Friday, February 25, 2005

Holding out for a hero


Barely three weeks after a stand-up tour brought Stewart Lee to the West Midlands, Richard Herring and his new show roll into town, offering me the chance of seeing both halves of the finest comedy partnership of the '90s in less than the space of a month.

Let's face it - it wasn't an opportunity I was about to pass up.

The partnership dissolved in the wake of their 'This Morning With Richard, Not Judy' show failing to get commissioned for another series. Since then, Lee has moved on to (amongst other things) 'Attention Scum!', a novel and, most recently and perhaps surprisingly, an opera, albeit one packed to the rafters with expletives. Herring indulges in some good-natured mockery of his former partner by briefly alluding to "opera director Stewart Lee". (A good deal of Herring's humour comes from his tabloid-like labelling of individuals - hence we get "liar Jonathan Aitken" and "evil John Leslie".)

For his part, Herring has written a play, 'Excavating Rita', and several successful touring shows (most recently, 'Talking Cock'). But he is still very recognisable as the same comic he was in 'Fist Of Fun', still making jokes at the expense of his West Country origins, still childish and cheeky but deceptively acidic at times, able to discuss writing on the face of a dead baby with an Argos biro without fear of causing offence.

'The Twelve Tasks Of Hercules Terrace' developed out of the realisation that even at the age of 37 he remained something of an irresponsible overgrown teenager, but one having a mid-life crisis in recognition of the fact. The concept - trying to achieve twelve feats comparable to those attempted by Hercules - was inspired by a bust of Hercules on the front of his new far-too-big-for-one-person house.

It's not particularly original, owing something to the Dave Gorman / Tony Hawkes school of daft drunken challenges, but it comes across as having developed into a very personal and at times painful struggle which nevertheless enabled Herring to forge much comic currency out of his own sad and nerdishly obsessive behavioural patterns and his flirtations with insanity.

The show itself is a slick, well-rehearsed and extremely amusing narrative of Herring's achievements interspersed with sparkling asides and culminating in some serious reflections on the nature of heroism. On the way we learn about his experiences of shovelling elephant dung, his fifty dates in fifty nights, his tempting of the Loch Ness Monster with a virgin, his attempts to avail himself of Germaine Greer's bra, his hitting a woman in the face with an oar and, of course, Consecutive Number Plate Spotting (CNPS), a game which would be Satan's own were it not for the fact that Herring himself invented it.

A superb evening's entertainment, not least for the horrible image of "having a turd in your sock ... and having to walk to Leicester ... and stay there for the rest of your life ... with your sock being refilled with fresh turd every single day".


Herring's thoughts on the show.

'The Twelve Tasks Of Hercules Terrace' website.

Herring's blog Warming Up, which he is in the process of turning into a Radio 4 series. Quick, someone sign Jonny B up to follow suit! (Incidentally, he's also adapting 'Excavating Rita' for ITV.)

A Guardian Q&A with Herring. Sample question: How often do you have sex? "This varies wildly depending on circumstances. But luckily I am always there for myself throughout the lean patches."

The official CNPS rules and the unofficial CNPS website - "Please do not play this game whilst driving. Be on the look out for pedestrians and other obstacles. CNPS is a game of boredom and tedium. No-one should die because of CNPS and if they do it should only be through frustration."

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