Eye For Film >> Movies >> Richard Herring: Hitler Moustache (2010) Film Review
Are there any areas which should still be taboo for comedians? It’s a topic that’s been much in the news lately, as alternative comedy becomes ever more ‘mainstream’ and its abrasiveness and commitment to ‘shock value’ lead it into ever more sensitive areas.
Jokes against women, jokes about the disabled, jokes exploiting stereotypes – is it OK if they’re delivered with a knowing, post-modern wink or done to ‘push the boundaries’? Or is it a reversion to the lazy prejudice-confirming days of Bernard Manning et al.
One of the most sensitive areas, of course, is race and racism. So fair play to Richard Herring for tackling the issue head on. His latest ‘themed’ one-man show is based on his experiences when he deliberately grew a toothbrush moustache. He did so to make the point that, until Hitler cultivated one, it was known as a ‘Chaplin moustache’ and had entirely different connotations and to ask why and how words or symbols become racist – and offensive.
It arrives on DVD after debuting at Edinburgh in 2009 and enjoying a national tour, accompanied by a fair bit of controversy. A Guardian article used a line from it – "maybe racists have a point" – in a discussion of the ‘new offensiveness’ in comedy, which prompted a response from Herring in the same paper. Watching the routine as a whole, it’s absolutely clear that the line does need to be taken in context. This is emphatically not a show that simply encourages its audience to have a guilty titter at a bit of ‘ironic’ 70s comedy nostalgia.
In fact, in asking the audience (and the viewer) to think about what constitutes racism, or intolerance, or offensiveness, Herring constantly challenges the orthodoxy of left-liberal views and values and becomes increasingly irate at the apathy and lack of serious engagement with politics that allowed the BNP to win seats at the last European elections.
This all might sound a bit like a politics seminar, but trust me it’s very funny, too. Herring has always had a keen eye and ear for the absurd and the surreal (his 90s collaborations with Stewart Lee, Fist Of Fun and This Morning With Richard Not Judy are long overdue a DVD release) as well as the true stand-up’s ability to riff on an audience’s reactions. He also shows a willingness to question his own preconceptions that’s refreshing in the age of the super-confident ‘supercomedian’.
The staging’s a long way from the glitzy West End palace setting of some comedy DVDs, too, so don’t expect too many bells and whistles. Essentially it’s him on a small stage at an arts centre in Cardiff. It gives a sense of the intimacy that traditional stand-up is all about but can never replicate the beer-and-laughter soaked atmosphere of actually being there.
And it does mean you focus more on the material itself. There are longeurs, particularly in the second half, but there’s a lot of comedy gold, too. I was thinking of ending the review with a warning about whether it’s entirely your cup of tea if you’re easily offended – there are sections on the word ‘Paki’, Michael Jackson’s death and the Madeleine McCann campaign too.
But, in fact, this is exactly the kind of thing the easily-offended should be watching. Because it asks questions about why we take offence and why certain subjects become taboo. This is challenging comedy in the best sense, recommended for anyone who likes to have their brain as well as their funny bone exercised.Reviewed on: 07 Nov 2010