Category: Comedy

‘We’re All going to Die!’: Richard Herring at Nottingham’s Glee Club

Richard Herring: We're All Going to Die!

Richard Herring: We’re All Going to Die!

They may seem like unlikely bedfellows but death and comedy have always held a special relationship. Our fear of death often manifests itself in a love of the ghoulish and the macabre and yet we often feel uncomfortable talking about it.

But in his latest show – We’re All Going to Die! – Richard Herring tells us that we should confront death head-on and celebrate the time that we have left on earth.

From being named after an intimate part of the body to becoming a fossil, Herring says that there are all sorts of different ways to live on after your death. Herring examines death from all angles, from religion, linguistics, existentialism to the cost of funerals and falling down the steps on the way out of the gig. He questions what the benefits of heaven are when we have to leave behind all our earthly pleasures (which are, of course, physical pleasures) in exchange for a pair of wings and concludes that death is necessary otherwise the earth would be full of unevolved amoebas who will never die.

Ever the pedant, Herring also spends plenty of time unravelling the absurdity of the nursery rhyme ‘There was an Old Lady who Swallowed a Fly’ before concluding that the last line makes the most sense: there is a finality in death so we should make sure we should make the most of our lives. He also offers a counterpoint to Hamlet’s ‘To be or not to be’ speech in which he tells the doomed prince not to dwell on death but instead to have fun and take Ophelia out.

Anyone who saw Herring’s earlier show What is Love Anyway will remember the fondness with which he spoke of his grandmother who was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. He tells us that she has since passed away at the age of 102 and what follows is a poignant and hilarious take on how we cope with death, demonstrating his ability to engage the audience with his fascinating and sometimes child-like take on life’s big questions.

Richard Herring appeared at Nottingham’s Glee Comedy Club last week. For upcoming tour dates visit his website.

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Review: Trevor Noah performs at Nottingham’s Glee Club

South African comedian Trevor Noah who performed at Nottingham's Glee Club.

South African comedian Trevor Noah who performed at Nottingham’s Glee Club.

There is a real freshness about South African comedian Trevor Noah who appeared at Nottingham’s Glee Club with his latest show The Racist on Sunday evening. He does not rely on crude humour or bad language in his routines and while he is not afraid to talk about politics and race he does so with a wide-eyed innocence which is instantly likeable.

After a short pre-amble in which he mock-confesses that the first part of the show could be ‘awkward’ Noah quickly revealed himself to be an accomplished comedian who was fully at ease on stage. His began with a few observations about life in the UK (it’s cold, dark and there is no mobile phone reception) before weaving insightful stories about life on the road, touring around Africa, growing up during apartheid and the fact that he was the product of an ‘illegal’ relationship (Noah has a white, Swiss father and a black South African mother). Growing up in a township with his mother and extended family he was not even allowed to be seen with his father and there is no bitterness or world-weariness in his tales; the horrors of apartheid are there in the background but what shines through is the humour that permeates family life.

Towards the end of the show, Noah tells us he can speak six languages and indeed it is his command of language that makes him such a pleasure to watch. He moves deftly from black American slang to Spanish to the German he learnt by inadvertently by listening to Hitler’s speeches. Race – and by extension language and culture – are the dominant themes in this show and Noah is able to subvert our notions of what these mean through playfulness rather than lecturing. He didn’t even need to win over the audience; he was greeted warmly from the beginning and he was rewarded with rapturous applause by the end.

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Stewart Lee shows his playful side at Nottingham Playhouse

stewKnown for offering the antithesis of big venue comedy gigs, Stewart Lee began his latest show, Much a Stew About Nothing, by telling us unceremoniously that he is trying out new material for an upcoming TV show.

When he was last in Nottingham for Carpet Remnant World he performed in front of a row of grubby, sad-looking carpets and the show culminated in a nihilistic super rant about modern alienation. But when he appeared  at Nottingham Playhouse on Sunday evening, Lee seemed altogether more playful, occasionally cracking a gleeful smile. He even roped three members of the audience to cart a load of boxes to Anish Kapoor’s famous Skymirror sculpture so that he could use it as a stall to flog his DVDs.

For fans of his biting political satire there was plenty here with Lee launching a searing attack on Paul Nutall ‘of the UKIPs’ for his views on immigration. That said, politics does not dominate the show and references to TV programmes like The Really Wild Show proved to be a crowd pleaser. A large part of Lee’s routines these days centres on his experiences of family life and his description of himself as a ‘vasectemised, alcoholic, 45-year-old father of two’ was brilliant.

There is no doubt that Lee is a consummate performer and he is a skillful improviser who easily fended off the heckler who decided to start belting out a song in the middle of the routine. Perhaps this show did not reach the dizzy heights of Carpet Remnant World but Lee seemed comfortable with the audience and there was a warm humour that sat surprisingly well alongside his satire.

An extra date for this show has been planned for 23rd January. For details visit the Playhouse website.

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Review: No errors but plenty of comedy in New Theatre and Fine Frenzy production

comedy

In Shakespeare’s time, actors normally had 48 to rehearse a play which would no doubt have given it a raw energy and fearlessness that is sometimes lacking in modern productions.

It’s something that many performers may be reluctant to try but in a new interpretation of The Comedy of Errors, members of Nottingham University’s New Theatre and Fine Frenzy Theatre have created a pared down performance which captures the ‘anything could happen’ element that would have been familiar in Shakespeare’s day.

As we enter the theatre, we are greeted by the narrator, Ben Williamson, who is dressed as a baby (in a onesie) in a nursery full of toys – not very Shakesperean I hear you say. He explains that the actors had just 48 hours to put the play together and that a prompt would be helping if anyone couldn’t remember their lines (he wasn’t needed).

The play tells the story of two twins, Antipholus of Syracuse and Antipholus of Ephesus, and their slaves, Dromio of Syracuse and Dromio of Ephesus, who are separated in a shipwreck. What follows is a glorious tale of mistaken identities full of bawdy characters, such as the courtesan played by Emma McDonald with her brilliant West Country accent.

All the lines were delivered superbly with an immediacy and raucousness; when Dromio of Syracuse (played by Aaron Tej) describes the maid who has fallen in love with him as being so fat that ‘she is spherical. I could find out countries in her’ the audience roared with laughter.

The toys made frequent appearances throughout the play. Ben Williamson, in his other role as the strong arm of the law, donned a police officer’s hat and as tempers fray a fight breaks out involving water pistols and glittter.

This wasn’t a clipped and polished performance and it was all the better for it. The actors weren’t simply reciting their lines –  they were really living them which was really refreshing to see and it created a fantastic carnival-like atmosphere.

This production of The Comedy of Errors will be performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival later this summer.

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Existential angst in Stewart Lee’s Carpet Remnant World

Stewart Lee sums up his latest show Carpet Remnant World perfectly when he describes it as ‘an aggressive lecture’. Seemingly uncomfortable with his own fame, he is addressing the people who may have brought friends along with them that evening, believing this will be an entertaining night of comedy.

As with his previous routines, Lee – ever the post-modernist – analyses his audience and deconstructs why some people are laughing and others aren’t. He also tells stories and then admits that they are not true and tells the same joke in a different language, playfully making us look at the form of stand-up.

The first half of the show, which he performed at Nottingham Playhouse last Thursday, referred to news events of the previous year such as Bin Laden’s death and Norwegian mass murderer Andreas Breivik. At times this was a little patchy and the narrative was not always as tight as it could have been – but that’s not to say there weren’t some glorious moments. I particularly liked Lee’s parody of Ricky Gervais performing at one of his stadium gigs, arrogantly running onto the stage, surveying his vast audience and revelling in the applause.

It was after the interval that Lee really came into his own. Explaining that he had no material because he now spends his days driving on the motorway and looking after his son, he expertly weaved a narrative around visiting soulless retail parks, Twitter, Scooby Doo and Thatcher. The routine was politically astute, surreal and drew on a kind of existential angst that seemed to match the mood of Britain today. Lee’s stage persona is at times self-deprecating as he reads about himself on Twitter (‘OMG saw Stewart Lee eating a burger. He looked fat and depressed and fat.’) and at other times, deranged in a way that hinted at his earlier work such as If You Prefer a Milder Comedian.

One of the highlights for me was one that was completely unexpected. Lee is describing the current trend for ‘sad comedy’ in which comedians use terrible events in their life as stand-up material. In the middle of this faux tale of woe about being adopted and having extremist Christians hound him, small pieces of pink paper – presumably from last month’s pantomime – drop from the ceiling, setting Lee off on a searing rant and proving just how adept he is at improvisation.

For details on Stewart Lee’s Carpet Remnant World visit his website. 

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Lincoln Comedy Festival: Teutonic jolliness with Henning Wehn

There is a probably reason why self-styled ‘German Comedy Ambassador’ Henning Wehn probably wouldn’t cut it as a stand-up in his native country. While some of his fellow countryfolk might nod their heads when he talks about the Greek bailout, I don’t think they would be too happy clapping along with a Hitler Youth song – which is precisely what Wehn asked us to do when he appeared at Lincoln Drill Hall on Saturday evening as part of the Lincoln Comedy Festival.

But this is England and we have still not shaken off that little matter of The War. Indeed, Henning says that his comedy routine is safe because we will always teach future generations about ‘those 12 years’ when Hitler was in power. He tells us that when he performed at Comedy 4 Kids and asks the youngsters what they know about Germany, one little girl pipes up, ‘naughty Hitler’.

Stereotypes abound in Wehn’s routine (efficient, hard-working Germans versus drunken, kebab-eating Brits) but he is also not afraid to be political and his observations are extremely astute. In one memorable part of the show, he describes his utter bemusement at performing at a Jongleur’s comedy club to some blokes on a stag do dressed as Smurfs, women on a hen do and someone celebrating their birthday surrounded by balloons. Everybody else is just there because ‘Tracy from HR’ told them to be.

With Wehn, nothing is off limits, whether it’s the Pope, Hitler or the rise of China. At times he is very politically incorrect – not in a Bernard Manning sort of way but anyone expecting Michael McIntyre will be in for a shock. But it’s clear this is all tongue in cheek and despite his claims of Teutonic superiority (ironic of course), he is also brilliantly self-deprecating; something that sits well with us Brits.

Henning Wehn is currently touring his No Surrender show. For details click here.

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