London is Funny interview
Herring unveils controversial new Herr style
Monday, July 27 2009
The upper lip is a pretty unprovocative part of the body on the whole. Unless you grow a pencil 'tache on it and grease your hair into a wap â€“ and that is what Richard Herring has done for his new show, Hitler Moustache.
Hitler Moustache, by Richard Herring, is already one of the most talked about Edinburgh shows this year, partly because it's Herring, but also that photo's pretty hard to ignore. It pushes the same buttons as Brendon Burns' If.Comedy winning show So I Suppose This Is Offensive Now in 2008, which featured Burns depicted in four deliberately offensive photos, including as a Jesus Christ and blacked up as a zulu.
So let's get the explanation for Herring's Hitler Moustache out the way. The pencil moustache (to give it its pre-WW2 name) has a perfectly legitimate mode of facial hair until Hitler bulldozed it in the same way he bulldozed the name Adolf and huge swathes of mainland Europe.
What began as a simple act of reclamation by Herring (that 'tache you see in the photo is a real one), has morphed into a more far reaching show. It now also explores issues such as what people are and aren't offended by in 2009 (people haven't been yelling abuse at him, as you may have imagined), how far do you go just to make a point (did he keep the 'tache for his parents' golden anniversary part, thus ruining the photos?) and the BNP's election into European parliament â€“ a huge news story which coincided with his 'tache growing, and immediately complicated it.
So, just as his outstanding Headmaster's Son at last year's Edinburgh wasn't just a nostalgia fest, Hitler Moustache isn't just a cheap shock tactic. Nor is it, as the Guardian unhelpfully reduced it to yesterday, about how "racists have a point".
Herring says: "A lot of my comedy has had some serious intent to it, I've not done much political stuff though. I've had my blog for years and discussed serious issues in that, I talked a bit about the BNP in [his 2006 show] Menage a Un, then there was a lot of tenderness and sweetness to Headmaster's Son. I wouldn't want to be known as one thing or another. This show started out quite light-hearted but I also wanted to express my disgust at people not voting."
"To have a light show, then get onto the BNP â€“ that sudden shift is very powerful because you've wrong-footed people, rather than a Mark Thomas, who you know will give you a political show." He adds that he was delighted to hear that some people who had seen a preview went to the pub afterwards and had "an amazing discussion about democracy, Chaplin and racism".
There should be plenty of funny as well, given Herring is one of the precious few comedians on the circuit who doesn't seem capable of a duff gig. Also, if you think Hitler has rendered the pencil moustache truly comedy-proof â€“ try this, 50 secs in â€“ Herring got mugged recently, resulting in the sight of him, with said 'tache, chasing after a (black) man who'd nicked his iPhone across the streets of Shepherd's Bush. Then expecting the police to take him seriously.
To refer again to Brendon Burns' 2008 show, Burns hit this creative high after years of much more inward-looking shows, and while Herring hasn't raked his demons across the coals to the same degree, Hitler Moustache is his most outward-looking, will he reach similar heights?
Mind you, regardless of good it is, the Edinburgh Comedy Award won't be going his way, as he is ineligible. Any comic who has had their name in the a TV show title, or can sell out a show just with their reputation, cannot be nominated. The assumption is that the first bit leads to the second bit, which is fair, but it arguably doesn't quite apply to Herring (or Stewart Lee), whose halcyon days of being on BBC2 earned him more of a cult fan base than a huge one. Since then, he's swelled his audience through old-fashioned gigging and touring and improving.
Still, given the awards casts a shadow of hope and fear over the festival's comedians, how does Herring feel about being left out in the cold? "Relieved."
Who else would you recommend at this year's festival? Daniel Kitson, Sarah Millican, Pappy's Fun Club, otherwise just take a chance on someone, hear what the word on the street is.
Sum up the festival in one word: Good
Hitler Moustache is on from August 6-30 at 8:40pm at the Underbelly. Click here for tickets