01 May 2011 @ 11:44 am
Christ On A Bike
There's no doubt that Richard Herring's current show (not his latest, but actually a reworking of his first solo show) is provocative, right from the title, and it has generated it's share of controversy. I declined to see the show when Herring toured it for the first time ten years ago, and was in two minds as to whether I would see it this time, but like the Reverend Michael Eden of Stowmarket, I decided that seeing the show was the best way of judging whether or not I wanted to see the show. I've touched before on the issue of people protesting about things they haven't seen/read/experienced for themselves first, but worth mentioning again that I find it bizarre how people are prepared to decry something without having any clue what it's about. In the BBC article linked above, the Reverend Kyle Paisley does make a reference to the flyer for the show (and to give him credit where it's due, when he says "It's infantile. The continual reference to sexual things makes it manifest that Richard Herring hasn't got out of puberty yet." he's pretty much hit the nail on the head, albeit on an unrelated note to his main concerns about the show), but clearly reading a promotional leaflet isn't the same as sitting through a ninety minute show and going on the journey that Herring wants to take us on.
Laying my cards on the table, I am both a Christian, and a fan of Richard Herring, and was both those things going into the show. It might be stretching it to say that Richard Herring is one of my comedy heroes, but he was certainly in a double act with one of my comedy heroes for some years, which is almost as good, and I still get a lot of joy out of his work. His Hitler moustache concept was a very well thought out and strongly argued piece of work, and his book 'How Not To Grow Up' genuinely moved me. As with former partner Stewert Lee, although at times I find myself at the opposing end of the scale on matters of belief, one of the things I've always admired them for is the fact that their religious material is well-informed and researched, rather than attacking empty stereotypes. So, going into the show, I was prepared for something challenging, but hopefully worthwhile.
First off, a genuinely well-crafted and delivered set. Last time I saw Herring was on his 'The Headmaster's Son' tour, and although an enjoyable evening, its somewhat ramshackle and loose style meant for me that Herring's skill as a stand-up wasn't on a par with some of his peers. On the strength of last night, I have to re-evaluate that. A confident, precise and highly-motivated delivery, married with some very strong writing, made Herring look at the very top of his game. There's a point in the second half of the show where he delivers a feat of memeory that shows incredible amounts of hard work was put into the show, and rightfully garnered huge applause. And, most of all, the show was very very funny. It was, in stand-up terms, a great show.
And, as a Christian? Well undoubtedly, there were parts that made me uncomfortable. Parts that made me think "Hang on, but...". I even felt a little sorry for the woman whose protesting email formed the opening twenty minutes of the second half (the email is ridiculous, and makes for such a poor argument, but even as I was laughing, I was wondering how easy a target Herring had chosen). But right from the start, Herring makes it clear that this isn't as straightforward as him just making a lot of jokes about how rubbish religion is. His obvious love and fondness for his Christian parents, and the way that that leads him to asking the questions that kick starts this set, shows there's something deeper going on. I'm reticent to go into too much detail about the end of the show - Herring's arguments and conclusions are undoubtedly better coming from himself, and at the culmination of his show, rather than me trying to sum them up, cold, here. But what he has to say about belief, about actions, about treating each other at the end of the show is praiseworthy and, in moral terms a delightful and powerful subversion of expectations.
The show didn't change much for me. It didn't make me change my views on religion (so that's one fear of the protesters allayed), nor on Herring himself (albeit it took my respect for him to a new level, and not just because he let me have a copy of his Hitler's Moustahce dvd for five pounds less than the asking price cos I was short). What it did do, much like when I saw Stewart Lee's 90's Comedian set, a similarly at-times-uncomfortable set with a powerful ending, was make me realise that my behaviour as a Christian, my outlook as a Christian, should always be reviewed, changing, growing, that there's always more for me to learn about what my faith means for me, and that sometimes God talks to us in all kinds of ways, even from the mouth of a fat, puerile middle-aged man from Cheddar.