Pitting Rich Hall against Mike Wilmot at the Watford Colosseum sounds more like a job for a boxing promoter than a comedy one. However, rather than a baying mob witnessing a gladiatorial battle, a couple of hundred spectators in a hallway watched as two competent pros punched a little under their weight. The relative adversity of being outside of the main 1,440-seater venue was naturally exploited to the full. "Welcome to the room across from the Colosseum," announced Rich Hall wryly, beginning an enjoyable number of jibes at its expense.
To muse on what sized room comedy should be performed in is to open a can of worms but good comedy will fill the space provided, and Mike Wilmot duly did his job of warming up the audience and space-filling.
The 41-year-old Canadian comedian had the perfect demographic to spout about caravans and laser eye surgery and to play the dirty uncle to a 14-year-old boy in the front row. This amused the boy's parents, while those parents who didn't bring their children laughed even more easily. It is on matters of the flesh that Wilmot really lands his blows, and he came out fighting for the start of the second half of the show. He grabbed the audience by the throat and whatever else he could lay his hands on and delivered a small, well practiced, tour de force on sexual discovery and disappointment.
Wilmot and Rich Hall have found themselves travelling in the same vehicle on a few occasions before this tour, namely the 2002 Edinburgh show Pretzel Logic and BBC4's Rich Hall's Fishing Show. Though I would question the performance dynamics of this duo, they have no doubt bonded over their membership to the ever-growing club of North American comedians who have found their craft appreciated more here than in their homeland.
Not that home is ever too far way for Rich Hall, who jets between the UK and his native Montana. Nor is it far from his act, where he plays upon the comedy opportunities afforded by the Bush administration, while his alter ego, Country Crooner Otis Lee Crenshaw, literally synthesises this disdain for the American way ("good things come to those who wait, but shit turns up immediately") with some homegrown wisdom, of which the song "Pockets of Resistance (on the Trousers of Democracy)" is a good example.
Tonight's format allowed Hall to be both himself and Otis (but solo Otis, stripped of his backing band The Black Liars). Personally, I would have preferred one or the other, and Otis's comedy ballads came off less well than usual in the wake of Mike Wilmot's strong second-half set. Nevertheless it is always worth seeing Rich Hall - his material is both endearing and enduring. Catch them all (Mike, Rich and Otis) at bigger venues near you.