4 star review of menage a un in Guardian
Richard Herring: Ménage à Un
**** Arts Theatre, London
Wednesday April 4, 2007
It must be a great moment in a comic's life when he realises he's old enough to have a mid-life crisis. Traumatic in reality, perhaps - but perfect for comedy. According to his new touring show, Ménage à Un, it's all going wrong for Richard Herring. He's 39, he still doesn't have a job to make his parents proud, and "even though somebody's prepared to marry Maxine Carr, I remain on the shelf".
Cue 90 minutes of misanthropic rage; the joke here is the contrast between Herring's cuddliness and his bitterness, and Herring dares us to deny he's as twisted as he seems. It's a departure from the high-concept comedy shows that comprise his solo career and, in its playful audience provocation, resembles the work of his ex-partner Stewart Lee - much as Herring dislikes the comparison.
Or does he? There's one routine here, about "raping the stigmata of Jesus", that seems calculated to recall Lee's Christian-baiting shtick. Both standups, meanwhile, share a skill for simultaneously telling and deconstructing jokes. The highlight of Herring's act involves two throwaway characters rebelling against their own extraneousness.
But Herring has a puppyish energy of his own, and a low status that heightens the comedy of his fury at a cruel world. The misogynist gags are funny largely for the transparency of their desire to outrage. "I'm not like Bernard Manning," insists Herring, "because I'm being postmodern and ironic. But does that make me better than him - or much worse?" And there are terrific routines in which Herring gets het up about the French word for potato and the need to show that he isn't gullible. This is smart stand-up proving that other people's failure is the surefire stuff of comedy success.
· Until Saturday, then touring. Box office: 0870 060 1742.