Review: Steve Hall – Zebra

[First published on Quays News 15/02/16]

 STEVE Hall performed his new stand up show ‘Zebra’ in the Lowry’s intimate studio venue last night.

Member of the now defunct sketch trio Klang and contributing writer for BBC’s Russell Howard’s Good News, Hall’s solo comedy career has been on the back burner for some time. He has returned to stand up by touring his Edinburgh fringe show ‘Zebra’, which is all about the unexpected perks in life.

Before delving into his anecdotes, Hall gets a gauge of his audience in terms of knowledge of his previous work, and, on this Valentines evening, the couples that are celebrating, displaying genuine gratitude for them turning up.

The title of his show refers to a saying from his childhood: “If you hear hooves, expect horses, not zebras.” It means that the worst case scenario is unlikely, therefore you shouldn’t expect it. Dissecting the phrase he flips it, saying the ‘zebras’ in life are actually surprising perks in among the mundane horses. It turns out to be a pleasant theme for a comedy show.

Hall has recently become a father. This unsurprisingly makes up a large chunk of material in his show, as it’s easy to see how a new born can throw up numerous ‘zebras’. Veering away from this idea briefly, Hall first recalls his student days, talking about how drinking to excess caused him to have memory blackouts, with embarrassing results come morning. It’s a tight routine that is a definite high point in the show.

Many years after university, Hall tells how his drunken activities now are as peculiar as ever, these days surfing crowdfunding websites after a drinking session. This sets up a lengthy but rewarding anecdote. He explains that whilst boozed up he had turned to people over the internet to edit sentimental black and white photos from his childhood. The large blown up photos, which picture him meeting the muppets as a three-year-old, are proudly paraded around the room by Hall. The new edits, some colour corrected, others turned into paintings, are the subject of strong laughter.

It’s a routine full of character, and a far cry from a usual stand up set. It offers a sweet insight into Hall’s blissful memories and relationship with his father, elaborating on how that has in turn influenced his outlook towards his daughter. It doesn’t contain jokes as such, but it’s funny in its warmth and charm. Much like the theme of the show, Hall pulls out an unexpected zebra.

There’s not much in the way of improvisation. For a confident comic in a small venue, it was unusual to see him interact one on one with an audience member only once. However, the crowd didn’t offer an opportunity for him to dive in as heckles were non-existent, perhaps due to the polite nature Hall exudes.

The audience is never grabbed by a joke, but ripples of laughter frequently sweep the room. Admitting himself that he has a monotone voice, Hall’s material, despite being strong, was standing alone, needing a more unique delivery to create cascades of laughter. His well-mannered demeanour, complete with little cursing, is pleasant, but lacked energy to rev up the audience.

Hall’s story telling offers a delightful evening filled with an array of light heated anecdotes. Zebra may not have the audience in stitches, but its undeniable charm amuses to create a long lasting smile.