Richard Herring doesn’t exactly go out of his way to avoid controversy with his choice of titles for his stand-up shows – last year’s excellent Hitler Moustache, which used the Führer’s notorious facial hair as the focus for an exploration of the stupidity of racism, is now succeeded by Christ On A Bike: The Second Coming, a resurrection of his first solo show from 2001. The declared theme of this one is to separate Jesus the man, who was probably a nice enough bloke, from the dogmatic and in some cases decidedly un-Christian attitudes of his more fanatical followers, but it’s really more of a jumping-off point for a host of very funny observations, investigations and flights of fancy on the broad theme of Christianity.
Herring, despite being a declared atheist now, was raised in a Christian household and clearly knows his stuff. This is a tight, well-drilled show, which balances discussion of some of the finer points of inconsistency within the Bible with earthy, irreverent and sometimes wilfully blasphemous comedy. There’s always room in a Herring routine for riffs on deviant sexual practices, for example, but he’s a talented enough writer and performer to allow them to arise neatly from the subject matter and never feel gratuitously shocking. The most impressive sections are when he takes the scripture to task head-on: criticising God’s inelegant sentence construction in the Ten Commandments, and reciting from memory Joseph’s knotty genealogy from the first page of Matthew’s gospel before picking holes in it. The biggest laughs come when he dissects the emails he’s received from Christians concerned that he’s on a fast track to hell because of his mocking of the Lord – he manages to mine a good fifteen minutes of material from one complainant’s bizarre list of people on whom God has taken vengeance for their (laughably minor) sacrilege.
This was a very funny, not to mention impressively researched, show, with a brave choice of subject matter. You just wonder what sacred cows Herring’s going to take on next.