Christmas is fast approaching, which means that if you are going anywhere near a supermarket in the next month or so, you will find it impossible to ignore the staggering amount of aisle space dedicated to the now-so-lucrative stand up market. It is almost a cliché to point out that comedy is big business now, but it is still staggering to see just how popular-a stocking filler the prime time comics' DVDs have become.
One DVD you probably won't see by the fags in Tesco Express however, is Richard Herring's Christ on a Bike - The Second Coming, his excellent show about his relationship with Christianity. But while the more high-profile names are currently concluding their whistle-stop stadium tours with material already available at the till, Herring is well underway with his next show, What is Love Anyway?, which goes on tour nationwide in January.
As with most of Herring's recent work, the new show was perfected at Edinburgh and sticks very closely to its theme. The idea's genesis, as Richard explains, came from the unexpected backlash from Christ on a Bike audience members who were offended by Herring dismissing love as made up nonsense. The result of this altercation is a 75 minute dissection of this thing we call love, with the primary ambition of destroying it. The show that played in London's Soho Theatre last week is remarkably well-paced; with the wealth of ideas and the 10 o'clock start not allowing for an interval. Herring's affable nature is far removed from his "podcast persona" and he is always pleasant company. Unsurprisingly, the content is highly personal, but never cruel, with recollections of schoolboy crushes, doomed relationships, and the familial, but equally unexplainable bond between parents and their offspring.
The show may feel like it comes to a natural conclusion not long after the one hour mark, but there is a rather unconventional epilogue which elevates it further above anything you'll see on the circuit at present, and witnessing an audience palpably shift from tears of laughter to tight-throated, melancholic whimpers and back again (an ending that Herring's former partner Stewart Lee refers to in typically acerbic style from his own show a few hundred yards down the road) is a joy. The ease and speed at which Herring conjures this contradictive emotional atmosphere is most impressive, but the real masterstroke of the set is the way in which it seemlessly transmogrifies from an assault on love as an apocryphal emotion, manufactured by human kind as a distraction from existential crises, to a life-affirming celebration of its idealistic purity and giddy absurdity.
After recent shows about Hitler and Jesus, you'd have expected What is Love Anyway? to be a less contentious affair, but like all his work, it is consistently challenging, thought provoking and utterly hilarious whilst still finding room to be warm and, at one point, surprisingly moving. The work that has gone into WILA is clear to see, and it's not only among Herring's finest work, but very possibly the best stand up show you'll see this year.
Rating: *****Suggest a correction