At a time when high-profile comedy seems frequently to constitute pointing out things that people do, Richard Herring’s satirical wit and eye for originality – not to mention his love of an art-form that only ten consecutive stand-up shows can demonstrate – elevates him head and shoulders above the rest.
“You’re all going to die,” he tells his audience from behind a gravestone. This is not the most conventional way to start a comedy gig. In fact, it’s hardly a conventional topic on which to base an hour of comedy; there are pitfalls abounding with the concept of mortality that less experienced comics would fall into time and time again. Yet, Herring is aware of them all, dancing with balletic aplomb through discussions about the deaths of loved ones, the afterlife and the inevitability of one’s finite nature. Even when he discusses masturbation, he veers clear of crassness and plants his flag sternly upon the knoll of insightful humour.
Herring’s show is an articulate and exuberant scrutiny of the Ben Elton-John Keats dichotomy, of dinner parties with God and Richard Dawkins and of outlandish reading material. He embarks on long analyses of a familiar piece of literature and a song which, I think it is fair to say, has likely never seen such academic attention thrown over its content. Herring isn’t just funny: he has a profound respect for his art and for the world around him. This is a man who treats his audience as intelligent, littering his set with references to Pangaea, the arms programme and - just as frequently - popular culture. He knows his audience and he achieves such close understanding without having to use hackneyed audience interaction to build up a sympathetic rapport or, as is more often the case in stand-up, to fill the time. All the while, he avoids talking down to us. You can see that he values those who have paid money to see him, sending his audience away with a programme and a DVD as a show of goodwill, for which he asks only that we drop anything we can spare into a charity collection bucket.
He alludes to the absence of any broadcasting career and it’s true that he’s not Britain’s most recognised comic. But he is like a decent art-house film: quality hidden behind the market of Michael Bay comedians. “Death is an inevitability, but life is an impossibility,” he says, in what reveals itself to be a wholly uplifting hour of comedy. As long as there are people of as high a standard as Richard Herring to make us laugh, it’ll make living that much more enjoyable.