The real-life Moe Szyslak plays live at the Hammersmith Apollo tonight, armed with his dry country drawl and splenetic humour, to deliver another scathing condemnation of society.
Playing to a packed house (it is the filming of his live DVD tonight), Rich Hall walks out onto the stage to the applause of an admiring crowd, and in true curmudgeonly fashion looks around as if he’d rather be somewhere else.
Tonight he performs as the warm-up act to, well, um, himself. That is, to his comic alter-ego Otis Lee Crenshaw, and anarchic country band the Honky Tonk Assholes. But I’m getting ahead of myself, for the first hour he serves up a characteristic slice of vitriolic ranting.
Hall shouts about the state of America’s 7 trillion dollars of debt and how easily you can attain credit, screaming ‘all you have to do is push a pencil across the table with your nose, and congratulations, you’re now a home owner’. His material lays out a cutting indictment on the hypocrisy of society, television, politics, popular culture and particularly Tom Cruise, who he refers to as ‘that four-foot scientology midget’.
His best stuff bites at Barack Obama’s ‘Audacity of Hope’ which he picks apart with the sarcastic lines ‘Whoa Barack, stop being so audacious. I mean come on how audacious can you be. Isn’t that just below wishful thinking, and just above performing a rain dance?’
He then mocks Kanye West’s pathetic publication of self-help ‘Thank You and You’re Welcome’ (a 52-page pithy pamphlet which required a co-author to write), wherein Kanye states he doesn’t read much because ‘books be so wordy and shit’. I’ve noticed that too Kanye.
But something is missing here. His act doesn’t have the surreal edge that I expected from his television persona. Sure, his material is still passionate and angry, but his delivery is more akin to shouting into a microphone than delivering a carefully cynical tirade, and misses the timing which would have you laughing when you least expected it.
Thankfully the evening gets better from the second half when we welcome to the stage his sharper, quicker, less inhibited bandana-wearing alter-ego Otis Lee Crenshaw, as Hall lets himself go in a character he clearly feels very comfortable playing. The rapport with the crowd is great, as Crenshaw writes an entire song on the spot about a biology student in the front row, complete with sardonic verse and perfect rhyme, and cries to another: ‘So you’re a civil engineer ay? Well better than those damn renegade engineers’.
The pace and energy of the second half is a lot sharper, and the band are great, promising to turn everyone in the audience on to country music by the end of the night. They are certainly accomplished and stand out above most musical comedy which can often feel banal. To the backing of rapid banjo Crenshaw announces: ‘they say you should write songs about the things closest to you, so this is about my neighbour’.
Hall is certainly quick, as his interaction with the crowd shows, but most of his act is just rambling. I get the impression that if you were the screechy and annoying American sitting behind me shouting ‘Oh my god that’s so funny’ every five minutes, then it was probably exactly you’re kind of thing, but for me it just lacked any real personality.
The second half of the show certainly redeemed it as Hall’s persona turns from grumbling malcontent to a character with real attitude, and we leave the theatre still smiling.