Richard Herring, Josh Howie

Abbas Ali 07/07/2010

As I hit Manchester's Night And Day, I don't think I've ever seem more people in here. With a sea of tables appearing in front of stage, it is standing room at the bar that's the only space left to watch the show from.

The sedentary crowd brings a strangely civilised feel to the normally chaotic environs of this haunt, favoured by so many artists, both local and visiting. It's clearly Edinburgh warm-up season, and the Guardian-reading set (myself included!) are out in force....

Opener Josh Howie, a Londoner with a wayward, transatlantic accent, and a self-effacing shtick based mostly on his Jewish identity, family, and wife, gives more than a whole hour of his forthcoming Edinburgh show, 'Gran Slam'. Apologising from reading from a script, the comic still manages to put on an entertaining performance about his life, and tricky domestic arrangements, which involved him and his wife living with his grandmother while the couple were strapped for cash in North London.

While his pan-Atlantic accent is reminiscent of Mark Ronson (Howie referred to living in LA in his 20s), and a rambling, dissatisfied demeanour reminiscent of Woody Allen, or a young Larry David, Howie's set varied in quality. He does however show himself to be a master of the punchline. At one point, he mentioned temping for Haringey Council, later explaining that he got fired but wasn't sure why. “I think they said it was cos I filed something as a P instead of a B”.

The comic inevitably skirted close to racial and identity politics that forms so much of modern standup, referring to his run-ins with black bouncers at the local gym, and complaining how the muslim, Halal section at the local Tescos is getting bigger and bigger, while the Kosher section contracts.

The majority of the set was however devoted to the claustrophobic, needs-must arrangements whereby he and his wife live with his gran. The painful, uncomfortable revelations of her pubes, and, god forbid, sexual desires played cleverly on peoples' fears, compassion, and disgust at the ageing process, leaving the audience impressed at his brave openness.

A brief warmup later, and it's time for headliner Richard Herring. The Oxford-educated 43 year old veteran comic has become a regular fixture on the live comedy circuit over the past decade and a half, touring a new show for eleven years out of the past sixteen. Deeply underrated, Herring made his name as one half of a comedy duo with Stewart Lee, and was partly responsible for the creation of infamous Steve Coogan character, Alan Partridge. Sadly, he has never quite reached the level of some of his former colleagues in commercial terms.

Herring made waves last year with diatribe filled invective in Hitler's Moustache, but tonight the long haired, pot bellied comic returns with Christ On A Bike, actually a fresh airing for the same show he originally toured back in 2001. Arguably, with huge success of The God Delusion, and the emergence of popular atheism in the form of movements such as Skeptics In The Pub, it's probably a message that's more timely than ever, but tonight's show is essentially a playful pisstake against the existence of god.

His systematic tearing up of both the old and new testaments is thought provoking and amusing - he points out that the 10 commandments are incredibly badly written, given that they are the actual word of god, as well as being contradictory and illogical.

Effectively preaching to the converted tonight, in this Guardian-reading audience, the way he explores his ambivalence towards Christianity, and the way it has improved the lives of his clearly decent, god fearing parents is touching stuff.

However, when the eventual conclusion, that Christ was in fact, just a guy, trying to question the unfairness and illogical nature of Judaism (not unlike Herring himself is doing with Christianity, as he points out), it's unsurprising, and feels somewhat tired, and trotted out.

Given the sheer amount of love and goodwill for the underachieving comic, though, it's something that the audience are quick to forgive, and doesn't detract too much from the sense that we are lucky to see such a gifted comedian in such a small venue.