Rich Hall: ‘I’m incensed we are button-pushing squirrels’ (From East London and West Essex Guardian Series)
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Comedian Rich Hall says that he’s not really a grumpy old man
Step away from the mobile phone. Put away the tablet. The wonderfully acerbic comedian Rich Hall is about to come on stage in the West End, and he would like your undivided attention.
Rich, one of the most magnetic stand-ups currently at work in this country, is chatting in the run-up to his hugely anticipated spring tour of the UK.
The American-born comedian, who was raised in North Carolina, emphasises that what he is looking forward to more than anything else on this tour is the experience of performing for you.
When he is on stage, there is no barrier between you and him, and both you and he derive tremendous pleasure from that.
The 59-year-old begins by underlining his enduring passion for the live arena.
“What I love about stand-up is the immediacy of it. Having run the gamut of TV panel shows, after a while you know how to do them and they are not so much fun anymore.
“But now I know I’m going to be on stage, and that prospect is really exciting. For those two hours, no one is looking at their phones. It’s a true non-media event. Those sorts of occasions are rapidly disappearing, and that’s why I value them so much.“
A stand-up whose plainspoken, growling indignation and waspish observations have won him fans all over the world, Rich has been described as a transatlantic messenger lampooning each country he visits with his common sense comedy. To prove the point, he is never less than harsh on his homeland.
The Montana resident is renowned for his expertly crafted tirades. His biting yet compelling comedy has helped earn him a Perrier Award in Edinburgh and a Barry in Melbourne.
One of the many aspects that distinguishes Rich’s live act is the brilliant way he can craft delightful on-the-spot songs out of the smallest items of information that he gleans from the audience.
The comic, who won two Emmys for his work as a writer on The David Letterman Show, explains that, “I do what Americans call ‘crowd work’. I really enjoy that because I can turn it into improvised songs, which is a big thrill for me. I always have a guitar beside me on stage in case something happens.”
Rich continues that he does not need a lot of material to work on. “It’s funny, the less information you get from people, the more you can improvise. Nothing is out of bounds. I want them to tell me, ‘I’m a clerk,’ rather than, ‘I work for the council finance department and am involved in the end of year expenditure’. As soon as I hear the word ‘clerk’, my head immediately starts formulating rhymes for it.“
The fuel that powers Rich’s act is a marvellous sense of simmering fury. The stand-up, who also starred regularly on Stand Up for the Week, QI, Live at the Apollo, Have I Got News For You and Never Mind the Buzzcocks, gets riled by “The level of incompetence and amount of crap in the world. I’m also incensed by the fact that we are all turning into button-pushing squirrels. That has brought about a serious loss of personality in this impersonal, digitised world.“
Of course, Rich is not that irate in reality – it is simply a persona he adopts for comic effect on stage. “I’m not really angry at all. There are very small outward changes in my emotions. I have a sort of deadpan Walter Matthau visage. People think, ‘This guy looks grumpy’, but that’s just how my face is put together. Your comic demeanour has to match your face. Most comedians fit their face.“
The stand-up adds that, “People here also find it refreshing that I’m very detached from America. I’m not waving a flag or pretending that I’m hipper than you because I happen to be from the US.“
Rich Hall’s Hoedown is at Soho Theatre, from June 9 until June 15. Details: sohotheatre.com, 020 7478 0100
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