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Interview: Rich Hall

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Syndicated Interview by James Rampton

To emphasise just how much they are into his new show, “Rich Hall’s Hoedown”, the American comedian’s many fans are turning up at venues dressed in a full cowboy hat and cowboy boot ensemble. They are truly entering into Rich’s Wild West spirit. Yee haw!

This electrifying show, which culminates in an infectious celebration of Americana and a hilarious, foot-stomping hoedown, has already really caught fire up and down the country. And the great news is that “Rich Hall’s Hoedown” is coming to a venue near you very soon.

The brilliant stand-up is continuing his extensive nationwide tour throughout 2018 and 2019. You are advised to book tickets as quickly as possible because they are already flying off the shelves.

Chatting to us during a hiatus in the tour, Rich proves a richly entertaining interviewee. He is fiercely intelligent and possesses a razor-sharp wit. It is a joy to spend time with him.

Even though he is widely loved by British audiences, the modest Rich can scarcely believe how well this tour has gone. “The response has been astounding,” reveals the comic, who was also enjoyed huge acclaim and won the Perrier Award at the 2000 Edinburgh Festival as his bourbon-soaked, country and western-singing Tennessean alter ego, Otis Lee Crenshaw

“I’m enjoying doing this particular show so much. The reaction has been very rousing. People come up to me afterwards and say, ‘I’d seen you on TV, but I didn’t realise you were this funny’. That’s the most satisfying response. At the risk of turning into the Willie Nelson of comedy, I don’t want to stop doing this show!”

The critics have been equally enthusiastic about “Rich Hall’s Hoedown”. The Guardian called it, “Blissfully funny,” while The Scotsman declares that it is, “As close as it gets to a guaranteed good show.”

Rich has had an enormously successful TV career, shining in such comedy shows as QI, Have I Got News For You, Live at the Apollo and Never Mind the Buzzcocks, as well as producing such lauded documentaries as Rich Hall’s Countrier Than You, Rich Hall’s Presidential Grudge Match, Rich Hall’s Cattle Drive, Rich Hall’s Gone Fishing and Otis Lee Crenshaw – London Not Tennessee. Rich’s most recent documentary Rich Hall’s Working For The American Dream aired on BBC Four in July and was met with the same high acclaim as previous documentaries.

For all that, stand-up remains his first love. Rich, whose latest audio CD, Working Dog, is currently available to buy or download from, affirms that, “I just love the live experience. On stage, you get much longer than you do on TV to do a completely thorough performance piece.

“On shows like QI or Have I Got News For You, you’re just part the process, and next week someone else will be on. You try and keep your head above water on those programmes, but after they are finished, viewers just wonder what’s on next. A panel show is a commodity, and people have forgotten it half an hour later.”

However, Rich carries on, “If you have gone out of your way to go to a live show and spent two and a half hours in the theatre, chances are you’ll be talking about it on the way home.

“It’s no different from going to live music. Watching a musician live is a completely different experience from listening to his song on the radio. You have more of an artistic and emotional investment in the live performance. That’s what I love about it.”

The comedian, who has also made Rich Hall’s (US Election) Breakdown for BBC Radio Four, has no time for those comics who think that TV takes precedence over everything else.

According to Rich, “A lot of comedians can’t wait to get off the road, leave behind the crappy dressing rooms and the long drives and get back to the TV studio. But in the TV studio you just aren’t in control in the same way. People like Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Rock always want to get back to stand-up. They still want to be out there on the road, where you can be a one-man performer, director, writer, producer and editor.

“It sometimes sounds like a crime to go on the road all the time. But for me it’s the proof of the pudding. You hone your show every night. The great thing is, people who come out to see you enjoy the show, and then they come back. They trust you that the show is going to be good when they come to see you again. That’s really gratifying.”

So what can audiences expect from “Rich Hall’s Hoedown”? The first half of the show is an examination of the catastrophe President Trump is wreaking on the world on a daily basis. The comedian jokes that, “I love the fact that Trump is President. It’s great for comedy, even though it’s dreadful for the rest of the world and humankind!

“But people expect me to talk about it. You can’t avoid talking about Trump because he infiltrates every part of our world like a weevil. He’s like an egg sac which has bored into every aspect of our lives.”

Rich says he has to be fleet of foot when tackling the subject of Trump. “My material keeps changing because the guy changes every day on a whim. No Trump joke has any shelf life at all. It’s good for three hours – then it’s out the window. Jokes about the wall, for instance, are so last year. But at least it keeps you on your toes.”

The second half of “Rich Hall’s Hoedown” is a riotous tribute to the delights of Americana. With his excellent band, the comedian performs 10 to 12 songs, many of which he improvises, using material he has gleaned from the audience in the first half.

Rich laughs that, “The people in the front row realise that they will be targets, but they will also be serenaded. I like to find a couple who have been married for a long time and write a song about how they first met.

“You have to keep your mind open to improvise. The best moments come when the audience say to themselves, ‘I didn’t see that coming.’ You paint yourself into such a corner that the audience think, ‘How is he ever going to get out of that?’ And then you escape. It’s a real challenge, but that’s what makes it funny.”

The comedian admits that, “Sometimes I stumble, but that can be funnier than when you nail it. It’s very disposable material. It’s funny in the moment, but you can’t do it tomorrow.”

What makes Rich’s music so compelling is that he performs traditional, American country and western songs with a distinctly British tinge. He discloses that, “I can write a song about any car now. It’s much better if it’s a terrible car. It’s funny to romanticise in a Springsteen-esque way a rubbish car that doesn’t deserve it.”

One of Rich’s most memorable songs is called “Eritrean Trucking Buddy”. “It’s about the habits of British truck drivers. In America, a song about truck driving would be very romantic and all about women in halter tops hitchhiking.

“But in Britain, it’s far less romantic. The drivers have to get out and look underneath their truck for human cargo. This song is about a British driver who finds a refugee from Eritrea under his truck and gives him a lift. It works quite well – unless you’re from Croydon. It doesn’t show Croydon in a good light!”

So, as you can see, “Rich Hall’s Hoedown” is a dazzling night out, the most fun you’ll ever have with your cowboy boots on. It is only fair to point out, though, that one thing has disappointed the stand-up about his audiences for the hoedown. “No one is bringing any farm implements of any type. I’m very disappointed. Hoes are welcome.”

Rich closes by underlining the importance of word-of-mouth in bringing audiences to his show. “When people really enjoy it, they tell their friends about it. Word-of-mouth is still the greatest. You can advertise on Facebook all you want, but in the end it’s down to the fact that a good live show is a good live show. I’m not about to give this up any time soon.”

I’m sure I’m not the only one who is extremely glad to hear that.

See Rich at The Roses on Thursday 13 June - buy tickets here

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