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Reviews / American comic draws buckets of laughter

Rich Hall, right, joined by guitarist Rob Childs at Mareel on Tuesday night. Photo: Davie Gardner

SEASONED US comedian Rich Hall sent the masses home happy after delivering a two-hour country-comedy cocktail blending together observation, anecdote and musical song on Tuesday night.

The Mareel auditorium was packed for the 61-year-old’s maiden visit having sold out long before the festive period.

Hall’s self-deprecating chat about how he’s wound up playing small theatres in the middle of nowhere shouldn’t disguise that this guy is a well-travelled pro who trod the boards of Saturday Night Live in the 1980s.

When people back home ask Hall, a regular on TV panel shows this side of the pond, why he performs so regularly in this country, his response is simple: Brits have a sense of humour and well-formed opinions, whereas many of his fellow Americans “just have bumper stickers”.

He’s also a fine documentary-maker who regularly deploys his comic wit to bait American politicians, and early on at Mareel we got his take on the latest bewildering, terrifying race for the White House.

Crediting Scotland for being the only people to have properly pissed off a certain Republican frontrunner, Hall launched into ‘The Donald Trump Blues’, proceeding to say what needs to be said about the imbecile with the mad hairdo.

Opting for a very loose structure left the show, entitled ‘3:10 to Humour’, without any particular theme, allowing Hall to regularly veer off at tangents.

That offered scope for plenty of banter with the brave soul occupying the front few rows. He soon discovered that, if the chef and baker in the crowd were anything to go by, there might be a dearth of eateries actually open to customers this week.

Hall, in common with the audience, was left baffled by one heckler shouting out: “Why do dogs have black lips?” The punchline – “I don’t know, but next time you see one you’ll ask the same question” – revealed it to be an entirely random, head-scratching philosophical interlude.

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The comedian riffed amiably about the peculiarities of small-town life. Living in a small Montana town with a smaller population than Lerwick thankfully meant there was none of the type of patronising guff audiences here are occasionally subjected to.

We learnt that Hall’s wife is Liverpudlian. But while she has calmed down a bit, he joked, at its highest pitch her voice “attracts wildlife” in Montana, resulting in coyotes rutting outside the window.

Observations on life in his home state were a real standout, and it would have been nice to have heard a bit more on that theme at the expense of one or two of the weaker part-improv songs.

After the interval he was joined by musician Rob Childs for several hillbilly-ish songs. In between times the guitarist nipped back to the dressing room to follow the fortunes of his beloved West Ham United.

The best of the musical efforts were saved for the closing stages. 

The wayward second half of Bob Dylan’s career was demolished in growling song, complete with a fake wheeze into a harmonica. After seeing him live a few years back, Hall “wanted all of the audience’s money back”.

A further highlight was ‘The Rose of Hawick’, in which Hall’s accurate pronunciation of the Borders town’s name (“Hoyk”) in each chorus was greeted with hoots of laughter. It’s no wonder American place names feature more commonly in song lyrics.

Digs at Primark, online gambling, online dating (online most things, in fact) and people who buy a brand of tea because a monkey told them, meanwhile, to very much hit the spot; an anecdote about Warwick Davis and a song about aslyum seekers maybe not so much.

Judging by the volume of laughter and warmth of the crowd’s response, there’s little doubt that this fella would be welcomed back to Shetland with open arms in the future.

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