Beyond the Joke reviews Happy Now?

Live Review: Richard Herring, Leicester Square Theatre

By Bruce Dessau on 12/2/2016

Richard Herring has been developing his new show, Happy Now? for a while. An embryonic version of it was performed last summer when he did all of his past shows in one epic run at the Leicester Square Theatre. So it’s interesting that the show isn't about quite what I initially thought it was going to be about. 

I had misguidedly expected the main thrust to be the question of whether one can be happy and still be a successful comedian. There is so much emphasis on the ‘sad clown’ mythology that maybe getting your mojo in life means losing your mojo onstage. And, of course, this thought must have crossed Herring's mind. He is happier than ever, having become a father in 2015 and, by his own admission, getting more fun out of fatherhood than he does out of his job.

The show is actually more interesting than that, seeming to me, at least, to be about the very nature, value and meaning of happiness. Quoting William “Ringpiece” Thackeray Herring asks whether finding happiness can ever make us satisfied. Maybe we should live in the moment and be happy with what we have. The joy, after all, might be fleeting, so make the most of it.

Inevitably a chunk of Happy Now? is about parenthood. An opening section on his wife going into labour muses on why God makes giving birth so painful. If it was a way to punish Eve for her apple-related naughtiness why did God also make childbirth so painful for Herring’s wife? It's a subject that has probably been a rich source for stand-ups ever since biblical times, but the jokes feel fresh and are told with conviction and spirit as well as a sense of playful fun.

While acknowledging that there is a risk of coming out with hack material when talking about being a father Herring manages to sidestep most of the cliches (although one pooh-based anecdote is all about failing to sidestep some fecal matter). He is keen, of course, to underline that fatherhood hasn’t made him go soft and to prove it comes out with a riff of darkly comic murderous thoughts.  

As ever there is some seriousness behind the serial childishness. One issue, which anyone who has read his blog or listened to his podcast interview with Jack Whitehall will know has taxed Herring, is the, erm, philosophical aspect of what constitutes infidelity. What, say, is the difference between having sex with a blow-up doll and having sex with a robot that looks like Gemma Chan off C4’s Humans? The question is tackled with just the right degree of gravitas and tact (and prompted quite a long debate with my girlfriend when I got home. If you want to reach me I'll be sleeping on the sofa until further notice). 

It would spoil things to give too much away about Happy Now?, however. There is plenty more, including some very skilful comedic pedantry which is worth the ticket price alone. While the theme isn’t quite what I expected – and the show is still evolving, he road-tested some new material at the start of the second half – it is a really strong set. Laugh-out-loud funny in places, thought-provoking in places. Often laugh-out-loud funny and thought-provoking at the same time.