This winter has been a good season for comedy.
We have been treated to Marjolein Robertson’s improvised comedy debut with The Imposters, Stand Up Helly Aa featuring local and visiting comedians, and now for the first time in Shetland, we had Rich Hall.
Well known for his regular appearances on panel quiz shows such as QI, Never Mind The Buzzcocks, Have I Got News For You and 8 Out Of 10 Cats to name a few, Hall’s sharp satirical wit delivered in a drawl southern American tone has built up a captive audience before he even set foot on these isles.
According to Hall during his stand-up routine his first job was a “donkey basketball MC”, the crowd chuckled with an air of confusion at what they had just heard. Hall continued: “I don’t need to explain to you what that is.”
Since his debut as a writer and performer over 35 years ago on the David Letterman Show, Hall has become an award winning and critically acclaimed staple of the comedy world. He has racked up an impressive television history both sides of the Atlantic and has written and presented documentaries featured on BBC Four.
Hall has performed several times at the Edinburgh Fringe and London’s Hammersmith Apollo and been awarded the Perrier and Barry awards.
Visiting the UK from his home in Montana, he is knuckling down to an extensive tour which sees him right through to June this year. It’s a busy tour with few gaps between performances, “tomorrow night the Orkneys and then some other place”.
This was a sell-out show after just 36 hours of the tickets going on sale. Promoter Davie Gardener was delighted explaining “we didn’t even have to print up the posters”.
It is always a treat to see a famous face performing live and on Tuesday night the audience were brimming with excitement.
Once everyone had their refreshments they found their seats and huddled expectantly to see the latest in a constant flow of high profile visiting comedians that Shetland has enjoyed over the years.
Rich Hall came booming onto the stage after announcing himself to then proclaim his delight at performing in the “architecturally delightful Mareel” and that it was a dream to “perform at this latitude”.
He swaggered around the centre stage – his casual cowboy look topped off with the hat. The first applause of the night was when he admitted his hate for trees, and that is why he could love Shetland.
Right from the get-go, Rich began including the audience in his show, choosing people to tell him what their jobs are and incorporating that into his act crafting his interactions into the basis for songs that he would then burst into.
He would stroll over to his guitar and casually but without grace throw the strap over his shoulder and fumble the guitar into position – “half the audience are musicians and they’re looking at me thinking what the [expletive] are you doing”.
Over the course of the evening, he sang a range of songs in his treacly mouthed, gravelly toned voice, sometimes accompanied by guitarist Rob Childs.
The themes ranged from Scottish town names “I’m Shetland bricks”, to stories focusing on making protagonists of selected audience members “Big Pete the oil tanker security guard”.
An early musical highlight being “The Ballad Of Donald Trump’s Wig” where Hall picked apart and analysed the life, death and afterlife of Mr Trump.
This was of course in reference to Trump’s running for office this year, a presidential campaign that Hall described despairingly as “the biggest crapshoot in the world”.
He questioned why America would want to see another Bush in the Whitehouse – “have you ever seen a dog run repeatedly into an electric fence?”
Hall bore a stern face and rarely smiled, yet he always looked happy. His demeanour was relaxed and at home on the stage, feeding off the audience.
Even when somebody started heckling in a broad Shetland accent Hall rose to the occasion in a confident and understated manner and was able to draw a lot of material from the situation.
Watching his stand-up performance felt like listening to a conversation, it was natural and you felt you knew the man by the end of his performance. Couple that with the intimate feel of the venue it made his stories more gripping as the night went on and gave the punch lines more weight.
At the beginning Hall explained the job of being a comedian in simple terms: “We just say intelligent things stupidly for an hour, or is it stupid things intelligently?”
By the end of the evening, he had explored topics ranging from politics to survival in bear-riddled Montana, from British advertising gimmicks to knife crime, and from meeting the Queen to his upbeat closing song about the simple and always exciting life of a working dog.
Hall can be added to the growing list of distinguished comedians that have travelled here to share a memorable evening with a devoted crowd of comedy fans and hopefully he will be added to the list of returning comedians in the future. “I want to come back in the summer, somebody put me on one of those [expletive] folk festivals”.