Edinburgh Festival 2009: Richard Herrring's Hitler Moustache, review
Hitler Moustache delivers on stage what the poster promises: a tubby bloke sporting a toothbrush moustache. Rating: * * * *
By Dominic Cavendish, Edinburgh Festival
Published: 9:34AM BST 10 Aug 2009
"Who do you think you are kidding Mr Herring?" might well be the refrain hurled at Richard Herring if enough people react the wrong way to the comedian's latest and most risquÃ© set, which is already the most talked about show on the Fringe.
Hitler Moustache delivers on stage what the poster promises: a tubby, fortysomething bloke sporting a bona fide toothbrush moustache that unavoidably recalls the fascist facial signature of a certain German dictator.
Why should it, though? That's the point Herring makes, repeatedly, and with a fanatical devotion to his cause that recalls the FÃ¼hrer at his most tub-thumpingly indomitable.
The show, performed in the cavernous bierkeller ambience of the Underbelly, begins on a note of outrageous anti-Semitism. After greeting his audience with a few curt Nazi salutes, he baits the audience with a throwaway remark that might have been ripped from the pages of Mein Kampf: "What about those Jews, stealing our children and poisoning our wells?"
Having played up to the stereotype, he demands to know why that famous "nasal welcome mat" is now associated only with one of the 20th century's most evil men? Why, when it was also sported by one of the century's funniest men, Charlie Chaplin, can't it be reclaimed for comedy? "I don't believe it was the moustache's fault," he says, in a flourish of friendly, childlike credulity.
Herring's puppyish geniality could let him get away with murder. He also has the kind of performing intelligence that means he can range from cartoonish exaggeration to subtle irony with super-fast finesse. Yet the ice upon which he's skating is thin, and there are times when you can hear it begin to crack.
Recalling his murderous anger at having his iPhone stolen he jokes: "Maybe Hitler had his iPhone stolen by a Jewish person. That would almost justify the Holocaust. Almost," he repeats, underlining the word. "You're not listening!" Is a pre-emptive tricksiness and a recurrent line in and self-doubt enough to defeat the accusation that he's going too far here?
Equally contentious is his riff about the potential benefits of having a racist mindset: "If only the people of India and Pakistan could see themselves the way a racist sees them â€“ 'What are we doing? Why are we fighting? I'm a Paki, you're a Paki.' ''
If you wanted to take offence at Hitler Moustache, you could. You could even resist Herring's final justification for the act â€“ that by re-appropriating a contaminated symbol, he has stumbled on a means of combating the BNP, whose recent electoral success, and the public apathy that allowed it, he fulminates about.
I'll admit it, though, I found the show provocative and, yes, frequently funny. If a comedian with 25 years' experience on the Fringe can't conduct this kind of near-the-knuckle experimentation, then everyone might as well pack up their bags and go home.
Until Aug 30. Tickets: 0844 545 8252