Rich Hall at the Soho Theatre: The gruff exterior conceals a skilled performer and a secret romantic
ich Hall doesn’t talk much about the pandemic in Shot From the Cannons, except to grumble that he was shocked to find that unlike nurses, he wasn’t considered “essential” during Covid. After spending 75 minutes with Hall, I would say his argument is justified. It’s definitely essential if you need a dose of grumpy humor.
The gruff American brings a touch of misanthropy and more to his clever and engaging set. Anecdotes of gigs at campsites, gigs where ticket holders packed guns. Crowdwork where he incorporated fan names and professions into semi-improvised songs. And fully formed country ballads, delivered in a voice so gravelly it makes Tom Waits sound like Sinatra.
Hall has been doing this for so long – he won the Edinburgh Comedy Award for Best Show in 2000, before part of the Soho audience was born – he makes it look effortless. But there is considerable finesse here, modulating the pace, thinking on one’s feet. He looks good too, like a Steinbeck dust globe character with his dented hat and equally worn face.
These days he commutes between Montana and the UK and it looks like he prefers it here. “I don’t trust happiness and neither do you.” Americans are just too positive, he suggests. They scream when you say you’ve been married for 17 years, as Brits express concern. Hall recently published a memoir, Nailing It, but it’s a stand-up show rather than an extended book sheet.
Some elements seem a bit distorted over time. A Routine references Margaret Thatcher and some vintage feel-good movies. The topical satire is largely distorted, aside from describing Westminster with piercing precision as a “treadmill of crackpots” from a Tim Burton movie.
Whatever the subject, he displays a keen ear for eye-catching lines. His songs frequently contain sublime rhymes. In a pleasantly maudlin number about a horseless town that couldn’t get broadband, he drawls, “The ground is just too unstable for that fiber optic cable.”
Beyond the sulky character, there is someone nostalgically romantic. He longs for a simpler era before the advent of self-driving trucks and is asked to verify that he is not an online robot. Then I checked and was surprised to see he’s on Twitter, but not surprised to see he hasn’t tweeted since February.
Hall has come a long way from his early days hosting donkey basketball games, which is as weird as it sounds, with players rolling around while shooting hoops. At one point during his set, he modestly thought there was a thin line between legend and afterthought. It is clearly much closer to the first than to the second.
Soho Theatre, through Saturday; sohotheatre.com