Chortle review of Emergency Questions book

Emergency Questions by Richard Herring

Book review by Steve Bennett

Regular listeners to Richard Herring’s Leicester Square Theatre Podcast will require no further introduction to his ‘emergency questions’. Seemingly designed as last-ditch gambits to avoid awkward silences when he interviews his celebrity guests, these off-the-wall icebreakers have come to define the show, steering the conversation into bizarre territory, and ensuring that RHLSTP avoids the same old talk-show ruts of well-worn anecdotes.

So why compile 500 of them – definitely a challenging target, harder than it might seem – into a book? Well, the prosaic answer is to help fund Herring’s prodigious internet output, which he otherwise offers for free. But there’s plenty in it for the reader, too, to either consider their own answers or – as the sleeve notes suggest – act as ‘perfect ice-breakers at parties, own dates and during job interviews’.

Indeed, older readers might recall 80s party board game Scruples in which players have to guess each other’s moral standing in various hypothetical situations. That was a hit, and based on far less creativity than this book.

Herring’s Emergency Questions range from silly ‘would you rather’ choices (a tit that dispenses talcum, powder or a finger that travels through time?) to those which might prompt a hitherto forgotten story: ‘What is the most alarming thing that has entered or exited your body’. Then there’s straight-out trivia or unanswerable mysteries.

It’s said that dons interviewing for esoteric Oxbridge courses like philosophy will ask questions with no possible right answer, just to observe the candidate’s thought process under pressure. Perhaps in years to come, would-be students will be invited to grapple with such tricky moral conundrums as ‘does sex with a robot count as cheating on your partner?’ or ‘who would win in a  fight between the shark from Jaws and Jaws from James Bond?’

Herring offers his own answers to a lot of them, some are straight-up gags, some revealing (for example, he once tried to eat a whole pack of butter to win a £50 bet, and once fell victim to an estate agent conman), and some commentary on how you can use whatever answer given trick the interviewee. Ha!

In short, Emergency Questions offers 500 surprisingly diverting talking points. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go back to considering whether Stilgoe or The Lionheart would make the best final guest for my dinner party comprising only ‘Richards’…

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