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Spencer Jones presents The Herbert in Eggy Bagel

Review by Steve Bennett

There are officially 1,170 comedy shows in this year’s Fringe, and countless more not in the programme. But there is only one like Spencer Jones’s.

Sure there are other clowns, there might even be the odd prop comic – a much-derided genre that he’s single-handedly reinventing with his playfully childish alter-ego The Herbert. But whereas most comics take their inspiration from everyday observation or real-life stories, every one of Jones’s ridiculous skits will have you asking: ‘How the hell did he think of that?’ Once you’ve stopped laughing, anyway.

And he bloody commits to them, too. He spends the entire show with deflated airbags dragging behind him and a cumbersome apparatus on his back for a joke that lasted less than a minute. In fact, most gags are quick, requiring an impressive density of inspiration. He only really gets one shot at the sort of visual punchlines he often specialises in, transforming cheap household objects into almost-magical characters, so has to keep moving once the revelation is made.

While lo-fi is his preferred approach, repurposing broken dolls, toilet brushes and polystyrene balls for his imaginative creations, he’s increasingly mixing that with higher tech. He creates his own backing tracks, live, with sampling and loops of his silly noises and earworm phrases (‘He’s a dickhead’, for example) that creates an upbeat backing to the mucking about.

This year he’s even invested in an iPad for the most brilliant piece of audience participation, albeit an iPad with an egg slice attached. If you enjoy the human-ventriloquist doll trick deployed by the likes of Nina Conti or Paul Zerdin, you’ll love how The Herbert ramps it up another level.

This all might sound like silly, meaningless stuff and nonsense; and if it were, it would be damn funny on those terms alone. But somehow Jones also weaves in some touching autobiographical elements into the madness.

This show examines the father-son bond, as he speaks proudly of his father – a leading undercover cop, unlikely as it seems – while having one of the dolls represent his own son, achieving a quite remarkable empathy and suspension of disbelief, since it has no head. Both generations add moments of tenderness to the rampant idiocy.

I slightly missed in The Herbert’s third outing, the previous subtext about relatives being baffled, disappointed and concerned about his juvenile obsessions, and the subtle conflict that created. But everything must move on.

Despite the more mature themes that creep into the corners of this silliness, The Herbert remains a curious naive, overgrown child, who’s often compared to Mr Bean, but even less rooted in reality, and a little more talkative, even if it’s in his own demi-language conveying only the most essential information amid his cheery ‘wooa-ayes’! And even though the tone’s celebratory and juvenile, a couple of the scenes show shades of darkness, adding more texture to the infectious insanity.

In short, mucking about with a loo brush has never been so damn good.

Review date: 8 Aug 2016
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Heroes @ The Hive

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