Monday, 18 February 2013

Rich Hall's Hoedown

I've been trying to see Rich Hall live for some time now. He was billed, via the Londonist, to play a gig with a number of other stand-ups at a pub called The Phoenix in Cavendish Square last June (one of those 'work in progress' kind of gigs) that I subsequently went along to. The only other 'known' comic doing a spot that evening was Henning Wehn. I sat through nearly four hours of stand-up, all pretty good, but Rich didn't show and the audience weren't given any explanation for that. In fact, he wasn't even mentioned all evening. Henning Wehn rolled in towards 11.00pm and headed straight over to the bar. He was announced as the final act (after the one currently on stage) so I knew Rich was definitely not appearing, but would have had to leave anyway to make my last train. Needless to say, I was a bit miffed. 

Then, when these shows at the Soho Theatre were announced, I tried booking (no chance of a no-show here I thought!), but too late and the dates had sold out. Later still, via an email newsletter, I discovered more dates had been added due to demand and, this time, got in there quickly and finally managed to secure a ticket!

And so it was, I headed down to the Soho Theatre last Monday (11 February) to see him perform in Rich Hall's Hoedown. The theatre has three performance spaces, all quite intimate, situated on three floors of the building. This show took place in the space called Soho Downstairs, a large room with a stage at one end (to the right as you enter) and to your left a bar along one side of the room. The seating was made up of rows of plastic chairs, interspersed with small round tables that could seat around 5 each. The row I sat in was unfortunately occupied by one (or more) persons who perhaps had no concept of bodily hygiene, as a strong smell of underarm body odour wafted unpleasantly under my nose. I say possibly more than one because it was quite pungent and I wasn't sure if just one person could actually produce that strong an odour. For some strange (but not unwelcome) reason though, it seemed to diminish as the evening wore on. Eventually the rest of the audience settled in, the lights dimmed and the show began.

I'd already anticipated from the show's title the performance wasn't going to be pure stand-up and indeed that was the case. A PA announcement in Rich's distinctive gravelly tones heralded the arrival of his house band, consisting of guitar, banjo, bass, drums and keyboards, who all came out first to a warm round of applause and launched into a country-style number, ably sung by Kirsty Newton, who also played keyboards. Rich was then brought out to rapturous applause and launched into the set proper.

This was basically Rich Hall in musical/comedy mode, as he plowed through many numbers, playing either keyboards or guitar, all with comedy themes but many improvised on the spot, derived from audience suggestions. Examples of impro songs were one about Dundee(!) and 'The Ballad of Cath and Justin' (two audience members who Rich was attempting to instigate a marriage proposal between, even helping out by supplying Justin with a ring to give to Cath - sadly to no avail!), to name but two. A group of IT workmates were also on hand for Rich to target :

Rich: What do you do for a living?
IT guy: I work in IT
Rich: (Pause)
Rich: Do you have a girlfriend?
IT guy: No
Rich: (Pause)
Rich: I'm shocked
The house band were good fun too. Rich asks the banjo player "So, which part of the deep South do you come from?" The banjo player replies "Guildford". And even Kirsty Newton threw the audience when, after seeming to launch into another straight country song, ended up lyrically at the chorus with "You Ate Your Twin (In Your Mother's Womb)" and asked us all to join in!

Amongst the non-impro numbers Rich sang with the band were such gems as the rock'n'roll styled 'The Mosque Is Rockin'" and the romantic ballad "I'm Giving You My Love (From Behind)". He attempted to get the audience up dancing towards the end but only one person did, one of a group of girls he'd bantered with earlier in the show (and I'll come to them later). The show finally ended and the audience filtered out to make way for the next act at 9.30pm, a certain Mister David Baddiel.

Upstairs I went into the bar and milled around for a moment, deciding what to do. I'd had a few heavy nights recently and was quite tired and wondered if I should just head home and get some rest. But I was in post-show mood and the other half of me was saying 'go on, just have the one!'. It's very persuasive, that other half! So, I went to the bar and grabbed a beer.

While I was drinking, I noticed one or two of the performers on stage were slowly filtering into the room and had gathered together in a group to chat at one end of the bar. Eventually, most of them seemed to have come in, except Rich. He won't come into a packed public bar I thought. But then, as I glanced up, around half way through my pint, Rich suddenly walks in, dressed in his civvies and wearing a cap, and headed over to the group to join them. This of course prompted me to buy another beer and see if I might grab a chance of saying hello or having a picture taken.

Around an hour went by while Rich chatted to his friends and I saw an occasional fan muscle in to say hello, but I waited patiently for my opportunity. I realised of course he might have just upped and walked out all of a sudden, and then I'd have been stuffed, but at length most of his friends left the bar, saying their goodbyes, and Rich stayed. Here was my chance. He was at the bar and I'd finished my last beer, so I went up to get another and approached him. "Rich, great show!" I said and shook his hand. I was hoping to quickly follow through with a request for a photo, but was surprised when he launched straight into a conversation with me. I took the chance to offer him a beer. "No, that's fine thanks, I've got to go after this one anyway". So, I got my own beer and we continued chatting for a good while. We talked about the show, his career in general and how long he's lived over here, amongst other things. 

And that's how the conversation would have continued, but for two fangirls, who'd been at the show (one of them being the aforementioned dancer) and suddenly appeared from the shadows and butted into our conversation. That would have been fine normally, but they were both pissed as farts (for want of a better description), the 'dancer' not altogether very steady on her feet. At first, they thought I was a friend of Rich's, but lost interest in me conversationally when they realised I was just a plain ol' audience member. The 'dancer' kept draping herself over him, embarrassing herself in the process, and I eventually offered to take a picture of the two of them. She continued to drape herself in various drunken positions, me taking a snap each time, until Rich finally good-humouredly took her in hand and told her "come on, pose for a proper picture!" and she duly obliged (result below).

I then (perhaps stupidly) asked if one of them would take a picture of me and Rich, at which she snatched the camera out of my hand and began dancing around with it, pointing it at arm's length and snapping away several times. I thought "great, none of these are going to come out any good!" but when I reviewed them they actually didn't look too bad (although it was plainly a case of pure luck!), so I abandoned the idea of asking her friend to take a pic instead. I bought another beer and offered Rich again: "No, honestly, I'm fine.....actually, no, yeah, I will thanks...". Great! We were all getting rather merry (well, Rich and I were, the fangirls were well beyond that stage already!). When 'dancer' wasn't draped over Rich, she was draped over the bar, treating me and the others to a drink and generally wandering round in a drunken haze. Her friend was apparently equally drunk, but more coherent. She was also more conversational with Rich than her friend, but began asking him more personal questions, which I felt wasn't appropriate, but he was very pleasant and polite and, to my surprise, actually gave her answers. I'd have told her to mind her own business. She did sort of apologise at one point though, informing us "I'm drunk!". He replied "Hey, I'm drunk too!". Finally, at around 11.15pm, Rich finally said "look, I really do have to go now!" and headed off home. 

As I was finishing my last pint, I asked 'dancer' for her email address so I could send her the pics I took of her and Rich. She immediately balked and said "I'm not giving you my address!". "Hey, don't flatter yourself!" were words that hung from my lips, but never uttered. I briefly considered giving her friend my address and saying "Once you're both sober tomorrow, if you still want the pics, email me and I'll send them". Having considered that for all of about 2 seconds, I thought "To hell with it" (or words to that effect). I downed the last of my pint, said goodbye and headed for my last train. It had been a good evening. Rich was a gentleman and very charming and I got to chat with him for a whole hour and a quarter. What a nice guy and what a great way to end the evening!

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