21 Oct 2012

Rich Hall : Review

Rich Hall
Giggling Guiri, Barcelona International Comedy Festival
C.A.T. Tradicionarus, Barcelona

       It was my first Giggling Guiri event but apparently their last. A nameless man wearing a hat opened the evening appearing on the stage to tell us how it had all been a bit of a struggle over the years and so he was moving to Brazil. I’m sure the first act waiting nervously backstage would have thanked him for this decidedly chilly warm-up.
       The first act was Josep, a Catalan who had triumphed the previous night in the Barcelona International Comedy Festival Find a Funny Person Event and hence won the prize of being the first act. Comedy has got tough since I tried it all those years ago. To get an open mike spot then you just had to pester the promoter, wait around until he was satisfied he’d made you wait enough to convince you he was important and agree with him that he was a philanthropic genius bringing the balm of laughter to the toiling masses – now you have to actually achieve something.
       Anyway, easily overcoming his intro, Josep began in an agreeably bumbling fashion and had the audience with him from the start. His self-deprecatory persona contrasted strongly with his content which was mainly a stream of unpleasant images and really not very good at all. But his excellent timing allowed him to get away with ten minutes of saying repulsive rather than funny stuff without the audience twigging. If he ever wants to do more than this time slot though he’s going to have to have better material.
       Next up was Martin Lagos a young Swedish comic brimful of cocky confidence. He was also brimful of lazy stereotypes – we got workshy Latinos, mean Scots, ugly women from the North East of England, video game playing Japanese and trailer park inhabiting Americans (and those were pretty much the punchlines). But he was so convinced he was funny that he managed to fool just enough of the audience for twenty whole minutes. He wasn’t though.  
       Finally, out came the nameless man in the hat – you may have guessed I have an irrational prejudice against the unnecessary indoor wearing of hats – it one of those things that people do to make themselves seem quirky and interesting when they’re not. But I am aware that, in the greater scheme of things, it’s a fairly inoffensive practice and the amount it irritates me is grossly disproportionate to the amount of harm it causes – I’m working on it.
       Rich Hall was the “Comedy Hero” in question. He remarked halfway through his set that when his act is reviewed really all that happens is the writer reviews his face so that’s where I’ll start. Rich Hall’s ageing pugnacious face suggests a man who has observed the world with a baleful eye seen everything go wrong that possibly could go wrong and now expects it to get worse. With his trademark staccato growl he delivers an hour and a half of perfectly pitched amiable anger and engaging resignation about the depths of human stupidity.  
       He starts with the economic crash, throws in a good deal of America bashing, adds a few barbs at England and finishes it off with some effortless criticism of the front row who are, of course, delighted to be insulted. There’s nothing dangerous or challenging about his act and he could be accused of pandering too easily to the prejudices of his liberal audience – his only misstep came when he pronounces Obama “a good president in a bad country” – nobody is buying that line anymore – but otherwise he lets us laugh at others (Germany, Sarah Palin, the people of Whitehaven) and feel good about ourselves. If that sounds like a complaint I should make it clear that it is pretty much entirely mitigated by the brilliance of his performance. It is rare to see a comedian as completely in command of the stage as Hall. His observations are always sharp and intelligent (his targets may be easy ones but his creativity in dispatching them is inspired) and his outraged despair at human folly eventually magically transforms into being close to a celebration of precisely this dumbness (this is the exactly the same trick The Simpsons pulls off). You leave despairing at the world and feeling surprisingly good about it. An excellent show.