Sunday, 30 January 2011

Hitler Moustache

Richard Herring - Hitler Moustache
released 25 October 2010 through PIAS Comedy

At the time of writing, there have been no articles in the right-wing press condemning comedian Richard Herring’s latest DVD, Hitler Moustache, but surely it’s only a matter of time. Of course, it’s not actually offensive to anyone with any sense of reason, but seeing as it contains a man sporting a toothbrush moustache making jokes about Nazis, Jews, Madeleine McCann and racists, it’s sure to get self-appointed protectors of taste and decency frothing at the mouth. If Richard Herring isn’t proclaimed “vile” in the Daily Mail by Christmas, I’ll eat my SS uniform.

There’s an interesting debate as to whether any topics should be off-limits in stand-up comedy. Personally, I don’t think any subjects should be, as long as they’re well-handled and not covered simply for gratuitous shock value. Herring’s potentially on thin ice throughout Hitler Moustache, but adroitly side-steps the pitfalls with a well-researched and thought-provoking set. Like erstwhile partner Stewart Lee, Herring is an articulate, intelligent man who sees comedy as a possible force for good and seeks to expose pomposity and hypocrisy where he can. If that all sounds a bit high-brow, don’t worry; he also can’t resist a good cock joke.

The premise behind Hitler Moustache is simple yet intriguing. The toothbrush moustache used to be associated with Charlie Chaplin and thus, comedy. Yet, since World War II, it’s come to represent Hitler and all he represents. Like the Swastika - originally a Hindu peace symbol - it’s been appropriated by the Nazis to mean something completely different. Herring wonders why this is and if it’s possible to reclaim the toothbrush moustache for its original comedic purposes.

You may be forgiven at this point for thinking that the rest writes itself: man grows toothbrush moustache, goes out into the world, recounts his experiences, hilarity ensues. Well, that does happen, but Hitler Moustache goes deeper than that, messing with our preconceptions and challenging perceived wisdom. Do racists have a point? Well, obviously they don’t, but Herring comes up with a clever argument as to why they’re less racist than you and I.

Herring clearly feels strongly about his subject, but all too often his rants become closer to sermons and more hectoring than funny. You can’t help thinking that if he really wants to change people’s views, he’d be better off not preaching to the converted as he is here. Crucially for a comedy DVD though, it elicited only two actual laughs from me in ninety minutes. Regardless of its intentions, the raison d’ĂȘtre of comedy is to be funny, and while Hitler Moustache is an engaging piece of social commentary, it sadly falls down where it’s most important.

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