MERIGA’S HALL OF FAME
RICH HALL FEATURE
His writing credits include The David Letterman Show and he has worked with the best of ’em on Saturday Night Live. Rich Hall is a big noise in American comedy, so what is he doing in Edinburgh, asks Cait Hurley.
ich Hall is a stand-up comedian. He also looks like Grouch from Sesame Street. Perhaps it’s his weather beaten. sun-browned face. his drawling laid-backness or his mop of unruly hair. but that’s as far as it goes — get him on stage and he acts like he was born to make you laugh long and hard. Which is why he’s here. making his Festival debut.
The American comedian has actually attended the Festival once before. while he was filming a show called ()nion World. and decided he’d have a go at the So You Think You're Funny open mic slot (without telling the organisers). He shrugs it off though. ‘Yeah. yeah.’ he says. looking at the floor. ‘that thing’s got blown out
of all proportion.‘ Needless to say. he didn’t make it to the
stage that time but he
comes to Edinburgh forewarned and forearmed.
‘This is curious to me.’ he says. ‘lt seems as though there’s this huge. unavoidable monster hovering over the Festival that forces you into pubs. because normal, sensible people I talk to cannot explain why it happens. but apparently all you do is drink.’
Starting out as a street performer in 1979. young Rich Hall knew he had to do something - anything - other than juggling or mime. It was a useful lesson in finding an audience: ‘These evangelists would come around. get up on a milk crate and start yelling... I found that the best way to attract attention was when these guys turned up. Immediately I’d get a crowd. a very angry crowd. So. I’d put on a clerical collar and then about ﬁve minutes in l’d talk about God being e v e r y w h e r e . omnipresent in that mountain. in that building. in this album - and I’d pull out an album of God’s greatest hits.‘
Rich Hall has an impeccable comedy resumé: the first stand- up Hall saw live was Jerry Seinfeld; he
learned his stuff in the comedy Mecca of San Francisco: he’s written for David Letterman and gone back to appear on the show; and for a season in the mid-80s he was a Saturday Night Live regular alongside Billy Crystal. Hall is disarmineg matter of fact about these milestones. explaining that he made it on to S.N.L. by the skin of his teeth. "l‘he only reason I was on the show was because they wanted three members of Spinal Tap and only two wanted to do it. so l ended up being on the show at the very last second.’ he says.
Hall stayed for one season. and his greatest moment was emphatically not writing sketches for guest host Ringo Starr. ‘I wrote three sketches for him and he tanked them. He was
Rlch Hall: ‘lmpeccable comedy resumé’
just not very good.’ he remembers. The potential highlight of the year ended with Hall stomping home through the snows of New York swearing. Now was the time to strike out on his own in TV land. so came ()nion World and a daft film called Vanishing America with a plot too convoluted to be worth explaining.
As the stand-up boom in the US exploded, with every stand-up in America vying for television shows, Hall decided to cool it with the telly stuff and concentrate on writing and performing. ‘It got to the point where it no longer felt like it was a big deal to be a stand-up comedian,’ he says. ‘You‘d tell someone and they’d say. “Oh yeah. my grandmother’s doing open mic tomorrow”.’ So why has he decided to spend so much time
here recently? ‘To ‘8‘. validate the amount ~ of time I spend here,
so I’m not a bloody tourist anymore. I’d come over here and walk around like an idiot. and I thought — God, I can be funny here. I bet.’
He bet right. Hall has been over officially twice now. and the response from the London club dates has been uniformly ecstatic. The Guardian regularly features him in their stable of ‘Weekender’ writers and he loves British audiences: ‘Where I’m on the mark, the appreciation level here is much more rewarding than in the US.’ he says. How could they not warm to such a charming scruff”? He plays with you — he asks you things that make you feel at home, and he does a great, improvised. frenetic thing with a load of chocolate bars. It’s almost by accident that he’s come over to Britain at the peak of his powers so... discover him while he’s here.
Rich Hall (Fringe) Fringe Club (Venue 2) 226 5138, ll Aug—2 Sept, 9pm, £6.50 (£5.50).
The List 11-17 Aug l99521