Metro 37

Richard Herring: Never try to impress the people you most admire in life
Metro's resident comedian and Breaking Bad super-fan Richard Herring recalls how a meeting with Bryan Cranston reminded him of a dispiriting email conversation with comedy hero Richard Pryor.

They say you should never meet your heroes.
Last week I attended an exhibition of art based on the TV series Breaking Bad. If you haven't seen this amazing show, about a chemistry teacher who becomes a crystal meth-making drug lord, then do all you can to rectify that situation. It's possibly the best TV show ever.
I couldn't work out how I'd ended up with an invitation. Despite appearing on a TV sketch show in the mid-1990s and having once finished second on Celebrity Mastermind, I accept that I am not exactly on the showbiz A-list. Like Groucho Marx, I wouldn't want to attend a party to which I am invited. If they're desperate enough to ask me, then I'll be rubbing shoulders with Steve Brookstein, Science from Big Brother and the kid who used to say 'most excellent' on the 1990s advert for McCain oven chips.
But Bryan Cranston, who plays the increasingly diabolic Walter White (he's also the dad in Malcolm In The Middle), would be there and I couldn't turn down the chance to meet this exceptional actor.
Clearly I'd be too nervous to talk to him but being able to breathe in some of the carbon dioxide that he had recently exhaled would be enough for me.
The other guests were typical Soho types, affecting a veneer of detached cool, sipping sparkling wine like it was a wearisome effort, not even glancing at the art. But then Bryan Cranston arrived and the transformation was astonishing. This disparate smattering of sullen posers turned into a pack of dribbling puppies. They mobbed him, flashing cameras in his face and grabbing him so they could tweet a photo of themselves with Walter White.
Surely this huge star would not put up with this kind of teenybopper behaviour. But he did. For a solid hour he chatted, laughed and patiently posed for picture after picture with random strangers without losing his cool. My wife and I felt sorry for him and hung back, but then his equally amazing co-star Aaron Paul (Jesse Pinkman) turned up and our resolve snapped and we too became quivering jellyfish and queued to meet them. Aaron happily called me a biatch and pulled a Jesse face for the camera and Bryan joked about my wife having a gun in her handbag. We were star-struck goons. 'I love your show,' I stated like an idiot. They were gracious. More heroic for having been met.
A few years ago, just before he died, I had the chance to put a question, via email, to legendary stand-up Richard Pryor. The thing comedians are consistently asked is: 'Where do you get your crazy ideas from?' It's a dumb thing to ask and is pretty much impossible to answer.
Thinking Pryor would understand that a comedian would never seriously ask another comedian this facile question, I thought it might be funny to do so. Surely he'd come back with a funny and knowing response and maybe congratulate me on my subversiveness and acknowledge me as his equal and heir. But he clearly missed my post-modern irony because he replied wearily and correctly, with dismissive brevity: 'From life.'
I'd been given one opportunity to learn from the master and I wasted it on a joke that he either didn't understand or thought was as foolish as the question I thought I was mocking.
The real reason we should not interact with our heroes is not because they won't live up to expectations but rather that we are bound to embarrass ourselves in front of them.
See Richard Herring's reworking of his smash-hit 2002 show, Talking Cock: The Second Coming, on his nationwide tour. Visit for tickets. Follow Richard on Twitter: @Herring1967
Catch Richard's column on Fridays from next week.

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