Richard Herring: Someone Likes Yoghurt
Show type: Edinburgh Fringe 2005
Back in Edinburgh for his 20th show at the Fringe - and this year he's returning to stand-up after a 13-year hiatus.
After so many visits to the city, Richard Herring’s becoming as much a part of the Edinburgh landscape in August as the Scott Memorial. And usually with shows that are as elaborate in their construction and towering in their ambition.
This year he’s eschewed the big ideas and laptop projections to concentrate on straightforward back-to-basics stand-up. His stated aim is to say the unsayable and to challenge closed systems of thought, which sounds a lot more pretentious than a show called Someone Likes Yoghurt can actually deliver - thankfully.
His forte is to take clearly ridiculous things very seriously, taking them apart by ruthless logic until there’s no room left for argument. The Rudyard Kipling poem If… and the One For Sorrow, Two For Joy magpie reward system, as he dubs it, come in for such deconstruction early in the show.
That the words to this poem and song collapse under their own stupidity is quickly established, but that’s not enough for Herring who keeps battering away at the vanquished subject. It’s this misplaced, ill-directed obsession that is as funny, if not more so, than his exposure of the flaws in the first place
He also turns that unflinching logic onto Catholicism, whose doctrines turn out to crumble as easily as the magpie song. Of course, organised religion has been the punchbag for many a comic routine – and no wonder given the inherent flaws in the beliefs, and the seriousness with which they are followed, up to the point of murder.
Yet with Herring, it doesn’t feel like we’re treading on well-trodden holy ground. His genuine joy at exposing the hypocrisy is as compelling as any street preacher’s zeal as he applies for the post of Pope, comes up with some suggestions about he’d run things (especially sex) if he were God and advances such clearly controversial views as ‘paedophilia is wrong’ and ‘Aids is bad’ that seem to go against the Vatican’s teachings.
He’s relentless in his witty disdain – but where do you go after you’ve challenged the might of one of the most powerful organisations in the world, with millions if not billions of devotees and wealth and power beyond imagination? For what did he save his most impassioned, heartfelt rant? It is, of course, the Sainsburys Local checkout girl who thought he’d bought too much yoghurt.
Here he goads and baits the audience into sharing his petty annoyance, grandstanding for 15, maybe 20, minutes on this most vital of subjects, at least as long as he spent berating Catholicism. A third, he reckons love it – and he rewards them – another third absolutely hate it – and he gets just as much pleasure out of their suffering as he continually thinks of extra reasons to be angry at the shop girl’s apparent insolence.
He enjoys playing with the stand-up form in this way, and after nearly 20 years doing it, you would hope any intelligent man would want to do the same. The skill is that he’s not being challenging for its own sake, but that he’s created a lively, hilarious, part-sublime, part-ridiculous hour in which to get his points across. If only more Edinburgh shows were like this.