Francis Jones skirts the boundaries of decency with comedian Richard Herring
Richard Herring doesn’t do near the knuckle humour. Instead, this stand-up is determined to transport us countless leagues beyond the relative safety of that comedic line in the sand.
Plodding the length of the stage, face masked by that floppy, indie-boy fringe, he unleashes two hours of stand-up that’s not so much risqué as certifiably dangerous.
Wilfully provocative, the puckish presence and cheeky school boy grin enable him to get away with some seriously outré material.
At times it’s uncomfortable, Herring inflaming our conscience, forcing us to ask, ‘should I be laughing at this?’ whilst he relays a routine about Maxine Carr or the sexual possibilities provided by Jesus’ stigmata.
And yet laugh we do. As Herring astutely points out, we are complicit facilitators, our laughter aiding and abetting his apparent taste crimes.
The salve to all this soul-searching is that the routine is postmodern, it’s satire.
Unlike Bernard Manning, for example, Herring at least understands and acknowledges that what he’s saying is wrong. Then he removes even that avenue of absolution. 'Because I understand that it’s wrong, does that make me better or worse for saying it?' he asks.
When he’s not manipulating our collective morality, he’s being damned funny, regaling us with tales from his woe bestrewn love life, riffing on poorly punned shop names, the Baguette Me Not sandwich emporium or personalised car-cleaning firm, Hand Jobs.
And then there is the merciless lambasting of celebrity, of Steve Martin, the man so vain he thought he could improve on Peter Sellers’ Inspector Clouseau, and the pirate-like Heather Mills, 'in one-legged pursuit of hordes of treasure'.
However, it is not only the famous who are grist to his comedic mill.
Throughout the evening he makes hilariously clumsy advances towards a young woman in the front row, promising to share with her the wisdom of his years, to instruct her in the ways of lovemaking, specifically premature ejaculation, 'just tell me it’s ok, that it’s no big deal'.
Peaking too soon does seem to be a problem tonight. The razor-sharp and on-rhythm early material teases us towards a rather unsatisfactory finale.
Herring launches into an indulgent, semi-improvisational skit in which two of his comedic creations converse aimlessly for almost ten minutes.
He seeks to invoke the spirit of Beckett, but the existential shtick proves tiring, with Herring rapidly disappearing up his own fundament and taking our laughter with him.
With the audience’s enthusiasm wilting in response to the unnecessarily cerebral and showboating fare, Herring decides to steer ship back towards altogether muckier and murkier waters.
Is it in good or bad taste? I don’t know, nor am I even sure it matters. But ask me is Richard Herring funny and I’ll answer you with an unequivocal yes.