Edinburgh Evening News review of menage
Joking apart, comic has a serious side
Richard Herring ***
WITHOUT a doubt, Richard Herring is a very clever man. Clearly, he loves to play with words and mess with people's minds, and has the intellect to do both at the same time effortlessly. He is also, it seems, post modern and ironic.
Menage A Un, his current show, also appears to reveal a self effacing obsession, paralleled only by his interest in monkeys and finding love, or if all else fails, lust. During his two-hour set at the Stand last night, he had the audience laughing hysterically, scratching their heads quizzically and nodding knowingly at material which may or may not have been offensive, quirky or just plain funny.
Certainly, much of the material - called jokes by Herring, but more like shaggy dog stories punctuated with frequent highlights and punchlines - was so near the knuckle as to be on the palm of the hand. Gags referencing Maxine Carr, stigmata and glasses half full of one substance or another would never have made it to tea-time telly, but the crowd seemed happy enough to go along with it, showing occasional mock horror at the thought of some of the subject matter.
Few comedians manage without some kind of schoolboy humour, and Herring was no exception. To be fair to him, though, it does appear to be something demanded of him by the audiences he meets, and he wasn't shy about giving them what they wanted.
It seems impossible to discuss Herring without making at least some mention of his former partner, Stewart Lee. It might have been easier if Herring himself hadn't kept bringing him up at the same time as putting himself down the whole time. Some of his material could be accused of being a touch on the cynical side, but the constant self-deprication just made it all feel more than a little bitter. If it really was irony, it was well disguised sometimes.
In the end, though, his apparent bitterness was effectively cancelled out by the intervention of two imaginary characters - versions of himself, cleverly inserted into the show, who analysed his good and bad points in an existential skit which managed to be both funny and viciously self aware simultaneously.
There was certainly more to Herring than met the eye, but whether his appeal lay in his depth or the superficial smuttiness of his act, he was well worth the ticket price. Most of the show supposedly dealt with loneliness and the seedier, ruder forms of coping with it. In fact, it was more about ways of taking more personal responsibility for oneself and the world in general.
More than once Herring criticised the audience and the wider public for ruining the planet for the next generation. That he got the crowd laughing and applauding the insults to themselves was no mean feat.