â€ś Reclaiming ChaplinÂ’s moustache for comedy, HeadmasterÂ’s Son star muses on iconography, the positive side of racism and why innocent square inch of facial hair took blame for Nazism. â€ž
'Hitler Moustache' is the latest touring show from Richard Herring, established stand-up comic and formerly part of the acclaimed comedy partnership with Stewart Lee - Lee and Herring. (I have also recently reviewed Stewart Lee's most recent show - If You Prefer a Milder Comedian....)
I have been a fan particularly of Herring's for the last two years, ever since he launched his free weekly podcast with his new 'partner' Andrew Collins - ' The Collings and Herrin podcast' (the floating g is deliberate). As a result of this I have also bought some of his DVDs from independent comedy website www.gofasterstripe.com (highly recommended), but this has been the first opportunity that I have had to see him live.
As signified by the poster, Herring bounds onto the stage sporting a real self-grown 'toothbrush' moustache. He claims initially that the whole point of him sporting this somewhat controversial facial hair is to provoke reactions and to reclaim it for comedy - it was after all the preferred topiary of choice of the legendary Charlie Chaplin before it became synomonous with Hitler.
From this simple beginning begins a show which is much more smart and insightful than you might otherwise expect. It gradually becomes an impassioned, intelligent but still ultimately very funny diatribe against racism in all its forms. Along the way a lot of targets come under the fire of his wit - including Carol Thatcher (due to a shared appearance on The Wright Show after she had been fired from The One Show), his own fear of being perceived of being racist, and most effectively with his own take on how to take on the BNP and win (with the help of Velcro toothbrush moustaches and you know, the old fashioned way of voting for a different party rather than being apathetic and not voting for anyone).
Herring came under a lot of undue stick by Brian Logan, comedy critic at The Guardian in an article published when this show was premiered at the Edinburgh festival in 2009, in which he seemingly questioned the integrity of Herring's material and indeed morality. This is completely unfair and untrue. Herring raises a number of thought provoking arguments in a show that is a lot less crude and a lot more intelligent than I expected. Herrings material on the Collings and Herrin podcast can go beyond the pale sometimes as he tries to outdo himself when it comes to offense - but here all his points are clearly articulate and are well-thought out. That said, he does have his moments with jokes that trigger 'oooh' moments from the audience, but these are well balanced and more to do with the nature of offense than actual cruelty. He also incorporates one of his staple stand-up techniques of the inner monologue/conversation with himself to entertaining effect.
In conclusion, Herring has succeeded with a great show which shows just how smart and important comedy can be.
Richard Herring never believed them when they said you get more right-wing as you get older, but as the forty-two-year-old Fringe veteran takes to the familiar stage in the sweaty Underbelly for his eighteenth Edinburgh festival, wearing a severe suit and sporting a genuine Hitler moustache, the audience is forced to question whether he's finally lost it.
Having survived an embarrassing mid-life crisis in 'Oh F*ck, I'm 40!' and exposed his tragically untroubled youth in last year's sell-out show 'The Headmaster's Son,' Herring's new show takes a hard look at Britain's racist attitudes in the summer that saw the British National Party gain two seats in the European parliament. Herring has appropriated Hitler's famous philtrum fungus as a basis for a thoughtful and accurate appraisal of a twenty-first century Britain that would allow such dangerous humiliations to happen.
Herring defends his facial topiary as no adolescent desire to shock, but as a sincere attempt to fight fascism with ridicule, much as the moustache's originator Charlie Chaplin sought to do in the 1930s, before the bristles became inextricably associated with the arguably more influential FĂĽhrer of Germany. Herring ponders whether comedy and fascism are really all that different, and this 2009 Fringe show certainly demonstrates the inherent humour to be found in such pieces of fascist propaganda as the recent BNP leaflet.
Herring's risky opening gambit is to propose that maybe racists have a point, creating a prickly atmosphere amongst the left-wing, middle-class theatregoers before the self-confessed "woolly liberal" comedian follows the statement through to its illogical conclusion with a brilliant deconstruction of racist attitudes, making for what must be one of the more enlightened shows of this year's Fringe.
It's quite staggering to watch the show and recall that only a couple of weeks ago, Herring's routines were misappropriated by Guardian critic Brian Logan, along with those of other comedians, in an article that robbed them of any meaningful context and used them to illustrate an argument that comedy was becoming increasingly designed to offend audiences. Herring and the other performers involved were given the opportunity to set the record straight, but as audiences will learn from watching the show, it is easy for statements to be appropriated at face value to suit any argument, however far-fetched. Is this the same fate that has befallen the toothbrush moustache, now associated squarely with the Nazis in the same way they spoiled the Hindu symbol of peace by turning it into their corporate branding of the swastika?
Or does the moustache possess some inherent quality of evil?
Herring's thought-provoking arguments are illustrated with enjoyable anecdotes of his experiences in the months since he decided to grow the moustache, but on the whole this is a lot more serious and less overtly jocular than last year's 'Headmaster's Son.' Long-time fans can still expect Herring to joke about paedophiles and to indulge in some revealing schizophrenia, particularly in a section where he examines his own attitudes with critical self-awareness, but for possessing such a strong through-line, this is a much more satisfying experience than the scattered stand-up routines cobbled together to form some of Herring's previous Edinburgh shows.
Still in its early stages in the first week of the Fringe, prior to the inevitable London run and nationwide tour, this show already feels complete and confident. Richard Herring is at the Underbelly for the remainder of August, and a few tickets are still available for his live podcasts with Andrew Collings, which take place from the 19th to the 23rd.