Imagine seeing someone inhale helium and start talking. Or sit on a whoopee cushion. Or pull a gurn. Imagine being off-your-face drunk with your mates when it happens. Imagine the uncontrollable laughter, even though you know how patently childish it is. Spencer Jones’ The Herbert is that, but done cleverer, and funnier, and more unforgettably. It is comedy at its ridiculous, undiluted best.
The Herbert is an odd sort of guy, dressed in see-through leggings, a budgie print t-shirt and blue blazer with the coat hanger left in it. Why? It doesn’t matter. None of what happens for the next forty-five minutes matters. It’s just plain funny. Props are made to do daft things just for the hell of it. A floormop is made to sing like a soul singer, he turns his bum into a face with some spongey eyes, there’s a whole segment where he’s just mucking about with kids’ electronic toys and getting them to swear. It’s all done with such exquisite technique, words like “kooky” or “zany” insult it. It’s distilled silliness, not showy affectation.
But there is also a world around The Herbert – a wife, kids, family. With expressions, noises and semi-sentences alone Jones can make The Herbert convey more meaning about his universe, and ours, than other comics in a whole routine. “*mumble, mumble* bit of a dick” is all he needs to say about his geezerish mate trying to get him into a finance job.
The “Proper Job” he finally gets is at a nuclear plant. With just a hand-held dummy’s head as his boss, and a few mere shrugs and asides to the audience, The Herbert has the workplace nailed. It also segues into a brilliant sound-based radiation leak scene. A workplace cock-up could take us into Frank Spencer / Mr Bean territory, but this is so well done, it completely renews that dated line of comedy.
With the noises, faces, self-interruptions and rolling laughter, Tommy Cooper is the most obvious comparison to make, and there can be little higher praise than that. Not one of The Herbert’s scenes fails to make the grade; it just might take five or ten minutes to adjust to his world. This is genius comedy.