Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Stage Presence #9

“Ménage à Un” by Richard Herring
The Comedy Box, Hen & Chicken, Bristol, 02/12/2006

With the odd exception (Josie Long and Reginald D. Hunter, step forward), the acts at The Comedy Box have been at the very least entertaining . On this basis, and despite not having seen Richard Herring’s live act before, it seemed like a sure thing for a night of top notch comedy with a couple of friends. What I forgot to take into account was the mercurial nature of the audience, who can often make or break a show, despite the best efforts of the performers. And so it was tonight. Compere John Richardson seemed to have his work cut out for him, though over the course of the evening managed to bring the audience on side with some witty observations and brutal, but not aggressive, verbal lobs to the crowd. Support act Lee Nelson's chav Londoner persona was less successful. To be honest, I just couldn’t see the point, when the real world version borders on self-parody and pretty much renders the whole of Nelson’s act redundant. The minutes were peppered with irritating ‘innits’ and I found myself counting both down to the point when he left the stage, presumably to audition for a bit part on The Catherine Tate Show. Digressing slightly, it’s worth briefly describing the atmosphere at this point. I’d say that roughly a third of the hundred or so people in the room seemed to be there to meet with friends and get drunk, the fact that there was a comedy show (which they’d paid for) also taking place largely incidental to their evening’s entertainment. Our table was directly behind one such gathering that seemed to grow in numbers and volume as the evening progressed. Directly blocking my wife and I’s view of the stage was a giraffe-like crusty with upwardly mobile dreads, paired with a bizarre hybrid of Billy Idol and Aggie from Channel 4’s How Clean Is Your House? Man, woman or androgynous lab creation, I still couldn’t tell by evening’s end. Each took turns to stand up to address friends across the table, go to the bar for drinks or just swap seats for the sake of it with a frequency that someone with ADD would be hard pressed to match. Having set the scene, I’ll add that Richard Herring had spent most of the time leading up to his performance on the sidelines, observing both the warm-up acts and the audience. I’d have forgiven him for turning tail at this point and heading home. However, he took to the stage, to the seeming indifference of (roughly a third of) the audience. It was quickly apparent that Herring’s material was going over the heads of Aggie Idol and friends, plus another table of ‘lads on the lash’, but this only seemed to encourage Herring to plumb deeper and darker with his material. Imagine an episode of Chris Morris’ Jam performed live on stage and you’re some way there. Early in the set, Herring singled out a 16 year old girl in the front row, referring to her genitalia as a ‘squirrel’s ear’ and talked about popping the cap on her coffee jar. All this whilst her parents squirmed with discomfort across the table (what were they thinking when they decided on this as a family night out?!) This was probably the point where Herring lost (at least) another third of the audience, the line between stage persona and reality smudged beyond recognition for many. Some of the material was more accessible, including an amusing skit on ‘sky potatoes’ and a riff on two (intentionally) ill defined characters that end up sidelining their creator and hogging the stage. However, for the most part, Herring largely continued to poke at the membrane separating comfort and unease, which included exploring the desire to fornicate with the crucified Jesus’ orifices, to a collective admonishing tut from (by now at least) three quarters of the assemblage. Ménage à Un is a difficult show to watch and the crowd, who seemed to be predominantly seeking inoffensive, unchallenging, ‘easy’ laughs, were never going to ‘get’ it. I think this had an effect on Herring, particularly towards the end, which is a shame. If there’s no room for performers like Richard Herring, who are prepared to challenge convention, push the envelope and take risks with their material, then the world really has become a sad, narrow minded place.

Richard Herring's website

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