Rich Hall: ‘The British like to insult you’

Rich Hall is at The Wedgewood Rooms next Wednesday
Rich Hall is at The Wedgewood Rooms next Wednesday

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He’s won two Emmys as a writer on the David Letterman Show and was the inspiration for Moe Szyslak, the barman in The Simpsons. But Rich Hall is better known to British audiences for his marvellously acerbic turns on numerous TV shows, including QI, Live in the Apollo, Have I Got News For You and Never Mind the Buzzcocks, as well as his comic documentaries on America on BBC4. Next week, the American-born comedian will be bringing his Hoedown to the Wedgewood Rooms in Southsea.

How does performing live compare to your TV work?

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 any more. 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.

So do you interact much with your audience at these shows?

‘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. If you told me I’d have to listen to anyone – apart from Richard Pryor – on stage for two hours, I’d think, “Oh God”. So it’s good to break up the show with musical interludes.

What do you think of other comics out there at the moment?

What is exasperating is that as comedians we live by the word. I see that very swiftly deteriorating, and I find it really scary. There doesn’t seem to be any appreciation any more of the written and spoken word. Everything is turning into shorthand. When a comedian like Dylan Moran gets on stage and speaks in his own very distinctive language, that really appeals to me. But nowadays a lot of performers are simply acting out the role of comedian. They use a very predictable cadence of comedy – ‘here comes the punchline’. If you close your eyes, you can hear it coming. But in order to have a very individual way of saying things, you need to perfect that live.

You spend a lot of time in the UK, what do you think of the British?

Brits like to insult you. Sometimes they come to the stage door after the show and say, “We really prefer Lee Mack.” They don’t even say, ‘We really enjoyed your show – you’re our second favourite behind Lee Mack”! But I know the subtext – they must quite like me if they have waited in line to insult me!

Where & when

Rich Hall’s Hoedown is at the Wedgewood Rooms on Wednesday, doors 7.30pm, tickets are £17.50. Go to wedgewood-rooms.co.uk or call (023) 9286 3911.