tue 04/08/2020

Rich Hall, Hammersmith Apollo | reviews, news & interviews

Rich Hall, Hammersmith Apollo

Rich Hall, Hammersmith Apollo

Survival of the fittest US comic in the age of Obama

The departure from the Oval Office of George W Bush was a catalyst for much street festivity over the water, for inappropriate hugging of strangers and random multi-ethnic high-fiving. Of course whole tranches of the all-American demographic were somehow able to contain their excitement at the coming of Obama – among them oil profiteers, health insurers, people whose recreation includes shooting other people in the head. But none mourn Dubya like American comedians. And no American comedian mourns him more than Rich Hall. There aren’t so many jokes in the audacity of hope.

So where does a comedian who’s never happier than when there’s a man-made apocalypse to eff and blind about hunt for laughs in the bright new dawn? Obviously there’s still a lot of gloom to cling to like a life raft. The figure of $11 trillion - the size of his country's debt - cropped up like a church-service refrain. Global warming is always cheering news. And ethnic tension remains a reliable source of homespun doom-mongering: the violence between Sunnis and Shiites establishes beyond reasonable doubt that “in a country with no Jews or blacks, people will improvise”.

But in a time of comedic dearth Hall can always fall back on the miscellaneous and terminal dumbness of his evolution-disavowing compatriots. There was a whole hunk of redneck rifle-based humour, the best of it arising from American man’s relationship with American beasts. In Hall’s Montana menagerie, bison heads are so ubiquitous there's one mounted on his dry cleaner’s wall, while prairie dogs and grizzlies stalk across his predatory field of vision. Not that Hall isn’t commendably colour-blind: priapic, ignorance-peddling rappers demoralise him as much as any white hick within his firing range.

And of course there’s always the United Kingdom and its baffling inhabitants, its sinister TV ads which never identify the product and its obituary pages for which there is a curiously metronomic supply of well-known dead. Hall is the only American comedian of his generation who has really made the effort to crack it over here, and while he claims to live somewhere out in the vast Mid-Western outdoors depicted here on a framed cinemascopic backdrop, he’s moved among us enough to know how to tickle the British funny bone. The shtick is all about respecting our unAmericanness. “I go where the misery is,” he said. And the repression and the orderliness. It helps that he's married to a limey. Not that it doesn’t sound very weird hearing words like Horsham, Neasden and Flintoff roll off his gravelly wild-western tongue.

The jokes flowed like chopped lumber bumping down a crowded torrent. Hall often shelved his pre-written stuff to toy dexterously with the patsies in the front row. Now and then the energy dipped but, as Hall joked, it won’t show up in the edit. This gig was being recorded for posterity. He was almost sheepish when introducing something from his back catalogue, a well-honed routine about Tom Cruise’s script choices.

In the second half Hall came back out as his rootin'-tootin’, growlin'-scowlin' alter ego Otis Lee Crenshaw. Parked in front of a keyboard, with the Honky Tonk Assholes for support on a set dressed like a Blue Mountain junkyard, Crenshaw cranked up the self-loathing and gnarled sarcasm to toxic levels with glorious ballads of bile and hymns of hate. The truth is his songbook is hardly country. It's a closer kin to an old-time Tom Waits spouting four-chord trailer-park philosophies. “White Trash State of Mind”  was a treat, “Fuck Disney” (whose offices are just round the corner) a triumph. Hall as himself or as Otis Lee knows his tilting at windmills won’t stop the world being a dumb-ass sorta ethical sinkhole. But he would be nothing without the sour music of his scattergun disgust.

Rich Hall and Otis Lee Crenshaw are on tour till 5 December. Information here. Rich Hall and Otis Lee Crenshaw Live at the Hammersmith Apollo is released on DVD on 23 November. Order it here.

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