Spectacular Steve | Steve Hili

Comedy, satire, one-liners and culturally-relevant discourses: ahead of reprising his role in this year’s The Comedy Knights’ Just4Laughs, and as his book finds its way to Malta’s top bookstores, comedian Steve Hili sits down for a Q&A with Iggy Fenech

With a big imagination and an even bigger mouth, Steve Hili has penned some of Malta’s most memorable characters in the realm of satire
With a big imagination and an even bigger mouth, Steve Hili has penned some of Malta’s most memorable characters in the realm of satire

Whatever you may think you know about Steve Hili; whatever your opinion is of him and his jokes, know this: He is a legend.

Witty, sarcastic and, sometimes, politically incorrect, his jokes make people laugh before realising that, hey, that actually sounded quite… true. With a big imagination and an even bigger mouth, he has penned some of Malta’s most memorable characters in the realm of satire, including the slightly annoying but the super lovable Sliema Girls, Becks and Cikks, and the very quotable First Lady. He’s now also on the brink of adding the title of ‘author’ to his list, as his book, State of the Nation, hits Malta’s book stores. 

But this is a side of Steve we all get to know, see and experience… So I wanted to go slightly deeper – no, Steve, not in that sense – to discover the other side of Steve’s funny side… Again, no, Steve! 

When did you first discover your flair for writing?

I have always loved reading – when I was a kid, I was hooked on comics, and the madcap humour of things like The Topper and The Beano really influenced me. I used to enjoy coming up with little stories that had the same kind of feel to them and writing them down. By the time I got to secondary school, I was writing mischievous little poems about my teachers, and my classmates loved them. I was getting laughs with my writing and it was awesome.

I do not actually remember a time when I didn’t want ‘to write a book, someday.’ And lo and behold, I just have! It is a comedy book all about Malta and the Maltese called State of the Nation. It is an irreverent look at what happens on our rock, and it has literally just come out… Find it from all the major book stores, people!

What inspires you to write?

Everyone tells me that I have got a vivid imagination, and a lot of people call me child-like, which, I think, is a great compliment for someone like me. And certain things really get me going. For instance, this year in the adult panto, I had a fun scene where the princess has her back to the audience and so inadvertently shows the cast her boobs. When I wrote this, I was inspired by what seeing boobs means to me… By what happens in my head when I see them. And, before I knew it, I had written a scene with epic music rising to a crescendo, a stage full of flags being waved and the cast members in tears at the momentous emotion of it all. Almost like Les Mis, I suppose…

What was the inspiration behind The Sliema Girls?

We all know a Sliema girl or two! The socialites who live in their own bubble. They are posh and classist – but without it coming from a bad place. It is just, well, they cannot see the world in any other way. Add to this the fact that they are ditzy and perhaps a bit shallow – but genuinely believe that they are clever and talented (even though they are probably not) and, before you know it, the scenes are writing themselves. 

When writing lines for The First Lady, what do you do to strike a balance between being funny without being offensive?

Well, I am of the belief that once someone is in the public eye, they are fair game. I don’t really worry about ‘the line’ to be honest, because I would not write one word that is offensive just for the sake of it – there is always a joke and, most of the time, quite a serious point being made. I think that people nowadays have got thicker skin. That they can take, and can actually be mature enough to enjoy, being parodied.

Also ‘offensive’ is a very generic term. What is offensive? And just because someone finds something offensive, does that mean that it should not be said? What if that person is being ultra-sensitive? Donald Trump is getting offended at Saturday Night Live. Should the network take it off the air? Of course not. 

Instead of thinking about who could be offended, I am more concerned with punching up with my jokes. I like my jokes to punch up at the establishment (which nobody claims to be in Malta!), rather than punching down at people on the lower rungs of society… I put a lot of thought into that.

What subjects will your characters be tackling in this year’s The Comedy Knights’ Just4Laughs?

This year has given us a hell of a lot to work on; and the list just keeps growing. From traffic, to Brexit via Trump, Panama, Paceville plans, the morning-after pill, Italian referenda and anything else we can squeeze in!

Many people have seen, enjoyed and experienced your funny, comic side… But I’m sure many people are curious to know what your serious side is like. So… My question is: What makes you turn serious?

Inequality is the biggest thing. The gap between the haves and have-nots upsets me, and – at the risk of sounding like a nauseating bleeding heart – the way this gap manifests itself all over the world. It is a big thing for me. Kat [Steve’s wife] and I spent the best part of two years living and doing volunteer work in Cambodia and then Namibia just after we got married. We helped set up a medical centre that changed quite a few lives, which I believe is something to be quite proud of, and we plan to go back and do a bit more when we are a bit older and greyer. To be honest I would also love to get involved in politics one day. Not sure if any of the parties would want me on their list of candidates, though!

Apart from the stellar job you do at being a comedian, what are your other passions in life? 

I am huge Everton fan and I go to see them play whenever I can. I just love being around the ground, getting a beer and soaking up the atmosphere. I also love ska and reggae music. And I could eat a curry every day of the week! Also, I can’t say no to a rum.

You and me both, Steve! You and me both!

The Comedy Knights’ Just4Laughs will run between December 26 and January 8, bar December 31 and January 1 at the Salesian Theatre in Sliema. New dates have also been announced for January 13, 14 and 15. For tickets and more information, visit www.comedyknights.com. Steve Hili’s State of a Nation is currently available in all major bookstores. Cover photo by Francesca Rizzo