EDINBURGH 98; Southern drawl delivers stitches

Edinburgh Nights; Otis Lee Crenshaw Gilded Balloon
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A MANACLED man in an orange boiler-suit with the words "Tennessee Department of Corrections" stencilled on the back is marched on stage by a hulking great prison-guard. Eyes glinting beneath a thick bandanna and above an even thicker goatee, he introduces himself as Death Row resident Otis Lee Crenshaw. What are we witnessing? A stage version of Dead Man Walking? A searing, agitprop play indicting capital punishment?

Er, no, it's actually a comedy show. And a very funny one, at that. Crenshaw is played by the American stand-up Rich Hall, who is one of the few comedians who get laughs out of the unlikely subject of an inmate in a high-security jail.

As we visibly wilt in the intense heat of the venue, he comments: "I know you're sweating like a one-legged man in an arse-kicking contest."

Playing a keyboard and speaking in a deep Southern drawl that would not have sounded out of place in Deliverance, Hall cleverly sends up the cliches of country and western. "I guess my dad did a lot of talking with his fists ... Because he was a puppeteer."

There might be questions about taste, but who else could have the audience in stitches over a Country and Western song about prison rape?