Lee & Herring Press
LEE AND HERRING, HAMMERSMITH RIVERSIDE STUDIOS 03/12/98Wherein Rich and Stew try out new material in a rehearsal for the forthcoming second series of TMWRNJ, to an audience of about 80 die-hards.
The first thought I had on seeing this advertised was, hang on - how long is it since the last series, which was flagging horribly by the end, finished?
With Edinburgh, and doubtless other projects, to take care of in the interim, have L&H had time to come up with a series' worth of fresh new stuff?
Surely they won't just rehash the old gags from the first series....?
Unfortunately, it looks like they might. Tonight's hour-long performance is dominated by two routines, which I think I can refer to as "Cress" and "Giant Haystacks". "Cress" involves Richard Herring eating cress enthusiastically, saying that there will always be cress, you can never have enough cress, and so on.
He produces a letter from Ian Cress, head of the Cress Marketing Board, thanking him for becoming the new Face Of Cress.
Cress is distributed amongst the audience.
It is, as you will have gathered, the "Milk" routine from the first series, with the cunning substitution of cress for milk. "Giant Haystacks" is the old "Big Daddy" routine reprised exactly, only with Giant Haystacks cunningly replacing Big Daddy (GH died this week).
But that's OK apparently, because during the routine, Lee and Herring admit that that is exactly what they are doing.
This deconstruction is integral to L&H's style, but the joke's wearing dangerously thin these days - and even the people here tonight would surely prefer something that's actually new.
That's not how Lee and Herring work though. They rely on hitting upon a few decent ideas, then cressing them for all they're worth. The catchphrase you'll have to endure this series, by the way, is "No, listen to the question..." ie: Richard makes outrageous statement. Stewart questions it. Richard insists. Stewart questions. Richard insists. Stewart says. "No, listen to the question..." and asks again. Richard thinks, then says, "oh, no they didn't actually".
I was grinding my teeth halfway through this the first time round, so I'm buggered if I'm going to sit through it week after week.
So why did I come here at all?
Why did I traipse along to what essentially amounted to a fanclub show, given by a comedy duo I fundamentally dislike?
The reason is, Lee and Herring are a fascinating puzzle. They've worked with the best there is - Morris, Iannucci and Coogan - as part and parcel of On The Hour's writing team. And if all you knew about them was what you'd read in their interviews (many of which are easily located on the net), you'd expect a pair of hard done-by, horribly underrated geniuses.
In interview, they persistently go to great lengths to describe how difficult it was for them to get into comedy, how they had to live on huge overdrafts for years before they got where they are now, how they still don't make much money, how hard they've had to work, etc. - as if this knowledge will somehow make their material funnier than it is.
Not only this, but they leap at any opportunity to slag off rival comedians, writers, and performers. Patrick Marber is a pathetic, cheap charlatan who stole all their ideas, they will tell you, glossing over the fact that on the strength of just one play, Marber is one of the leading playwrights of the Nineties.
Mark Thomas, whose hilarious and truly eye-opening last series makes L&H's wordplay look like a particularly priggish student revue, was dismissed within a sentence recently by Richard Herring.
It's this unbelievably self-righteous attitude that keeps bringing me back to Lee and Herring -surely they can't be as bad as they always seem?
Well, on the evidence of a TV series that a gave us a brilliant first episode, followed by eleven Xeroxes of that episode of rapidly diminishing quality, and a warm-up show that, whilst only a warm-up, did not augur well, perhaps it's time to give up on them.