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Comedy Review: Rich Hall

22 September 17 words: Adrian Reynolds

Comedy and musical masterclass from Rich Hall

Photographer: John Zumpano

Rich Hall is a performer I knew only from acerbic television appearances, his face a Spitting Image puppet of an ornery American puzzled and vexed by government, waffle houses, and the dubious quality of Bob Dylan gigs. Now, pretty much midnight, and I’m still surfing on the buzz of seeing one of the funniest live shows I’ve experienced.

The comedian divides his time between his native America and the UK, and is equally astute about both countries, an outsider and a local in both. He’s also married a Brit, whose characteristic Liverpudlian shriek has the effect of summoning wildlife when she’s out in Montana. That juxtaposition, shrewd observations of British culture mashed up with the bewildered stance of a man who can’t believe what’s happened to his country under Trump, provides a seemingly endless source of comedy – and on this tour Rich is mixing it all up with a musical second set where he’s offering his take on country and western, suitably studded with material gleaned from the audience.

Rich Hall is on top of his game. The first set proves his skills as a stand-up who juggles structured routine with sequences where he’s finding his way in front of you. For the second he’s joined by a guitarist and a drummer - just as funny and spontaneous, but this time in the key of D and to a steady shuffle beat. He’s doing it because he can, which is good enough reason for an audience who can’t get enough of his nimble darts of humour, and who mostly seem to appreciate the humane liberalism that informs Hall’s worldview.

There’s real mastery of craft here, but it takes a while to show beneath the rough and ready appearance of what Rich is doing. He puts different threads together expertly, delivering a performance masterclass - rapid fire wordplay side by side with crowd-pleasing nuggets of local knowledge, chatting to audience members, and involved set pieces. It all comes together in an involved anecdote about how treading on his young son’s Lego results in the loss of Rich’s ability to close one eyelid. An identifiable family vignette veers off into cultural contrasts, skilled observation of the nurses who appear to be sharing grave thoughts about his brain x-ray, insightful stuff about American and British healthcare, and physical comedy for good measure.

The musical second half is just as accomplished and shows Rich making the most of his earlier conversations with the audience, improvising tributes to them and encouraging one guy to provide backing vocals from the safety of his seat. And again, that sense of a truly skilled performer wanting to stretch himself, partly for his own entertainment, and also to ensure the audience leaves the theatre knowing they’ve experienced something rare and special.

Rich Hall’s Hoedown was at Mansfield Palace Theatre September 14, 2017.

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