The Edinburgh Festival approacheth, and London's comedians are busy sharpening up their acts in readiness for a month of Scottish exposure. Which is great, because it means we southerners get to see top Fringe shows at half the price and without having to travel up North for hours to stay in overpriced accommodation. Which is why I was over in Battersea last night sitting in a tiny theatre above a pub along with 100 other comedy misers. Onstage was Richard Herring, the half of FistofFun that didn't go on to write Jerry Springer The Opera, but more importantly the only half to write a daily blog that appears in my sidebar.
Normally when I review a cultural event or something I can rely on the artist not reading my review. However it is possible that Richard will swan in and read what I've written, particularly if you lot all clink on this link and go and read his blog called 'Warming Up' which is bloody good. And I shall also offer some suggestions on how the show could be even better, but only because Richard is still perfecting writing it, and because I was too socially inept to hang around the bar after last night's performance to discuss it face to face. Here's the press release summary of this latest comedy masterpiece.
Regular readers of Richard's blog will be familiar with the concept of CPNS (Consecutive Number Plate Spotting). This is the glue that holds the performance together, the frankly insane challenge of spotting all of the numbers from 1 to 999 on car numberplates in the correct order. CNPS is a surprisingly good comedy topic and I was laughing along with the rest of the audience, despite my guilty secret that I too have played this game, right through to its conclusion. It took me four years, although Richard is now just 14 numbers from the end after just 20 months. If only I'd thought to keep my own obsessive notebook of cars, addresses and parking spaces then maybe I could have finished sooner too (although I will confess to having occasionally taken a different route home just to spot a particularly awkward number, just like Richard).
The show also recounts twelve separate challenges, each loosely based on one of the twelve fabled Herculean tasks, and each worthy of a lengthy sub-routine. The joy of Richard's tasks is in the detail - the virgin he chose not to sacrifice to the Loch Ness Monster, the rowing accident that nearly blinded an opposing oarsman, the realisation that elephant dung smells like a certain Weight Watchers product, and so on. His attempt to date 50 different women in 50 consecutive evenings is probably rich enough to merit an entire show of its own. Alas here all twelve tasks have to be fitted into the straightjacket of a one hour performance. One hour, twelve tasks - that's five minutes each. Add in a ten minute introduction and a two minute conclusion and that's just four minutes each. And it's not enough. Richard was able to relate only the first five tasks of Hercules Terrace before his time was up, which was a shame because we could have happily sat there and listened to another hour at least. We heard only sketchy details of his parachute jump, his tennis disaster, his nude Spanish protest and his tussle with Argos head office, plus a quick read through of the frosty letter he received this weekend from Germaine Greer. Our loss.
I suspect that this anecdotal surplus is a consequence of Richard being a comedy blogger. In writing over 600 daily blogposts he's composed so much quality material that it's almost impossible to thin it down to a sixty minute show. To do justice to all the possible content would take at least a six episode Radio 4 comedy series. Thankfully all of us online can read the fully detailed background stories on his blog, but in the theatre we were just left feeling as if we missed out. So Richard, ditch the stuff about how good and worthy the rowing and the marathon running were because that was just getting admiration, not laughs. Four minutes per task, that's all you've got to play with. But you did manage to make me laugh out loud, and believe me that's a lot harder than you might think. Now go conquer Edinburgh.