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Richard Herring: Hitler Moustache - Fringe 2009

Note: This review is from 2009

Review by Steve Bennett

Richard Herring has accidentally found himself one of the most talked-about acts of the Fringe so far, since The Guardian accused him of flirting with the offensive in search of a laugh. Who could possibly ever have foreseen that a show in which a comedian strives to look like Adolf Hitler could have any possible potential for controversy…

However, if you’re a well-educated, liberal comedian, you don’t do a show like this without having thoroughly thought it through first and, even though Herring may cheekily provoke with inappropriate comments, the subtext is never very far from the surface – and often explained explicitly, just to make sure no one gets the wrong end of the jackboot.

The premise is that he is trying to reclaim the toothbrush moustache favoured by both the Fuhrer and Charlie Chaplin for comedy, in the way that other groups have reclaimed words used against them. To that end, Herring chose to walk around West London for a few weeks sporting the ‘nasal welcome mat’ to gauge people’s reactions – and to jokingly see if it made him more fascistic. That’s quite a bold commitment for the sake of an Edinburgh show.

Actually the responses Herring received proved to be fairly muted, some people ignored him, occasionally they sniggered at him – which actually leaves a bit of a void in the show, leaving him to do the sort of ‘what do I look like?!’ type humour almost every comic’s done at one point in their career, if only as an icebreaker. But if the experiment to provoke consequences didn’t really work, we should also be grateful that the trial also didn’t make Herring any the more genocidal.

Though he does argue that racists might be on to something.

The usual defence for that sort of routine is that it’s exposing the inherent ridiculousness of racism; though it’s really just Herring playing the fool, pretending to misunderstand the whole concept for a bit of silliness; silliness that’s desperately needed as a balance to his passionate, but over-preachy, rant imploring everyone to vote. That all it takes for evil like the BNP to triumph is for good men to do nothing. The message is admirable, but it’s certainly a step back from the comedy.

The BNP are, of course, mocked, as is Carol Thatcher and both her foolish ‘golliwog’ comment and her ignorant refusal to apologise, about which he has challenged her face-to-face. Talking of contentious, there are even some Michael Jackson jokes, which seem straightforward at the time of telling, but later you realise why he had to do them.

That’s the thing with a Richard Herring show; there’s more to it than initially meets the eye – even when the overplayed moustache obsession threatens to trivialise the show beyond providing punchlines. He’s not the first comedian to try to use the moustache to try to mock Hitler, though, and acknowledges the fact that Chaplin got there first.

Is Hitler Moustache a Great Dictator for our times? No. But it is a funny and often challenging look at liberal hubris, the intent of ‘offensive’ gags, and a condemnation of the bigots. Vote with you feet, and see it.

Review date: 12 Aug 2009
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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