Comedy review: Richard Herring: The Best

Date Posted: 21/03/2017

Should Richard Herring’s comedy tour be on your group’s schedule this year? Paul Maguire, former judge at the Edinburgh Comedy Awards – previously known as the Perrrier Awards – finds out.

As a stand up obsessive, I am ashamed to admit that Richard Herring is a bit of a comedy blind spot for me. Not that I am unaware of him, how can you be unaware of someone whose output is so prolific?

He is an inveterate blogger, podcaster, writer, columnist and performer. He first came to prominence in the 90s working with his erstwhile comedy partner Stewart Lee and has since written for such comedy heavyweights as Al Murray and Steve Coogan, and he was a script editor on the third series of Little Britain.

In addition to this, since 2004 Herring has written and performed 13 one-hour shows at the Edinburgh Festival that he has then toured extensively throughout the country.

There is always a danger that a performer with such a prodigious output can spread themselves a little too thinly, so for me, a ‘best of’ show seemed like the ideal introduction to his live work.

Herring’s show at The Lowry in Salford Quays started confidently with an easy self-deprecating style, but from that promising start, the first half of the show failed to deliver.

One of the potential downfalls of a ‘best of’ retrospective is the lack of an overarching narrative with which to tie together the various constituent parts of the show. Without this, such a show can seem disjointed. This was clearly the case here, and one that Herring actually acknowledged, as he segued from one subject to another, whilst cramming seven unrelated routines into the first 45 minutes.

His material veered from gags about the different interpretation of words to an extended piece on wooing his wife, every Valentine’s Day, with ever increasing amounts of Ferrero Rocher chocolates. He finished the act with some puerile, silly but ostensibly weak material about 'funny' names for male genitalia.

The second half of the show started with a story on how his life and priorities had changed following the birth of his first child. This is a comedy trope that has been well mined by almost every comic that has had children and it has now become hackneyed. The biggest laugh during this section came when he quoted Robbie Williams who had said that watching his wife give birth was like, 'watching your favourite pub burn down.'

The pace and quality of the show then took a turn for the better. Herring turned to material from his shows Hitler Moustache and Christ on a Bike, which tackled both racism and religion respectively.

It was clear that he knew that this material was good and this shone through in his confident delivery. He told us that he was an atheist and that he found religion absolutely ridiculous. He did this to the backdrop of a projected image of the first page of St. Mathew’s Gospel. He then posed the question, ‘Can we take the New Testament as Gospel?’

For those of you unaware, as I was, this first page of Matthew’s Gospel is crucial for Christians as it establishes the divinity of Christ. It sets out Jesus Christ's lineage, through his father Joseph, all the way back to Abraham, thus fulfilling the Biblical prophecy of the first coming of The Messiah.

It is a list of biblical names, of who begat whom, etc. Herring ridiculed the gospel for containing 'clearly made up names' such as ‘Booz of Rachab’ and ‘Ammindab’. He then very impressively recited the whole of Matthew 1:5 before stating in an exasperated tone that the entire passage was a complete irrelevance as Joseph was not even Jesus’s father, which clearly questioned the whole premise of Matthew’s Gospel.

On a roll now, he further highlighted the ‘nonsense’ of The Bible and compared Mathew 1:5 to a similar passage in Luke's Gospel which differed to Matthew’s significantly. He then posited his own, 'Gospel according to Richard’ which was full of profanities and innuendo, which by now seemed no more ridiculous to those of Matthew and Luke.

Herring was in full flow and the audience were now with him. I was ready to forgive the weakness of the first act if the rest of the performance continued like this, however this last routine signalled the end of the show.

This was a curate’s egg of a production; he managed to mix silly stuff, rude stuff and cerebral stuff in equal measure but it finished unexpectedly, just as I was really beginning to enjoy Herring and his craft as a writer and performer.

There is an old showbiz adage ‘leave them wanting more’ however on this occasion the abrupt ending just left me feeling unsatisfied.

Although there were weaker parts of this production there is clearly enough in it to recommend for a group visit. He is a skilled performer with a strong pedigree and the 'best of' nature of it means that there should be something in it for everyone to enjoy.

Richard Herring: The Best is touring UK venues until September 2017. Groups should contact their chosen venue, all of which are listed on www.richardherring.com, for further information.

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