As a stand-up comic, Rich Hall is known for having strong observational and verbal skills combined with a distinctive flair for satire. But the one-time "Saturday Night Live" cast member and former regular on HBO's "Not Necessarily the News" has his own way of summing up his unique comedy style.
"I'd describe it," he says, "as facets of human behavior interpretted through adagio dance--sometimes with a 19-piece orchestra."
Which actually goes a long way in explaining Hall's off-beat sense of humor. It's an off-the-wall way of looking at life that surfaced frequently during a phone interview last week from his Montana ranch and is on display at the Brea Improv through Sunday.
Hall, host of "Onion World," a comedy and music show on The Comedy Channel, is best-known as the author and creator of "sniglets" (words not in the dictionary that Hall thinks should be). Despite his fascination with the English language, Hall is a highly visual performer given to using various props in his act.
"It's not really a prop show at all but there are some things on stage that set me apart from anyone else following this line of work," he said. "I used to have plates of Plexiglass and tape recorders with noses and ears on them that did impressions, so I've always been a very visual comedian."
Hall said he went through a period when he was making a lot of jackets to wear on stage--jackets made out of "bath mats, Levelors and world maps with pockets of Communism in them. But that got to be kind of a hassle explaining at the airport, so I moved beyond that."
Now, he said, "I've sort of refined it to very mundane, but specific objects. Sometimes I just walk out with a lot of boxes of cereal and sort of build my show around that. My act has evolved to where I have to make a quick trip to the grocery store before a show."
Hall promised that his Brea audience "will see lots of detergent and cereal boxes on stage and out of those things comes some examination of life."
He was reluctant to elaborate.
"I'm not going to do any (sample) jokes because they just don't translate," he said. "They're not as funny unless you saw them. In fact, there's not a shred of humor at all."
That said, Hall agreed to reveal some of the subjects he covers on stage.
"I'd say Milk Bones, Milk Duds, Milk of Magnesia are three major subjects," he said, pausing, then adding: "The other subjects are the guy they named the Philip's screw after and--let's see--what kind of music is generally going through a cat's head."
When pressed, he said he also does his interpretation of what the band REM sounds like ordering breakfast at Denny's at 3 o'clock in the morning. "That," he noted, "is always a crowd-pleaser."
Hall has been doing comedy since 1979 and, early in his career, he won an Emmy as a writer on David Letterman's original morning show. ("It's mounted on the hood of my car.") He nevertheless maintains that comedy "is basically a hobby. Most of the time I hang dry wall. I'm doing this on the side. I'm still kind of deciding whether I want to jump in with both feet or not."
The Charlotte, N.C., native attended the University of Washington in Seattle where, he said, "I spent most of my time backpacking, canoeing and kayaking. Actually, I became a professional log-roller."
He even offers this advice to fledgling log-rollers: "It's forward, forward, forward, backward, forward, forward, forward. That always worked. If you're ever in a log-rolling competition use that."
When he wasn't rolling logs, Hall majored in journalism and creative writing ("For a brief time I had a paper route, so the journalism paid off"). And despite his success as a performer, he prefers to think of himself as a writer first.
As a stand-up comic, Hall said, he's not someone who can "write" on stage. He always goes on with prepared material. Even his ad-libs with the audience are written beforehand, he said.
"I have scripts sent to people in the audience before the show. In fact, I audition the audience. Not just anybody can come to my show."
Who: Rich Hall.
When: Thursday, May 9, and Sunday, May 12, at 8:30 p.m.; Friday, May 10, at 8:30 and 10:30 p.m.; Saturday, May 11, at 8 and 10:30 p.m.
Where: The Improv, 945 E. Birch St., Brea.
Whereabouts: Take the Lambert Road exit off the Orange (57) Freeway and go west. Turn left on State College Boulevard and right on Birch Street. The Improv is in the Brea Marketplace, across from the Brea Mall.
Wherewithal: $7 to $10.
Where to call: (714) 529-7878.