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Richard Herring: The Best – The Old Rep, Birmingham

Reviewer:  George Attwell Gerhards

Nobody likes the last episode in the series of Mock the Week. It is almost always a tawdry mix of highlights from previous episodes, best-of segments and ‘previously unseen’ (normally for a reason) material. Richard Herring’s current stand-up tour, The Best, is a long-form live version of this formula. Over the past fifteen years Herring has written and performed twelve solo stand-up shows and now, after revisiting them all last summer, he has chosen his favourite routines – his best bits. It makes for a clunky but consistently funny (in the proper, belly-laughing way that stand-up comedy should be) tour around Herring’s mind.

One gets the impression from listening to Richard Herring for ninety minutes that he might be a little tired of comparisons with his former partner in crime Stewart Lee – who’s hit a bit of a purple patch of late. Comparisons are inevitable, unfortunately, when the extent to which they’ve inspired each other – shaping their performance styles, their manner of delivery and their irreverent approach to taboo (often sacred) subjects – is so blatantly obvious. Herring’s delivery isn’t as creative or inventive as Lee’s – particularly in his opening routines, from the older days, which he tears through at quite some speed. Some laughs are even lost, the set-up rushed and the punchline wasted. Happily, this is only a temporary state of things. After an interval, and on more recent and familiar ground, Herring seems to enjoy himself more, with the same ringing true for his audience. He relishes the jokes more and gives the subjects room to breathe. The highlight is an extended skit from his 2011 tour Christ on a Bike, examining the dreary prose of the New Testament’s first page.

It’s also worth mentioning that Herring does occasionally fall into the habit that many middle-aged male comics fall into, particularly ‘woolly liberals’ (his words) like Herring, who profess to being part of the ‘right on brigade’ yet who make jokes – normally about women – that make you cringe. In this instance, this is probably down to his older, more juvenile material from the early days, but then greater editorial prudence is required. There is also a faintly awkward twenty-minute section that adds up to nothing more than a sales pitch for his DVDs and books. It feels cynical and sad.

Still, The Best is a wonderful collection of wry and irreverent takes on modern life. Rattling through the routines, with awkward gear changes aplenty, Herring still clearly possesses a deft skill for audience manipulation and a unique perspective on the stuff of life.

Reviewed on 23 February 2017 | Image: Contributed

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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