Chortle review of HNTGU

How Not To Grow Up by Richard Herring
Book review by Steve Bennett

Richard Herring has done rather well out of his mid-life crisis. Re-evaluating his feckless life as he turned 40 first spawned an Edinburgh show and tour, while his popular blog of the time has already been turned into one book – albeit a low-key affair – and now here comes the second.

He’s obviously not the first man to enter middle-age taking stock of his life. Though more usually it’s mourn lost youth. But as a comedian, Herring has the opposite problem: shouldn’t he really have grown up by now? He hasn’t what previous generations would consider a ‘proper’ job, travelling the country telling jokes, the same existence he has had since his early twenties.

With no responsibilities, that’s not the only aspect of his fats-approaching-40 life to have changed little since student days. He can – and does – drink all his likes and spend his days playing computer games, while relationships are often no more than a series of commitment-free one-night stands with a string of younger women in towns he would never return to for months.

For many people this would seem an enviable lifestyle. But in a book that’s defined by its honesty as much as its sardonic sense of humour, Herring is frank about the often empty feeling this fly-by-night existence has. Even fulfilling his long-held fantasy of a threesome comes as an almost mundane disappointment.

What does come with age is self-awareness, and Herring ponders whether it’s not becoming pathetic to carry on as he does into his fifth decade. He’s certainly aware that comedy is usually a young man’s game and that his hopes of household-name stardom, which once briefly seemed likely, were evaporating fast. By 40, his headmaster father had a sensible job, been married 17 years, had three children, and ‘proper grown-up’ hobbies like gardening, while previous generations would have been scarred by war or a bleak industrial life. What would they have thought of their childish descendant?

Herring’s navel-gazing as he stumbles between drunken remorse, ill-fated relationships and sexual conquests of girls clearly well out of his league, will be familiar to anyone who read the independently published Bye Bye Balham collection of his blog posts. But the new audience How Not To Grow Up seeks to find will find the catalogue of possibly shameful incidents an entertaining read. It helps if you have an interest into how comedians tick, but as even relatively mundane occurrences are witty described, the appeal is broad. Readers will, however, be quicker to spot a certain predictable pattern of one unfulfilling episode after another than Herring was when he was living them.

It will come as no surprise to fans of traditional dramatic structure that Herring does learn some lessons from his life, and emerge from his year-or-so of existential angst and reckless behaviour a more rounded, even mature, man; rather belatedly coming to the conclusion that his hedonistc lifestyle was unsustainable. While he remains suspicious of supposedly ‘adult’ behaviour – suspecting, not unreasonably, that many supposed grown-ups are simply bluffing their way into maturing, simply playing out the roles expected of them – the excesses of drink and sex are curtailed.

This is all attributed to his falling in love with someone he his convinced is The One. And while you’d have to be exceptionally hard-hearted not to be happy that he’s found contentment, the last ‘act’ of the book, with its uplifting message and romantic paeans to his new-found soul mate is rather oversentimental and drawn-out. Other people’s happiness is never going to be as entertaining as the endless disappointments in seeking it, after all. Had it not been for the honesty of the preceding chapters, this upbeat conclusion would have seemed a little too convenient, possibly schmaltzy – but it’s true.

At the end of the book, Herring enters his 42nd year with new zest for his comedy, an attractive woman in his life and a perfect balance between enjoying life without acting like a dick. Like I said, he’s done rather well out of his mid-life crisis…