What Culture review of WILA

Richard Herring – What Is Love Anyway? Review

November 17, 2011 9:41 am
Owain Paciuszko
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Rating: ★★★★★

Richard HerringÂ’s parents met when they were 13 years old and have been together ever since, it was because of this the young Richard Herring strongly believed in love, the kind of love where you are destined to meet one person who will be the love of your life and you will stay with them forever.

However, life soon proved this to be somewhat untrue and, a string of failed relationships later, Richard Herring ponders the show’s titular question and sets out to ‘destroy love’. Of course, Herring is looking back upon this from a perspective of current romantic happiness, he’s been in a relationship for four years and all’s going well, aside from his annual Ferrero Rocher shopping, but more on that later. This show also spring-boarded from a concept Herring posed towards the end of his last show – a second-coming revival of Christ On A Bike – where he compared a belief in love to a belief in God, both are essentially imaginary made up things that nobody can really prove exists beyond people saying they ‘strongly feel that they are real’, and it struck Herring as strange that his audience who, for the most part, thoroughly enjoyed laughing at people’s faith in a mystical bearded deity but when it came to poking fun at the idea of love and, indeed, the idea of love being just as hokey as, say, Christianity, the audience became quiet and a little uncomfortable. It’s love, right, love’s definitely real?

Here Herring delves deeply into his personal life and family history in such a disarmingly honest and confessional way that there are moments of startlingly awkward honesty and profound reflection that you feel you’ve been invited to eavesdrop on a very intimate discussion, as Herring dismantles and analyses his past relationships and his own perspective on relationships there’s much that is utterly relatable and seemingly often unsaid. His reading, and criticism, of a poem he wrote called ‘Tom’s Life’ about a young guy he met whilst camping who lost his virginity aged 14 and was currently bedding a string of girls is a funny look at Herring’s then high and mighty ideals of what love was, and Herring is the first to indicate that perhaps young Herring was actually wishing he had Tom’s life; which, to be fair, years later he did.

These insights and anecdotes are a familiar part of HerringÂ’s act, but here he has perfected the art, with a dissection of the questionable ValentineÂ’s card that brought his parents together and a perfectly uncomfortable and hilarious account of his relationship with the actress Julia Sawala (which was foreshadowed by a perhaps unhealthy obsession with the show Press Gang and then a sketch of Stewart Lee and Richard HerringÂ’s cult BBC2 series Fist Of Fun in which Herring had a shrine to Sawala).

It’s not all about Herring’s failings in romance, a masterful set-piece based around the aforementioned Ferrero Rocher combines many of Herring’s comedic strengths, such as drawing things out to an anally logical conclusion and a taste for school-boyish puerility matched with obsessive listing (here mathematical multiples as opposed to Christ On A Bike’s impressive recitation of the ‘begats’), whilst a closing routine based around his grandmother starting to date again at 80 years old is both heartfelt, bittersweet, beautifully sad and uplifting and also very, very funny and a perfect way to close the show.

Of the four stand-up shows of Herring’s I’ve seen this is by far the finest, moreso than any of the others it takes a universal theme and explores it in a way that is both deeply personal and completely accessible, though Herring’s stories about his – and his families – relationships are completely autobiographical there is so much that is, often worryingly, relatable and at times you feel like you’re up on stage confessing your heart out as much as Herring is. Whilst this perspective may make the performance sound perhaps somewhat serious, and the questions at the heart of Herring’s work often are which is part of their appeal, it is also one of the funniest, silliest and most joyful stand-up shows I have ever seen.