Compiling a Best Of compilation is a really difficult thing to do well. In music, it can generate hours of discussion about what constitutes a band’s best songs, before you even get as far as figuring out how to make those tracks fit together as a satisfying whole to appeal to curious listeners. A similar concept for a stand-up’s work must be impossible, right?
Richard Herring has had other ideas. Taking his favourite routines from each of his past twelve solo shows, The Best is him doing what he does, well, best. An interesting experiment, it was good to hear some of these routines again in a theatre – when past shows live on only as DVD releases, and new shows are written each year to go to the Edinburgh Fringe, there’s a constant cycle of renewal at the heart of stand-up which doesn’t lend itself to enabling new fans to discover older material on the stage, only on the screen.
Whether this is a good thing is open for debate, and The Best displayed some of the drawbacks here as well. Herring did an admirable job linking together some of his chosen routines, but the transitions between chunks of material were at times clunky, especially in the first half. Indeed, the personal material he’d decided to include from earlier in his career sounded jarring in content if not in tone, such as a routine about his experiences of dating – when contrasted with later material about him being happily married and a father, it only served to highlight the fact that what we were watching was a piecemeal show; snapshots of different stages of Herring’s life.
It’s interesting to note how Herring didn’t sugarcoat these examples of his exploits as a younger, single man, and it’s a bold choice to perform those jokes as they were written and delivered a decade or more ago, in some cases. As such, it’s the passages pulled from his more ideas-driven shows which stood out most. The section about racism, from the astonishingly good Hitler Moustache, depressingly sounds even more relevant and timely now than it did in 2009, and remains a brilliant example of the layering of ideas and taking an idea as far as it can possibly go. The combination of incisive comedy and thought-provoking social commentary probably remains his best work.
Similarly, there were other segments which really shone in this environment. The Biblical set-piece from Christ On a Bike was still a showstopper, and the story of buying Ferrero Rocher for his now-wife didn’t fail to wow – this was a real joy which ratcheted up the absurdity every time the audience thought he’d done as much with the premise as he could. It was thrilling to watch and a display of great comic craft, Herring’s skill on full show.
Even though not everything worked in this format, The Best was a very strong introduction to people not familiar with Herring’s work. He’s certainly among the very best stand-ups on the UK circuit.