During this year’s season of The Last Leg the usually neat and tidy Adam Hills declared he would “grow his beard til Brexit”. Beginning as a stunt, it became a weekly metaphor for the promise, and increasing disarray, the UK seemed destined for.
A developing beard makes for strangely captivating television. Maybe it’s because it’s the kind of ‘unkemptness’ we’re not meant to see – a ‘before’ or ‘after’ is acceptable, but not that awkward, sure-to-be-scratchy phase. In solidarity, some viewers also joined in, declaring #noshavetillbrexit. Meanwhile, each week, as the beard grew, Hills and his colleagues Alex Brooker and Josh Widdicombe provided a wide-eyed attempt to explain what was happening (or not happening) in parliament.
Beyond the box, monitoring the emerging beard is a rite of passage for the beard-er and the beard-ee. Known lovingly as the bringer of “pash rash”, expect the bursting bristle to do some damage. During this season of The Last Leg things got a little uncomfortable too – with the continued focus of this one damn topic something that may not only have physically irritated Hills (and no doubt his family), but viewers too. The weekly talk show is dedicated to talking about the most important news of the day, so while it couldn’t very well ignore the proceedings from parliament, it, like the public, was just running out of things to say, be shocked about or even be frustrated with. This is where the real danger sets in – forget what it’s like to expect better and after a while we actually will actually keep our standards low.
As of the end of March, and the end of current Last Leg series, there was at least a little reprieve. May has more time and Hills gave in to some facial hair modification. Allowing his guests and co-hosts to decide, he ended up with a “Geoff from Byker Grove” (or for the rest of us, a bloody awful handlebar situation). The ‘live shave’ to go from the full beard was fun, but it also served as another reminder. Things aren’t ok – they’re not ‘back to normal’. And what even is that, anyway?
Depressing states of limbo aside, what The Last Leg provides is a way to face up to those in charge while not losing an edge. There remains a healthy mix of irreverence and relevance in the show, while it still provides one of the few places anywhere in international television that ability diversity is regularly showcased. The “no shave til Brexit” stunt is not the first time the show has had a go at a series-long stunt, nor is it the first time it has taken a less than serious approach to a very serious topic.
The Last Leg itself is all about tackling inequality of representation and experience while havin’ a laff. Having started as an ‘after the game’ commentary show for the London Paralympics way back in 2012, the fact that it’s remained on air and grown in scope shows there is a room to evolve in the UK after all. The show’s original ‘grab’ – hosted by three blokes with four legs between them – remains a hook, but it’s far from the point. Now it can explore all manner of things, from the serious to the silly, and all in between. Let’s just hope the pollies are watching.
Dr Liz Giuffre is a lecturer and researcher in Media, Music and Cultural Studies at University of Technology, Sydney, Australia. Her work focuses on music and television in particular, including audience studies, fandom, cultural history and cultural industries in transition.