturbing in parts hour that few comics could pull off with Houghton ease. One of his best abilities is the throwback reference; sometimes it’s a panini or a chicken. These little add-ins really solidify his routine and make it tight. He’s neither malicious, cruel, or crude for the sake of a joke or a laugh; it is down to Houghton’s purely crafted storytelling and acting ability that make you believe every situation he finds himself in.

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