A Many-Splendoured Thing
Reviewed by Richard O'Brien
August 15, 2011
Love is a pyramid scheme, suggests Richard Herring, in an extended fifteen-minute segment of his strongly-themed set, in which he contemplates the devastating consequences of a lover's obligation to increase the scale of their Valentine's gifts as a token of increasing affection. At the time, it seemed like the high-point of the hour's material by quite some distance; only two days' reflection and discussion of this nuanced, thought-provoking and occasionally very moving stand-up has brought me to the realisation that the set in its totality merits that elusive fifth star.
Romantic love isn't the only kind Herring discusses, though he does expertly analyse the feelings of first-crush ten year olds, and the soured virginity of bitter teens on a male-bonding Eurorail trip. He also bookends the set with two explorations of the unconditional love between family members which run the gamut from taunting (a series of snarky jibes at the audience) to haunting (a beautiful, melancholic story about his centenarian grandmother which will bring tears of empathy as well as laughter.)
As with most of Herring's shows, the genius is not in the individual smart observations though they are legion, and head and shoulders above those of most of his comedy kin but in the shape. What gives this show the artistic jump on so many of its competitors is his commitment to the complexities of a single subject, and the masterful grasp of structure through which he demonstrates that spirit of research. Other comedians' routines are the equivalent of giving a man a fish for a day, in the old adage; Herring's, by virtue of more than his name, are like teaching that man to fish. They expand the horizons of comedy and create the possibility of ongoing thought.