I tend to think of Richard Herring in terms of Lee and Herring, his comedy partnership with Stewart Lee, whom we saw a while back and thought was absolutely ace; but a quick check on Wikipedia (so it must be true) informs me that their comedy duo-ship came to an end in 2000. So much for me keeping up with the times.
Anyway, I suppose this led me subconsciously to expect that Mr Herring’s act would be some kind of Stewart Lee Mark II. I don’t think I’ve actually seen or heard any of his TV and radio shows in the meantime, so booking for his tour was one of those acts of trust and hope. And so often that pays dividends. I can name many more comedians who we booked to see as virgins to their comedy style and who we subsequently really enjoyed, than those who disappointed. However, into every life some rain must fall, and thus it was that, despite Mr Herring’s bright, friendly, young-avuncular nature, and the fact that we were in a good mood ready for some rip-roaring comedy, we didn’t really enjoy his act much.
There are some comics who get a good idea and then touch upon it lightly, before moving on in a scatter-gun approach and who don’t actually mine the optimum amount of comedy out of the idea. Then there are those who develop the idea further, make some clever observations, make you think twice about the world we live in, and make you laugh to a satisfactory degree to boot. Then there are comics like Mr Herring, who get an idea and absolutely batter it to death. No flimsy strand of potential jollity is left unteased out of his comic ideas, so that once he’s finally concluded any particular comedy module, its original idea is left bereft, a lifeless cadaver. His routine, for example, about “Dave Manager” goes on and on, taking what was a modestly amusing idea in the first place and then bludgeoning it to a pulp. He has another sequence of material where he constantly returns to the idea of an International Man’s Day. And again. And again. By the time he’s finished with it, you can’t remember why it was funny in the first place.
And that’s also, sadly, another problem we had – in that we didn’t find much of his material particularly funny to begin with. For me the show started promisingly, as a few subtle one-liners headed our way, him getting the feel of how the night was going to progress, and us getting acquainted with Mr Herring’s stage persona; but after about fifteen minutes I found that my natural smile at being the happy recipient of a comedian’s act had glazed into a fixed position that wouldn’t shift until it received some comic resuscitation. Mrs Chrisparkle laughed out loud a couple of times early on, but then afterwards I could tell from her body posture and generally lifeless reaction to the show that its entertainment value for her had upped sticks and was heading out of town.
It’s only fair to point out that surrounding us were loads of people who were laughing their heads off. They were clearly fans having a terrific evening who found his particular style absolutely suited their comedy needs. So that was great, I was very pleased for them – and for him too. It was interesting to observe anyway, as the louder the audience response you knew the funnier the material was meant to be. The audience reaction became like a barometric guide to the evening, helpful when you don’t naturally find it that funny yourself. Basically, I sat for most of the show mildly entertained when he kept the material brief, but thoroughly irritated by it when he went into too much detail.
Bizarrely, for me one of the best parts of the evening was when he was exhorting us to buy the merchandise. When we saw Manfred Mann a couple of months ago, Paul Jones spent a long time describing each CD and each DVD and it all sounded embarrassingly desperate. Mr Herring described his DVDs with refreshing charm and modesty, and I’m sure the extensive line of fans queuing up afterwards to get him to sign DVDs will have a great time reliving old classics. Mrs C still finds the whole concept of merch promotion by performer a tad infra dig.
So all in all, I think you can sum it up as we just weren’t the right people for the gig. If you think you are the right person, then he’s touring nationally until June.