Cherwell reviews WILA

Review: What is love anyway?
Cherwell is amused, moved, and undeniably impressed by comedian Richard Herring's latest Fringe show
Alex Kealy on Wednesday 7th September 2011

Richard Herring has always been audacious. At this year’s fringe festival he even cheekily used his blog to call himself ‘the King of Edinburgh’ and encourage his followers –now presumably courtiers - to do likewise. That’s a dangerous act in a city full of jealous comedians who may hear the headline without seeing the original tongue-in-cheek post.

Herring’s 2011 show ‘What is love anyway?’ starts a little more conservatively by comparison. Whilst his bold assertion that he is out to destroy love appears provocative, the comedic style he employs will be reliably familiar to any fans: the cunning use of gradations of logic carefully built up to arrive at seemingly horrendous and controversial conclusions, a kind of reductio ad absurdum. In this fashion he attempts to convince us that mothers are in fact whores for loving their offspring and that it is more noble to love another’s child…but not in that way. So far, so Herring.

The show really gathers pace when Herring begins to deal with his own love life, particularly a pair of routines about the perils of dating a woman whom he had previously graphically fantasised about on 90s TV show Fist of Fun, and a ValentineÂ’s Day gift gone wrong. The latter, a perfect showcase for HerringÂ’s style and ample talent, involves a central conceit about geometric progressions that he draws out skilfully. ItÂ’s hilarious, and tackles the etiquette of gifts to oneÂ’s love with a surprising tenderness along with some faux-vitriol.

It’s this tenderness that elevates the evening’s conclusion, and it is here that Herring demonstrates true audacity. As he talks about his 99 year-old grandmother, an Alzheimer’s sufferer, the laughs ebb away. Essentially a living eulogy for a woman who is dying ‘the slow death’, it is incredibly moving and tear-inducing. And here lies the courage of the man. As it approaches five minutes since the last laughter, there is a real nervousness in the room, a doubt as to whether the comedy can be regained. Or, worse, that any attempt might feel tasteless after such a heartfelt performance. The fear is entirely unwarranted, with the eventual punch line proving masterful and winning deserved applause. It’s an overused word, but that moment is one of pure catharsis. Life’s inherent tragedy is laid bare for the audience but Herring uses great presence and skill in convincing us to laugh boldly at it all. It’s exhilarating and a demonstration of the potency of comedy.

It doesn’t matter that this show doesn’t have quite as many belly laughs as his previous outing ‘Christ on a Bike’. With ‘What is love anyway?’, Richard Herring ultimately eschews the cynicism of its opening section and instead weaves a powerful, life-affirming salute to love. Now that’s bravery.

5 stars / 10/10