Interview with the North Devon journal

INTERVIEW: Tony Glynn chats to comic Richard Herring ahead of his Talking Cock gig at the Plough

By North Devon Journal
Thursday, May 16, 2013

IT is funny yet frightening. It is celebrated and scorned, revered and mocked, and treated with joy and disgust in equal measure. For all these contradictions, Richard Herring sees ample reason to be Talking Cock.

The seasoned comic, raconteur and social commentator has revived his show, ten years after the original, in a blaze of anti-controversy.

Had Mary Whitehouse still been with us, the situation may have been quite the opposite, but nowadays media coverage of male genitalia pales into normality when compared to the outrages of Frankie Boyle and the likes of.

"So," I asked Richard, "Have attitudes changed in the last ten years?"

"Not really," came the reply. "The survey was just as anonymous back then, so why would the answers be any different?"

Talking Cock is, and was, preceded by an online questionnaire, open to all men regardless of whether they attend the show or not. It asks personal questions concerning size, medical conditions and hangups – excuse the pun – about sex and general attitudes to it. The anonymity encourages complete honesty.

Herring bases his show on these honest answers in a lecture format, with added humour, of course. His aim is for his audience, both men and women, to come away with a better knowledge of how others think and feel about a taboo subject, and hopefully gain some reassurance.

"However," he went on, "I would say that now there is a greater censorship in the media. For example the title was recently censored at the Fringe and it wasn't ten years ago. They are a lot more afraid of offending people than they used to be.

"This whole matter of British prudishness, of keeping things bottled up, is what made a lot of people think of the subject as something dirty. So I think by censorship you're actually adding to the idea that the body part is something offensive or rude."

Richard then gave the example of a Jewish boy who, without wanting to go into too much detail, didn't think he was Jewish because he hadn't had a particular operation. It turns out he actually had had the operation but the evidence wasn't clear to him. Had he had the courage to ask someone, he would've been reassured at the age of eight and not 38.

The show is not all about men, however: "Everyone said 'why don't you do a male version of The Vagina Monologues?' but I thought it would be competitive and macho.

"But then I thought, men talk an awful lot about this subject but never seriously. But neither do women. It should be talked about openly, because sex involves all of us.

"They have their preconceptions too, and the show reveals the 'soft underside' of men."

Besides this worthy quest of spreading knowledge and experiences, let's not forget that Herring is primarily an entertainer. He doesn't shy away from toilet humour, so audiences can expect his usual glut of double entendre and schoolboy humour. It's a very British thing that we don't like to discuss taboos seriously but have no trouble joking about them, so Herring is a crowd-pleaser as well as a lecturer.

In the past his coverage of taboo subjects such as religion, love and age has upset some, but the feedback for Talking Cock has been positive.

Richard says: "A lot of men say 'thanks' afterwards, so it's not just about making people laugh. It's a help to them."

So with a string of taboo-indulging projects under his belt, what could be the next big theme for Richard Herring?

"The next one will be called We're All Going To Die.

"I like to joke about things that you're not supposed to talk about. I've done politics, religion, penises and love, so it's the next step. It's not going to go away, so why ignore it?"