When Rob Newman and David Baddiel played Wembley Arena in 1993, one headline famously asked “Is comedy the new rock and roll?” and one needed only to look at radio 1’s ‘Fist of Fun’ to find their Brit pop counterparts. After ‘The Mary Whitehouse Experience’ had successfully moved to TV, Radio 1 found a new comedy show in ‘Fist of Fun’ as its successor, and with it, their new comedy double-act rockstars. For a short while in the mid 1990s, Stewart Lee and Richard Herring were cult heroes, at once uncomfortable with the lad-culture image they’d been saddled with (despite their obvious intellect), whilst also relishing in purile and infantile antics whenever they saw fit. By the end of the 1990s the pair had split and in doing so, their TV careers had all but ended.
Since then, Richard Herring has worked doggedly on his craft as a solo act, with 13 stand-up tours under his belt, a prolific podcasting career, many short lived writing gigs for comedy shows and a successful stint as a Metro columnist. Yet despite the years, the loyal following and the successful career, Herring remains as emotionally stunted as ever. In his latest show “Oh Frig I’m 50” he tackles the stark reality of a half century and whether or not, when shopping at his age, a ‘bag for life’ might really be just that. Having married and had two children in recent years, the audience find Mr Herring at peace with his self and relishing the minutiae of his domestic life, albeit with the self-awareness that he is too emotionally stunted to cope with it.
At their peak Stewart Lee and Richard Herring were acerbic commentators masquerading as university freshers and it is Herring’s modus operandi to retain the pubescent ramblings and disarming self-deprecation of that early persona to strike at a number of personal topics. His routines on his lack of sexual prowess are particularly enjoyable, and so too is his material about his misguided sexual fantasies. What marks Richard Herring out as a master of his work is the high-wire walk he performs when discussing sex. In the hands of lesser comedians, his subjects, stories and self-confessions would come across as sexist and laddy (If I recounted material to you here, I’d never be trusted with any reviews again and would definitely offend), but his persona is so skilfully constructed to identify his self as the pathetic one, the failed man-child, that we know exactly where the joke is aimed. We are safe, and for the entire show, every jaw-dropping punchline or revelation is to his own detriment, and those innocent bystanders he has dragged into his sordid mind escape with their dignity intact.
The shambolic and shabby character on stage fools no one, Richard Herring is still sharp, intelligent and focused on his craft. There is a genuine warmth to his delivery and for those of us who have been fans since the 90s, we can’t help but reciprocate that warmth. You can find middle-aged comedians discussing how they’re happily married at any comedy venue, but you might not find Richard Herring’s perverse and piteous take so readily. This is a sequel to his 2007 show, “Oh F*** I’m 40.” and sets up, what he admits is an optimistic cycle of marking the decades with new shows with “Oh sh*t I’m 60.” already marked on this reviewer’s calendar (with similar optimism).
This very funny show is still on tour and details can be found at http://www.richardherring.com/gigs/ .
Reviewer - Ben Smith
on - 15/4/18