Small is beautiful; COMEDY

Rich Hall is one of America's best-loved comedians. Now he's

coming to the Edinburgh Fringe. Ben Thompson asks, Why?

THE SATURNINE, weather-beaten face of American comedian Rich Hall is not given to great displays of emotion. But when he sees someone he knows coming towards his pavement-cafe table, he throws his sun hat in the air to catch their attention, and a flock of little bits of paper with phone numbers and appointments written on flutters to the ground around him. Hall's air of benign disorganisation makes a likeable counterpoint to the solidity of his comedic reputation. Given the alarmingly broad spectrum of human endeavour on show in Edinburgh this year, it is hard tosay for certain, but it seems unlikely that any other Festival debutant will already have received an award from the American Museum of Broadcasting for their "body of work".

One of America's funniest and most respected stand-up performers, Hall has won an Emmy for his writing on The David Letterman Show, was a regular on Saturday Night Live at the same time as Billy Crystal, and in his rare moments of repose lives in a ranch in Montana. Why then should he want to come to Britain, to do shows in a place where nobody knows who he is? When Hall claims to "really like" small crowds, it's with a conviction only credible from someone not used to performing to them. "It's great," he maintains in his persuasive outdoors drawl, "because the audience immediately has a bond with you: they're thinking, `The poor guy - thank God we're here'."

It's not just that Hall enjoys the challenge of winning over a new constituency, he is also fed up with people in his home country laughing at him automatically because they've seen him on TV. In the US, he observes, "There's a remote- control mentality: `Where's the joke? Where's the joke?' People are into the rhythm more than the material." His first real taste of British audiences, toughening up his Edinburgh set around London and the South-east earlier this year, left him surprisingly impressed: "Even in some of these wild pubs where you get the feeling that people could turn on you at any moment, you still get these incre- dible quiet spots where people are really paying attention even if they've had three or four lagers."

Hall repays the compliment by taking care to ensure the accuracy of any references to the culture of which he is a guest. He was over here during his old boss David Letterman's recent week of British transmissions and thought they were "a huge waste of his talent" - lazily directed at the folks back home, rather than at an eager new UK viewership. Hall prefers to try and get under the skin of his host nation, commenting for example on the schizophrenia of Londoners: "In the daytime they're reasonably polite, then at night they just come spilling out of the pubs like drunken salmon, spewing upstream towards the kebab shops." Scotland awaits his verdict with some trepidation.

Many comedians zero in on loneliness and personal misfortune, but few do it to such emotive effect as this man: "Rejected more times than a baboon heart at Houston Medical Centre." Hall's hangdog expression gets him hailed in the street by well-meaning strangers, who exclaim, "Hey there, sad fella." His exceptionally amusing advice book, Self Help for the Bleak, is hard to find in this country, but fortunately a fair bit of it seeps into his act. As well as revealing "why it's so difficult to distinguish between a well-rounded person and a big fat zero", this worthy volume also dispenses invaluable tips on building self-esteem, such as placing outrageously self-aggrandising ads in lonely-hearts columns and rounding them off with: "Stare all you want folks, it ain't for sale."

Hall is a tricky comedian to place. There is a hint of Woody Allen in some of his best material, while his no-nonsense individualism - "If my horses were kids they'd have run away from home by now to escape the neglect" - sometimes calls to mind the designer ruggedness of Denis Leary. He is also one of the world's more unlikely vegetarians. As if this weren't enough, he does tricks with Perspex too.

This last accomplishment is probably a hangover from his earliest days in showbusiness. Like our own Eddie Izzard, Rich Hall started out as a street entertainer. Way back in the dark and distant late Seventies, he left behind a creative-writing course in Seattle to travel America with a broken movie camera, trying to persuade passers-by to act out crowd scenes. He made it to New York, saw Jerry Seinfeld at the Comedy Store at the dawn of the post-Steve Martin US club boom, and decided to move his act indoors. Much as in this country, the growth of comedy as an industry in America has not always been accompanied by rising standards: "Anybody who doesn't want to lift stuff becomes a comic now," Hall observes caustically.

His own appetite for the business seems miraculously undiminished. "To me," he asserts in downbeat visionary mode, "stand-up is just this evolving kind of amorphous thing that changes every time you do it, depending on what new piece of material you put in there, or how you rearrange something ..." Hall pauses, then adds with unnerving sincerity: "And if I don't get on stage when the sun goes down and ply my craft, I kind of feel like the day was a waste."

! Rich Hall: Edinburgh Fringe Club Studio, 0131 226 5138, to 2 Sept (not 21 & 31 Aug), 9pm.

Arts and Entertainment
'The Great British Bake Off' showcases food at its most sumptuous
tvReview: Bread-making skills of the Bake Off hopefuls put to the test
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architecture
Arts and Entertainment
Cliff Richard performs at the Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam on 17 May 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Educating the East End returns to Channel 4 this autumn

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush

music
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Mark Crown, DJ Locksmith and Amir Amor of Rudimental performing on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park, Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Capaldi and Chris Addison star in political comedy The Thick of IT

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judy Murray said she

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Seoul singer G-Dragon could lead the invasion as South Korea has its sights set on Western markets
music
Arts and Entertainment
Gary Lineker at the UK Premiere of 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Bale as Batman in a scene from
film
Arts and Entertainment
Johhny Cash in 1969
musicDyess Colony, where singer grew up in Depression-era Arkansas, opens to the public
Arts and Entertainment
Army dreamers: Randy Couture, Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren and Jason Statham
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off 2014 contestants
tvReview: It's not going to set the comedy world alight but it's a gentle evening watch
Arts and Entertainment
Umar Ahmed and Kiran Sonia Sawar in ‘My Name Is...’
Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
This year's Big Brother champion Helen Wood
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Full company in Ustinov's Studio's Bad Jews
Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Harari Guido photographed Kate Bush over the course of 11 years
Music
Arts and Entertainment
Reviews have not been good for Jonathan Liebesman’s take on the much loved eighties cartoon
Film

A The film has amassed an estimated $28.7 million in its opening weekend

Arts and Entertainment
Untwitterably yours: Singer Morrissey has said he doesn't have a twitter account
Music

A statement was published on his fansite, True To You, following release of new album

Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

    Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

    Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
    eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

    eBay's enduring appeal

    The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

    'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
    Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

    Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

    Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
    Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

    Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

    After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
    Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

    Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

    After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
    Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

    Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

    Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
    7 best quadcopters and drones

    Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

    From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
    Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

    Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

    The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
    Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

    A descent into madness in America's heartlands

    David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
    BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

    BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

    Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home