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Let there be laughter

14:26 11 January 2011

Richard Herring

Richard Herring

Archant

Richard Herring intelligently dissects the bible in Christ on a Bike, a show that sees him work up to an imaginary race against Jesus on a push bike

As we recover from the excess of Jesus’ birthday party, it is hard not to warm to comedian Richard Herring when he shuffles on to the stage be-sandaled and be-bearded to begin his new show Christ on a Bike.

His latest stand-up offering at the Leicester Square theatre is the second coming for the Oxford graduate as he revisits his first ever solo Edinburgh show from 2001.

There is nothing fusty about his performance, though, as Herring, pictured left, dissects the foundations of Christianity with the intelligence and wit for which he has become famous for over the intervening years.

The prevalence of atheism these days was proven at the outset, when one sole hand out of some 200 responded to the question ‘who believes in Jesus?’.

And the quite brilliantly Herring goes on to put himself against the Messiah and picks apart the seemingly glaring errors contained in the gospels. “I’m not saying I’m Jesus,” he declares, “that is for other people to say.”

Using a tried and tested device he picks out easy biblical targets for ridicule. The funniest by far comes when he dismantles the opening page of the New Testament. He has learnt its weary wordiness by heart and delights (and receives great applause) in reciting whole thing before pointing out the most glaring of errors that demolishes its relevance – becoming angry in the process.

It soon becomes clear that Herring is exploring a fascination and knowledge in the life of Christ.

Describing the show before he started the run, he said: “It’s a show about Christ and my continued obsession with him, even though I consider myself a committed atheist.

“It’s a serious question but it is not a controversial show – most of it comes from a personal angle – and ultimately I am the victim of the jokes.”

The brilliant device employed by Herring and explored twice throughout is a dream sequence in which Jesus Christ challenges him to a bike race which quickly turns into a poignant parable, watched by Buddha eating a hot-dog and Allah doing nothing controversial.

The childish fantasy starts out funny and ends up thought provoking – the comic has done a bit of thinking here.

In fact Christ on a Bike does not offer belly laughs in its entirety, but where laugh-out-loud comedy is lacking, Herring more than compensates with his intelligent observation on organised religion and electric dramatic monologues. It is a shame that this was broken up by the interval.

When the non-believing comic takes the 10-commandments – literally the word of the Lord – and clobbers God for his verbose literary failings the auditorium erupts with laughter. And what was previously a divine list of moral rules becomes the inane ramblings of a madman.

It is a reflection of modern times, perhaps, that this kind of show hasn’t caused the kind of controversy prompted when Herring grew a Hitler-style toothbrush moustache. When one zealous Scottish believer wrote an email to warn Herring of the wrath of God, they were rewarded by being ridiculed on stage.

The former sparring partner of Stewart Lee lives and breaths funny as a radio presenter, podcaster, blogger, script writer and as he will surely succeed in developing as an actor. On the back of that, Christ on a Bike is the kind of warming and clever work we have come to expect from Richard Herring.

● Christ on a Bike: The Second Coming runs at the Leicester Square Theatre until January 22. Tickets: 0844 847 2475.

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