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Edinburgh Fringe 2009: Richard Herring - Hitler Moustache
Richard Herring: Hitler Moustache
Member Name: Frankingsteins
Richard Herring: Hitler Moustache
Date: 11/08/09, updated on 11/08/09 (129 review reads)
Advantages: Thought-provoking, well-reasoned arguments. Oh, and jokes.
Disadvantages: Will offend right-wing audiences.
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 FŁhrer 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.
Summary: Richard Herring reclaims Chaplin's toothbrush moustache for comedy.
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