The Rose Theatre Kingston will welcome Rich Hall’s Hoedown in June for a night of music, comedy and gratuitous coloration, writes James Rampton.
Rich Hall is rightly regarded as one of the funniest comedians to come out of the US in recent times. And, as he is based here most of the time, we in this country have over the past three decades been lucky enough to benefit from his wonderfully grouchy sense of humour.
The comedian, who has won both a Perrier (Edinburgh Comedy Festival) and a Barry (Melbourne International Comedy Festival) Award, is the most dazzlingly funny curmudgeon in The West.
Rich’s straight-talking and acerbic comedy leaves his targets reeling and his audiences in stitches. He sends up whichever country he is in, but perhaps reserves his most trenchant scorn for his native USA.
He is a superb live performer but don’t just take my word for it. Critics have long praised Rich’s highly original deadpan style (which was the inspiration for the marvellously cantankerous barman, Moe Szyslak, in The Simpsons).
The Guardian raves that, “Now is the time to grab this chance to see the great man at work”. The Sunday Mirror, meanwhile, calls the comedian, “Captivating and brilliant… His ability to make the room guffaw was worthy of standing applause”. While the Sun’s review is short and sweet: “Rich Hall is a comedy phenomenon”.
Rich, who has presented such critically acclaimed BBC 4 documentaries as Rich Hall’s Californian Stars, Rich Hall’s You Can Go To Hell, I’m Going To Texas, Rich Hall’s Inventing the Indian and his most recent, Rich Hall’s Presidential Grudge Match, begins by underlining how excited he is to be performing live once again. “I love being on stage”.
“I love the fact that when a live show is over, it’s gone. It’s happened, and it will never happen like that again. It can’t be replicated. That’s a great magical moment.”
Rich, who is also an accomplished author and has released three books, Magnificent Bastards, I Blame Society and Things Snowball, all published by Abacus Books, thrives on the spontaneity of live comedy.
He observes that, “In every single show, there are always two or three moments where I’m thinking, ‘Wow, where did that come from?’ You’re constantly thinking on your feet.”
One of the many unique features of Rich’s act is that he goes out of his way to find out about the town he is playing in and then improvises a song on stage about it. He goes the extra mile to tailor-make his material for that particular venue. “I try to tap into what is happening locally and address that musically by writing an improvised song based on the town I’m in.”
Audiences really appreciate this bespoke comedy. “Once they realise you’re not just trotting out your regular act, people think, ‘He’s made a real effort. He’s on our side, so we’re on his side.” Then you can take them anywhere.
“I like to do something custom-made every night; otherwise you would just be like a robot. That can really wear you down. Nobody gets more sick of hearing their own voice than a comedian.”
Rich, who was also enjoyed huge success as his country and western musician alter ego, Otis Lee Crenshaw, carries on that, “When you’re improvising a song, you think, ‘I may never do this on again, but it’s a special moment for everyone here’.
“You want to reach the point where audiences say, ‘I’d like to see that guy again’. You want to deliver the goods and be Old Reliable.”
The stand-up is one of only a handful of performers who can genuinely combine comedy and music in one act.
He says that, “I will have such a great collection of musicians on stage for the Hoedown. Having a band there makes it a much richer experience – if you’ll pardon the phrase!”
The comedian, who released his third stand-up DVD Rich Hall: 3:10 To Humour in November last year explains that, “Music works in my show because it connects with people on a very personal level. A lot of comedians just come on stage and say, ‘I was on a bus and I passed so and so.”
“But that’s just a reaction to something rather than a specific, custom-made song that engages people. The magic is more important than the material. People really respond to that.”
The stand-up’s other trademark is anger, and he is capable of using that to very effective comic ends. Rich comments that, “It is always good to articulate anger.
“If you don’t, you’re merely preaching to the converted and asking, ‘Have you ever noticed?’ Yes, we are paying you to notice things we haven’t already noticed!”
Before he has to go, Rich reflects once more on what he loves so much about touring. “I’m not a big showbiz hound,” he muses, “but for me being on stage is the most satisfying thing imaginable.”
A sentiment with which Rich’s legions of fans would no doubt wholeheartedly agree.
Rich Hall’s Hoedown will be at Rose Theatre Kingston on Sat 10 June, 8pm. Tickets are available online, rosetheatrekingston.org (booking fee), by phone, 020 8174 0090 (booking fee), or from the box office.