Richard Herring on the downsides to comedy



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Despite there being many upsides to a comic's life, Richard Herring insists we must not overlook the bad points – such as hotel porn

  • Richard Herring on the downsides to comedy

    The sound of one hand flapping: Herring has to pursue solitary pleasures

  • My latest solo show, ‘Ménage à Un’, is loosely themed around the subjects of loneliness, only-ness and onanism. But I felt it was quite an apt title in any case, as stand-up is surely the most solitary and masturbatory of art forms. Each night I stand isolated in a spotlight, vigorously massaging my organ (in this case my brain), then shooting my brackish ideas over the audience’s delighted, and sometimes less-delighted, faces (not everyone enjoys their face dripping with unsavoury ideas).

    And just like such a one-sided sex act, it can seem such a good idea at the time – while it’s actually happening you’re both up for it, but, once it’s over, you catch each other’s eye as if to say: What the hell was that about? What were we thinking? Why did we both willingly and enthusiastically put ourselves through that ordeal?’ And then you slink off separately into the night, feeling nothing but shame and confusion, vowing you’ll never see each other again, but secretly hoping you will accidentally meet in another dark room and repeat the whole sordid scenario. Only then can a comedian feel he has really earned his money.

    I think people might imagine that a stand-up on tour has the most wonderful and gregarious of lives: working for an hour a day, then getting pissed, taking the finest drugs and sleeping with a string of nubile groupies. But in reality this kind of thing only happens about 97 per cent of the time. And it doesn’t make up for that yawning three per cent chasm in which we are a secluded breed of unloved outcasts. If a gig goes badly, there is the mortifying walk of shame, through the throng of disappointed punters, before you are swallowed by the night and make your way anonymously back to your hotel, where you sit alone in your room attempting to pleasure yourself to the poor-quality soft pornography laid on for sexually unambitious businessmen.

    If the gig goes brilliantly, it’s even worse. You have wowed a room of people, you’re literally a god to them. But when you return to their earthly realm, real life seems monochrome by comparison. The company of such tedious mortals is not something that you crave. So you head to your hotel alone again, contemplating the fact that the fleeting adoration of a room of drunken idiots is probably no substitute for the true love of a devoted wife or the unconditional devotion of a child. Then you drink yourself into oblivion before inevitably tuning to ‘Lusty Asians VIII’ and allowing the night to come full circle.

    Of course, I am jesting. It’s my job. You must never take anything I say seriously. Though you must always suspect that in everything I say there is some grain of truth. Imagine what fun it must be being my girlfriend. No wonder I’m alone. But, in reality, I’m not as downhearted as I might seem. I love this ridiculous and wonderful (I almost baulk at calling it this) job.

    It’s the autonomy of stand-up that makes it such a brilliant, unique and exciting medium for the communication of ideas. There is no one telling you what you must do, no producer telling you what you can or can’t say, no executive suggesting you try to appeal to a certain demographic, no actors to misinterpret what you wrote. It’s just you on your own, doing the stuff that you think is funny. It’s possibly the last pure art form.

    In ‘Ménage à Un’, I mourn the fact that I have lived for nearly 40 years and yet never taken part in a threesome. I thought that by drawing attention to this in the show, I might persuade a couple of young ladies in the audience to take pity on me and make my fantasy come true. But after more than 50 performances I’ve lowered my expectations. For a while I just hoped my desperation might lead to a twosome, but if it ever has done then I was not involved. So recently I have taken to asking any single men in the crowd if they’re prepared to come back to my hotel room and pleasure themselves next to me, so that at least I won’t be alone. Who says comedy is the new rock ’n’ roll?

    Richard Herring takes ‘Ménage à Un’ to the Arts Theatre from March 27 to April 7.

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