Rich Hall announces his entrance with reference to a story in that night’s York Press.
This article, he said, revealed that the city had a happiness rating of 7.82 out of 10. And he was here to supply the “missing 2.18”.
Walking on stage Hall mused how the newspaper had published this news about our joyful lives before four reports about people getting their jaws broken in pubs.
This is the essence of Rich Hall – a man of contradictions. Curmudgeonly yet warm. A grade one gloom-monger, but unable to completely hide an innate optimism. A Stetson wearing country singer from Montana who spends half his life in London.
And there is another contrast too: between the meandering, anecdotal style of his delivery, and the hours of crafting and honing to produce what you could characterise as razor-sharp rambling.
At times he delivers one-liners as good as any you’ll hear. One day his 11-year-old daughter asked him what superpower he’d like to have. His reply? “China.”
Or this, on the US election campaign. “We’ll either have the first woman president. Or the last president.”
He talks about politics a lot in the first half, musing on Brexit but aiming most of his anger at the absurdity of “back-combed orang-utan” Donald Trump.
Hall even manages to weave in a sharply funny local reference to Trump, terrorism, and his plan to fence in the people of Mexico. Unlike his panicky countrymen, Britons, he says, are stoic in the face of terror. That’s because we’ve been living with it longer.
“Hell, when you built that wall you must have been terrified about something!” he says. “And I’ve seen three Mexican restaurants here already.”
Goes up a gear
It is the first half of the second act where this consistently funny set moves up a gear, setting the nearly full Theatre Royal rocking with laughter. Here his acerbic gaze moves onto the weirdness of modern life, from ready meals to smartphone obsessions.
Not original subjects but his observations are unique and, when you stop to think about some of them, stealthily philosophical.
Sometimes, though, they’re simply funny. If the last supper were held today, he says, all the apostles would be gazing at their phones. And Jesus would be surfing TripAdvisor for a better restaurant “which didn’t seat 12 men all on the same side of the table”.
Add in some entertaining banter with the front row – some of it set to music via comedy country songs – and this was 90 minutes of first grade enjoyment.
So did Rich Hall deliver our missing 2.18 of happiness? Yes he did – and then some.