It has been recently voiced (by Stuart Jeffries in The Guardian) that the inhabitants of Old Blighty might be losing their internationally reputed sense of good humour. When the talk of the town revolves around Ricky Gervais painful exploration of social faux-pas in Extras and a giraffe spunking into the faces of twenty old women in The League of Gentlemens Apocalypse, its not difficult to see why such rumours might be in circulation. Watching a woman take pleasure in waiting for her cancer-riddled husband to finally sink into eternity in Nighty Night is a far cry from tuning in to the latest bathtub shenanigans of Last of the Summer Wine.
While British TV comedy is inarguably becoming more avant-garde, it's important to remember that comedy has always had a black nugget at its heart. A character from even the most conservative sitcom should struggle with at least a small degree of inner conflict if he or she is to generate the laughs.
Such conflict (and symbiosis) is present in Richard Herrings latest live offering: Someone Likes Yoghurt. He sublimely balances the crucial with the trivial and tackles nihilistic despair with his unique Herring-brand impishness. As an ambassador of British comedy (he is the latest to be honoured as script editor for Little Britain; features in indie film, A very British Cult and is co-creator of Britcom, Time Gentlemen Please) Rich proves that the rumours of Britain losing track of whats funny, have been greatly exaggerated.
As well as enjoying four years of televisual mainstream, Richard Herring has managed to remain a Fringe heavyweight and along with Jerry Sadowitz, Kevin Gildea and Simon Munnery, he was one of the key motivators for my own vin dit into comedy writing.
Last night I was lucky enough to be at the opening Edinburgh performance of Someone Likes Yoghurt. Despite delivering a trilogy of hugely enjoyable one-man shows in recent years (Christ on a Bike, Talking Cock and The Twelve Tasks of Hercules Terrace), Herring advertises Yoghurt as being a return to stand-up after a thirteen year sabbatical.
But dont be hoodwinked into thinking that this return to stand-up will provide a comfortable seat in the ship of convention: despite the free and easy one-man-and-a-microphone format of the show, Yoghurt is unlike anything else youll find at The Pleasance this year. With subjects including a new method for preserving lives of sperm and the problems surrounding the magpie reward system, Herrings current strain of stand-up maintains some distance from that of so many other comedians: where others try to snag attention by being obviously topical or ungainly edgy, Herring seems to aim for the universally and inherently funny. And hes aware of this too, given that he makes fu of the deliberate engineering of controversy that so many comedians find themselves doing at the moment: Yes. I said it. Edgy, he comments after declaring that 19th century writer, Rudyard Kipling is a twat.
'Yoghurt' allows Herring to pick up his old stand-up persona from his Lee and Herring days: the pedantic, arrogant but lovable idiot from Cheddar. It's the return of the Richard Herring who once said "I can tell you, Stew, that a gnat's chuff is literally as tight as a gnat's chuff". Bizarrely and excellently, the character has grown and developed despite its being repressed, presumably into the subconscious of the real-life Herring for something like thirteen years, only occasionally resurfacing in the electronic pages of 'Warming Up'.
In case you're wondering, the show's title comes from an incident in his local Sainsburys mini-market. Upon purchasing (among other things, hed be keen to remind you) nine pots of yoghurt, the checkout girl reportedly gave him a surprised look and opined that Someone, indeed, likes yoghurt to a disproportional extent. The event inspired Herring to dedicate fifteen minutes of his one-hour set defending himself against the insinuation that hes a sexually-tilted weirdo with a yoghurt obsession.
I dont like yoghurt any more than the next lactose-tolerant person, he protests.
We believe you, Rich. We believe you.
Richard Herrings Someone Likes Yoghurt is being performed at The Pleasance Above for the duration of the Edinburgh Fringe (7-29 August) and at subsequent UK gigs. See the gig guide at www.richardherring.com for details.