Rich Hall is good at quite a few different things. Firstly, he’s a brilliant at ranting, whether it’s about ready meals, internet dating or the NRA. His dry, caustic delivery works because, on the face of it, he’s not trying to be funny at all; he is truly exasperated and angry. And, as part of his ranting, he’s also really good at swearing, timing it just right. (I think swearing in live comedy is an important skill, but this isn’t the forum for me to fully discuss my views). But most of all Rich Hall is excellent at singing acoustic songs, some of which are improvised after audience participation, but the best of which is a song about a recent Bob Dylan concert. His impression of Dylan playing harmonica is fantastic and very silly.
Hall is a pretty familiar face these days, a regular on panel shows and ‘Live at the Apollo’, which is somewhat surprising given his cynical and slightly bellicose style. And yet, apart from relating how he had been cut from a recent episode of Top Gear for being politically incorrect – which akin to admitting that UKIP turned down your membership request because your political perspective was too insular – Hall is one of the good guys. It’s still hugely funny to hear an American comedian, albeit one who spends much of his time touring in the UK, stand back astonished at the absurdities of American culture. Yet he’s also able to laugh at Britain, and Britishness; there something brilliantly cleansing about enabling an audience to laugh at itself. His act is crafted around being able to manage both perspectives at once and therefore become the archetypal outsider.
The set tonight did ebb and flow at points, and possibly relied too much on conversations with the front row (although, to be fair, this did enable the denouement of a marriage proposal) but there were far more high points than lows. Rich Hall will probably do more ambitious or complete sets of material, but beneath the moody, deadpan persona he’s got great energy, and seemed to enjoy himself as much as we did. He even smiled occasionally, which isn’t very Rich Hall at all. But I could see where he was coming from.