Syndicated interview by 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.
Now, I’m delighted to report, we are about to enjoy more of his unique, crotchety comedy, as he is setting off on a nationwide tour with his brilliant show, ‘Rich Hall: Live’.
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, which is why you should rush now to reserve tickets for the new tour. They are liable to sell faster than hot cakes.
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 marvelously 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”. Quite.
In the run-up to the tour, Rich takes some time out to chat with me. You will no doubt be very pleased to learn that this particular comedian is just as funny in an interview as he is on stage.
Rich, who has presented such critically acclaimed BBC 4 documentaries as ‘Rich Hall’s Continental Drifters’, ‘Rich Hall’s The Dirty South’, ‘How The West Was Lost’, ‘Rich Hall’s Californian Stars’, ‘Rich Hall’s Cattle Drive’ and ‘Rich Hall’s Gone Fishing’, 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.”
The comedian, who has made very successful appearances on such TV shows as ‘QI’ (BBC1/2), ‘Live At The Apollo’ (BBC1), ‘Channel 4’s Comedy Gala Live At The O2’, ‘Have I Got News For You’ (BBC1), ‘Stand Up For The Week’ (Channel 4), ‘Otis Lee Crenshaw – London Not Tennessee’ (BBC2) and ‘Never Mind The Buzzcocks’ (BBC2), is especially glad that his 2016 tour includes the Scottish Highlands.
“I’m really looking forward to going to the nether regions of Scotland,” says Rich, who won two Emmys writing for The David Letterman Show in the US.
“Every year I try to tour out of the way places. Last year it was Norway. This year it is the Hebrides. I like to go to places where I’m not worried about competition from other comedians! Audiences also love the fact that you have made the effort to play there.”
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.
The comedian, who has already released two very successful stand-up DVD’s in 2001 and 2009 through Universal Pictures UK and will be putting out another stand-up DVD later this year, explains that, “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. To that end, Rich will be bringing his incredibly entertaining ‘Hoedown’ show around the UK for a number of limited dates on this tour including 4 nights at the Tobacco Factory Theatre in Bristol, 3 nights at The Playhouse in Norwich, and finally bringing 2016 to a close with 4 nights at The Lowry in Salford Quays.
He says that, “I will have such a great collection of musicians on stage for the Hoedown. Having a full band there makes it a much richer experience – if you’ll pardon the phrase!”
Rich goes on to reflect 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!”
Rich has just been in the US making ‘How to Kill a President’, another fascinating sounding BBC4 documentary, this time about negative campaigning in the Presidential race. American politics is bound to feature in his new show.
The comic will certainly be addressing the question of whether the extraordinary, controversial businessman Donald J Trump can win the presidency.
“There is a lot of gnashing of teeth about Trump, but it’s merely entertainment. He’s doing what he has to do to get attention. He is saying the most outrageous things and tapping into a collective sense of anger.”
But, Rich adds, “Eventually Trump will come under the same scrutiny as everyone else. ‘So you want to build a giant wall along the border and make the Mexicans pay for it? How exactly are you going to do that, then?’”
The comedian reckons that, “If the people running had their way, no one would be watching the campaign at all. But when Trump comes along, everyone has to react and talk about issues – and politicians hate that. God forbid that they have to talk about issues!”
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 will also be bringing his infamous ‘Hoedown’ to Bristol, Norwich and Salford for some limited dates this coming autumn.