Review: Richard Herring @ The Hare and Hounds

Herr lip: Richard Herring's 'Hitler Moustache'

Herr lip: Richard Herring's 'Hitler Moustache'

Firsts are often looked back on with great fondness. This is likely to be the case for the first Who’s Laughing Now Presents… gig, too.

Taking place at the Hare and Hounds in Kings Heath, this inaugural event was headlined by Edinburgh festival stalwart Richard Herring, previewing the new show that he’s taking to this year’s Fringe.

Before Herring took to the stage, though, those gathered in the sold-out space were treated to sets from Gareth Richards and Michael J Dolan, compered by Birmingham stand-up James Cook, whose recordings of his seven-year-old self talking live on the radio to BBC Radio WM’s Ed Doolan were a sustained source of mirth.

Slow-building momentum

With a laidback style, bordering on lazy, Gareth Richards had a difficult start with an understated response from the audience, but slowly built momentum throughout a set which included some deft one-liners and witty observations, though Michael J Dolan fared less well.

Having broken into the mainstream in the 1990s with Stewart Lee, the duo have since gone their separate ways and Richard Herring has carved out a reputation for being one of the more inventive and consistently thought-provoking stand-ups in the UK, with a string of acclaimed shows under his belt.

A comic who likes a challenge

Never afraid to take on some difficult subjects or enormous challenges – for the latter, see his 2004 show The Twelve Tasks of Hercules Terrace – Herring has decided to take a more esoteric slant for his latest output, Hitler Moustache.

He guided the audience through an unenviable journey, attempting to reclaim the ‘toothbrush’ moustache for comedy, where it was once synonymous with Charlie Chaplin and Oliver Hardy (and even Blakey from On the Buses), rather than the titular figure. Is it only acceptable teamed with a bowler hat? And can anything be done to separate it from the association with fascism?

Trials and tribulations with facial hair

Herring took great care to enter the stage in such a way that his carefully cultivated tribute to the moustache was hidden from the audience until he turned to the mic stand, greeted by roars of laughter. What followed was a riveting exploration of Herring’s struggles to live with the moustache, his fears of what he might become associated with, and how people treated him differently with this new adornment above his top lip.

Littered with intelligent and uncompromising humour, his set also examines the nature of racism – there was even one routine where, not entirely successfully, he tried to argue that racists are closer to seeing everyone as being the same than those who abhor racism.

Controversial but with a touch of the personal

At times uncomfortable but always hilarious, Herring managed to pin-point the more light-hearted seams of such a controversial subject, showing his mastery of the stand-up craft, though this hour-long show was often more like watching a video diary than a traditional stand-up set, with Herring throwing swathes of personality into his material. Consequently, it was the type of show that only he could do.

Fans of the podcast he presents with Andrew Collins will already be aware of how Herring increasingly tries to keep his material as loose as possible with plenty of room for improvisation, and it’s something he does on stage too. Sometimes he spun out the joke too far, and the section where he had a dialogue with a fictional character stretched the humour too thinly, in danger of petering out.

Preview shows are often a strange beast, and this was no different – there were plenty of rough edges still to be honed, but Herring claimed that this had been the best show so far and when there were so many high points it’s hard to doubt him, especially when he still looks to be at the top of his game. If anyone can bring that moustache back into fashion, it’s going to be him.