Adam Hills and the Paralympic conversion
The Aussie comedian tells of his love affair with the Games
THE passion Australian comedian Adam Hills has for the Paralympics is obvious after talking with him in the press centre in Rio de Janiero.
Hills is there filming his Last Leg in Rio comedy show for Channel 4 in the United Kingdom.
“After seeing the Paralympics in Beijing, I had the
Paralympics conversion that everybody has,” he said.
“It’s been an interesting progression for me. In Beijing, I got it, I was clearly in love with it. I hung around a lot with the Australian team… I just went and watched everything and the team kind of took me under their wing and I was completely hooked.
“Then Channel 4 asked us to cover London. But then after London a whole different production company took over, so pretty much the entire staff here have never seen the Paralympics … so it’s been amazing watching them become infected, it’s like a virus.
“You suddenly see someone waxing lyrical about goalball or one-legged high jump and you go ‘oh you’ve caught it, you’ve caught it.”
The show began at the London Paralympics in 2012.
“I think what happened was the head of Channel 4 wanted to do a bit of a Roy and HG type of things,” Hills said.
“She is originally from Australia, so she’s very familiar with Roy and HG, she wanted to do a late night irreverent comedy show and Channel 4 had the Paralympics.
“Originally I was asked to host a highlight show … but when they saw me do stand-up at the Paralympics they thought maybe this could be something else.”
Hills said the show became a bit of a cult hit in London.
“Then they said do you want to come back and talk about the news every week and we said ‘not particularly but we’ll give it a crack’.
“I think now we’re back at the Paralympics doing what we do, it’s where we should be.”
Hills was born without a foot and wears a prosthesis, so has more perspective than most when it comes to the Paralympic Games.
One thing people might not know is that after Beijing, Hills was approached by the Australian team who asked him what sport he was good at.
He told them he used to be a tennis coach and they said wheelchair tennis could be an option.
“They said ‘if you want to do this, great, but you have to be in a wheelchair all day every day for the next four years because you have to learn how to use a wheelchair properly,” Hills said.
“I was making Spicks and Specks at the time and I said ‘I just don’t think I can’.
“Jason Hellweg, who was the Chef de Mission of the Australian team, said ‘the best thing you can do for the Paralympics is tell people about it.
“So four years later in London he reminded me about it.”
Hills said he was asked when he was a kid to try out for the “disabled games’’.
“If they had amputee tennis I might have done it because that’s what I loved, and I said ‘no I’ll go to Wimbledon’,” he laughed.
“There’s a little part of me that looks back and regrets it and there’s a bigger part of me that thinks maybe there is something I could do here, maybe I could do wheelchair tennis.”
Hills said he felt a connection with the athletes competing at the Paralympics.
“Most of these people, I’d say, don’t think of themselves as disabled,” he said.
“The more I watch it, the more I kind of realise there’s no such thing as disability. By that I don’t mean anyone can do anything, what I mean is we’re all people, we’re all humans.”
Hills said we should not be saying there was no such thing as disability.
“But we are all people, and we all have different levels of ability, and I guess that’s a better way of looking at it,” he said.
“My daughters wouldn’t consider me disabled, they just say ‘daddy has got a robot leg’.”
Hills said the best thing about the Paralympics was that it was “heroism with humility”.
He said some initially found it hard to combine comedy with disability. “I didn’t because I always knew what you could get away with because I’ve been talking about it on stage for ages,” he said.
“What’s interesting for me is we used to ask for all these is it okay questions. We’re getting a lot this year but it’s more about the sport.”
Hills said watching the Paralympics slowly changed how people looked at those with a disability.
“It’s a shame it’s only once every four years because it’s like a two step forward, one step back type thing,” he said.
“Every four years the Paralympics enlightens one country at a time.”
In terms of actually making the show in Brazil, Hills said it had been tough to begin with.
He said just getting comedy producers up to speed with an actual sports show had taken a bit of doing.
In terms of actually seeing Rio de Janiero, Hills said he really hadn’t done anything.
“It’s funny because I did this in Beijing as well but I’m all right with it because I can come back to Rio any time, but the Paras are only every four years,” he said.
“I’m getting about five hours’ sleep every night, my voice is going, I’m not drinking, I’m just going out and watching sport every night.”
Asked to name his favourite sport, the answer is instantaneous – wheelchair basketball.
“There’s a sneaky chance I might get to present a medal at one of the events, and I’ve requested the marathon,” he said.
“I texted Kurt (Fearnley) saying ‘they’ve asked me to present a medal, I want to give it to you, which event?’ and he wrote back saying the marathon.”
After this, Hills said he would go back to London and have a short break before doing a stand-up comedy tour, filming more of the Last Leg and then doing the same again next year.
Most of these people, I’d say, don’t think of themselves as disabled. The more I watch it, the more I kind of realise there’s no such thing as disability. By that I don’t mean anyone can do anything, what I mean is we’re all people, we’re all humans. — ADAM HILLS
RJ Mitte, Sophie Morgan, Jonathan Edwards, Clare Balding, JJ Chalmers, Adam Hills, Arthur Williams, Rachael Latham, Ade Adepitan and Lee McKenzie in Rio.
Spain and Australia compete in wheelchair basketball at the Paralympic Games in Rio.