WE'RE shrinking into our seats, trying to hide from a man who is four feet away looking directly at us.

The man is world-famous comedian, singer-songwriter and surprise documentarian Rich Hall, who has somehow (and he's surely asking the question as much as the rest of us) ended up in Wantage, Oxfordshire.

And he's taking it out on the audience.

Having worked his way along the front row, riffing off a bank of engineers, an immunologist and a woman who has brought her ex-boyfriend to see the show, he has landed on the man sat next to me, who luckily turns out to be a health and safety inspector.

I say luckily because, improbably, that particular occupation proves to be a hugely rich vein of comedy.

Even more so as the inspector just happens to have been inspecting Harrods in London that very day and, luckiest of all, a fire extinguisher fell on someone's head.

Not lucky for the fellow underneath, obviously, but lucky for me as the entire audience erupts into hysterics and Mr Hall, presumably satisfied that he's not likely to top that – whatever my profession turns out to be – moseys on back to the middle of the stage in his cowboy hat, check shirt and jeans.

He then picks up a guitar and, while plucking humbly but proficiently away, starts into a rambling song about a little boy growing up in Ayrshire who tells his grandpappy that when he grows up, he wants to be a health and safety inspector.

The little boy grows up and ends up meeting the devil himself (presumably at a crossroads) and carrying out and health-and-safety audit of Hell with hilarious consequences.

The song is full of proper belly laughs: the arch of the song is perfectly suited to the job of health and safety inspector and at the end, following rapturous applause, Mr Hall reveals: "We do that song every [expletive] night and that's the first time it's ever [expletive] worked."

In fact the entire show, though clearly even the 'improvised' bits are fitted into some sort of a script, feels completely spur-of-the-moment and sometimes edge-of-your seat, as Mr Hall seems to teeter on the brink of stumbling before tumbling headlong into a rambling but hilarious rant about the state of his country, the state of this country, or a song about making love to a bag lady – ably accompanied throughout by his drummer and lead guitarist.

The audience were in stitches from beginning to end, even the ones who were thoroughly and repeatedly picked on, and it's pretty safe to say it must have been one of Wantage literary festival's most successful bookings this year – despite not been obviously literary.

Then again, neither was Bob Dylan, and he won the Nobel Prize.

All I can say is, if this is the future of literature, Wantage will definitely have some more literati now and Rich Hall can come back and read to us any time.