On line review from Paul O'Brien
Richard Herring has been doing the Festival for years, but for the last few years he's been doing one of those quasi-theatrical themed shows that stand-ups come up with when they're trying to fill an hour. This time he's back to straight stand-up comedy, abandoning any pretence of a linking theme in a show which takes five completely unrelated ideas and bludgeons them into the ground with deliberately excessive and pedantic zeal. Anyone can deconstruct "If" by Rudyard Kipling, for example, but the comedy lies in continuing to assault, misconstrue and bludgeon the poor poem for a good ten minutes after it's stopped twitching, homing in on every conceivable trivial criticism. The sheer lack of perspective is funny in its own right.
There's a film, The Aristocrats, getting its UK premiere at the Film Festival this year. It's a whole load of comedians talking about the famous "Aristocrats" joke, which is very popular with comedians despite the minor point of not actually being in any way funny. The reason comedians love it is because the punchline is totally unimportant - the point is how many jawdroppingly offensive images you can come up with along the way. Herring is probably a fan, with a good chunk of his show given over to intentionally offensive material that starts from an obviously (and even boringly) controversial beginning and escalates into ever more ludicrous contortions as Herring chases down all the logical consequences while remaining seemingly oblivious to what he's saying. He's not a big fan of the Catholic Church, to put it mildly.
This sort of thing works for Fringe audiences because, to be honest, it's usually a fairly safe bet that nobody in the audience is actually going to be offended - or if they are, they're going to be a heavily outnumbered minority. It's funny because it might hypothetically be offensive to somebody not in the room, rather than because it's actually intended to offend people who are. Besides, it's so over the top that you'd have to have a serious sense of humour failure to take it literally. On the whole, the sort of people who take their religion so seriously as to be actively offended by this kind of thing (as opposed to merely not it funny) don't bother with Fringe stand-up comedy. If they go to the Fringe at all, they're probably watching a nice am-dram production of Abigail's Party, with heavy period detail for added toothlessness. For the rest of us, this sort of material is offensive in a rather abstract way - it hits taboos, but it doesn't actually cause offence.
Tonight, in fact, Herring did have a party of middle-aged Daily Mail readers on the audience, who walked out in disgust at the start of the Catholicism segment. Apparently they weren't best pleased by his announcement that he was glad the Pope was dead. One of them actually seized the microphone to make his complaints clearer. (Herring politely assured them that, no, he wasn't drunk, he just had a different sense of humour from them.) This made us all feel much better about laughing at them in their absence. It's a shame they didn't stick around for Herring's explanation of exactly why he was glad, which starts with the relatively friendly observation that he's been released from disease and has gone to heaven, only to follow the train of thought until it takes him back into insanity again.
Herring claims to reckon that his audience splits between people who love it, people who hate it, and a middle ground who buy the Guardian and go "Well, I can see what you're doing with the structure of stand up..." If you've got any doubts about which category you're in, wait to see how you react to the punchline to the closing yoghurt segment. Any more than three seconds to get the point (or if you don't find it funny) and you're a Guardian reader.
The show's at Edinburgh until the end of August, and then touring. I loved it, and if you're in the third who are guaranteed to hate it, you probably know by now.