Comedy; LEE & HERRING'S FIST OF FUN Cochrane Theatre, London

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The Independent Culture
Loud rap music blasted out of the stage-side speakers. A troupe of spotlights danced across the stage. The two stars - Stewart Lee and Richard Herring - ran on stage in the sort of headset mikes pioneered by Madonna. And the crowd went wild.

I can hardly bring myself to say comedy is the new rock 'n' roll; the hardest-working phrase in showbusiness has become such a cliche that soon critics will be saying rock 'n' roll is the new comedy. With Lee and Herring, however, the rock 'n' roll associations are hard to avoid. They do, after all, enjoy avid support among students. At one point during their preview Fist of Fun show at the Cochrane Theatre, London, Lee made a joke of it: "We like reading. I know a lot of you are students, but why not give it a go?" Despite all this, Lee and Herring are a clever and - more importantly - funny double-act, capable of turning even technical hitches to their advantage. When a glitch appeared in the sound system, Herring cried out: "We're being heckled by a ZX81 computer."

Adhering strictly to the Ten Commandments of Reeves and Mortimer, they revel in trivia. They described themselves as "two over-educated, emotionally stunted men in their late twenties... who rarely venture out of their houses for fear of missing an unscheduled episode of Going for Gold." When somebody then whooped, Herring said, "Thank you, Henry Kelly."

They proceeded to show us choice cuts from their "Gallery" - a popular element of their BBC2 series - including a photo of Michael Aspel with his pet duck on his lap. Lee, who was inexplicably sporting a straggly hairdo reminiscent of Tears for Fears circa 1983, then constructed an elaborate fantasy life for a dog and cat depicted playing a piano on a postcard.

But Lee and Herring are also sophisticated enough to be able to deconstruct their act as it goes it along. After a questionable exchange about Lee having sex with his girlfriend's grandfather, Herring pondered aloud: "We've overstepped the boundaries of comedy there, and you know what we've discovered?" "That there's a perfectly good reason why they're there," Lee rejoined.

They are very much a cut above your normal feedline-punchline, end-of- the-pier double act. At one point, Lee ticked Herring off for an inaccurate use of language: "What you've done there is you've misunderstood the art of simile." Not the sort of line you'd expect to hear from Little and Large.

n At the Cosmic Comedy Club, London SW6 (0171-381 2006) on 28 Sept, then on tour

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