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An interview with Rich Hall


Tuesday, Sep. 18.


COMEDIAN RICH HALL, most famous for his stints as Saturday Night Live cast member and his sniglets book series, appears tonight as part of a benefit for Students Against Driving Drunk (SADD). In an interview by phone, Hall spoke freely about his career, his writing, and his current projects.

Have you ever been to MIT before, or performed at MIT?

Hell no! After they refused to accept me, I didn't want to have anything to do with them. Now, I guess, it's be time to come back. I guess there will be some sort of honorary degree there, that kind of stuff. So I'm really looking forward to it.

Have you ever performed at a college before?

God, yeah! That's all I do -- like nine a day! I just fly from one college to the next, every little vo-tech and community college and cosmetology school, with a correspondence to every winky art institute in the land. MIT is nothing -- you think I'm worried about a bunch of guys sitting around with prescription ashtray glasses and pencils coming out of their pockets? I know, that's the common perception of MIT, but you know, that's going to be the easy audience.

So you're not worried at all about the intellectual capacity of your audience?

Heck no! I'm thankful for an intellectual capacity. I'm used to performing for people who look like RCA dogs, who just tilt their heads and look at you like, "What the hell is he talking about?"

I was in Connecticut last week, in Stamford, CT, and about halfway through my act I do an impression of REM ordering breakfast at Denny's at three in the morning. And people just kind of stared at me. They understood what Denny's was . . . and so, that was met with a lot of confusion.

Now you're doing this as a benefit for SADD, right?

That's the one I'm doing with Gilbert Gottfried. He's a walking anti-drunk driving movement all in himself.

How so?

I'm very much against drunk driving. I don't support the fact that cops can pull you over for no reason whatsoever now -- you know, they have a new security checkpoint law, where they can pull you over on suspicion of anything -- but, I think it's important to stop drunk drivers. I think it's important also to stop the Domino's delivery men who ran over 66 people last year trying to get those pizzas delivered in half an hour or so. A guy in a mobile home called up, and tried to stay ahead of them for 30 minutes. And it is true that a lot of people got run over by Domino's delivery men last year.

There is one contingent of MADD that is "Mothers Against Domino's Deliverymen."

Is this the first time you've been involved in a benefit against drunk driving?

No, I did a MADD [Mothers Against Drunk Driving] benefit a few years ago. I think that we've made a lot of headway in the last couple of years in terms of making people aware of the fact that if they're really hammered, they shouldn't be driving. I think basically we've just scared people into doing it. If you run over someone while you're drunk, you're going to go to jail. And most people seem to realize that now. So it pays to stay closer to home and get cranked, so they can walk. Or until we initiate the pub system like they have in Great Britain. You know, there's very little drunk driving overseas, because there are tons of pubs, and people just walk to them. That's what we have to do here.

Let me ask you a bit about your background: How long have you been in comedy?

This is actually my 37th year. Nah, I've been in comedy for 11 years.

And do you write most of your own stuff?

Most of it. A little bit of it I trace with a crayon.

Do you spend most of your performance time between TV and live audiences?

Yeah. I do stand-up comedy at least three to four times a week. I do a lot of concerts, and a lot of colleges, and when I come up with five or six minutes of pretty hopefully funny stuff, I go on Letterman, or Comic Strip Live, or Not Necessarily the News, or something like that. Mostly, I do my own show for The Comedy Channel, called Onion World, which is a music and comedy show -- that I have complete, autonomous, dictatorial, totalitarian control over.

Is there anyone you really look up to for inspiration?

I don't pay any attention to other comedians. I think there are some great ones out there -- Jay Leno, Jerry Seinfeld, and those guys. But comedians are not the kind of people I want to hang out with. I look more to music for inspiration. And writers. P. J. O'Rourke or somebody like Thomas McGwain. Those were a couple of major influences. Russell Baker is another one. Dave Allen. Guys who put stuff in writing.

Let me ask you about your books: Are they all sniglets books?

No, there's one called The Vanishing America that's kind of like a Charles Kuralt on an acid trip across America. And I'm writing another one now that's kind of a send-up of the whole pick-up scene, between men and women in America. "A scathing indictment," as they would say.

That's due when?

Probably next spring.

Have you been surprised by your success?

A little bit. . . . The sniglets books are funny, but they're really accessible. You know, typical mainstream pop comedy books that you can read in an hour. They're really popular among the kind of people who like the language. They're not for everybody, but they've done quite well. But I think it's certainly more important to write something more substantial, and that's what I've been working on.

Are your Sniglets books completely for comic value?

Yeah. Well, no. I wouldn't say they're completely for comic value. I mean, I get letters from schools all the time saying how they've incorporated a sniglet book into their reading program. You can look at a lot of the words and sort of break them down into their etymological origins. And you can learn a lot about how and where words derive from. When you assign this frailty of human nature a word, then the word has to work. It has to either be a hybrid of several other words, or have a Latin origin, or something.

Do you have any advice to offer MIT students?

Don't take anything that seriously, because it's all just comedy.