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Thursday 21st November 2013


As an adolescent Monty Python was the most important thing in my life (after Jenny Agutter). I wasn't really interested in music as I found it mainly vapid and boring and it annoyed me that musical taste was how you were largely judged. Either you followed the herd and liked vacuous pop music or tried to look cool by liking something obscure, but whatever, I could see little laudible about choosing to like a particular type of music. It was just personal taste and whilst that's fine, it seemed an odd thing to define your personality. But if something made you laugh it made you laugh - it was much harder to make a pose about that. And more importantly then you yourself could use your own sense of humour to make others laugh. And that seemed more like a personality trait. If you were making music, then fine, but what kudos is there in listening to it.

But then it took me a long time to really "get" what music was about, whereas I had loved comedy for as long as I can remember. And I am aware that someone who loved music and hated comedy could make almost the exact reverse argument. Except that liking comedy didn't make you cool. Quite the opposite.

I was too young to see Monty Python on TV and the BBC didn't seem over keen to repeat it, so my introduction to the team was via LPs and cassette tapes and then later, their films. Like many uncool nerds I learned all the records off by heart and quoted them to and with my friends (so maybe I was mainly only making other people laugh with someone else's jokes, which isn't as impressive as I made it sound earlier). Unlike John Hannah I was never able to use this skill to get off with Gwyneth Paltrow. BECAUSE THAT COULD NEVER HAPPEN.

Monty Python were thus my rock star heroes. Loads of comedians seem to want to be in bands or be musicians (I find comedians attempts to genuinely display their musicality more embarrassing than anything Michael Mcintyre does, but again coolness wins out over common sense), but I only wanted to be a comedian. Because comedy is the best! And until Rik Mayall and the Young Ones came along, Python were everything to me. When I met Terry Jones at a book signing when I was 18 (quite by chance, I just passed the shop and saw the sign) I was almost too much in awe to speak. In fact when I met Michael Palin when I was about 35 I still couldn't make my brain function.

But then when I became a comedian I was perhaps a little embarrassed about liking Python so much and having stolen off them so obviously with my earliest material. To become a better comedian I had to leave them behind, almost be a little embarrassed by how much I'd loved them. I still love to watch the Holy Grail and Life of Brian occasionally, but even though I have bought the entire BBC series on DVD I have never watched it. The teenage me who had so coveted being able to see all the original TV stuff would have not believed that I could let those DVDs sit unwatched in my cupboard. Yet we must slay our heroes a little bit if we want to progress and naturally some of the stuff has dated and perhaps I had been a little put off by some of the stuff some of the Pythons have done since their heyday (Gilliam and Palin have rarely let me down though). Just as, on a much smaller scale, serious comedy obsessives might find my more recent work naff compared to what they imagine I was producing 20 years ago (in that sometimes old work gets elevated for all sorts of reasons, not least because the person consuming it is younger and having their mind blown for the first time), I felt that a lot of Python offshoots were a bit of a let-down. But then with a high like "Life of Brian", anything subsequently was going to suffer by comparison.

So my initial feelings on hearing that the Pythons were going to reform to do a live gig were slight sadness and a sinking of the heart. Could it work? Were they doing it for the right reasons? Did we really need to see all those old sketches again? Because surely they wouldn't do anything new and no one would want them to. All those nerds in the audience mouthing along to sketches they already knew. But it doesn't take Sigmund Freud to realise that part of my disdain is for myself. And who is the better Richard Herring? The teenager who loves something so much that he doesn't care what people think of him or the adult trying to affect cool and pretending he's better than that? I think of those Doctor Who fans who I've met at various signings and it's hard to conclude that they are not better people because of their shameless enjoyment of something, than the kind of affected cool people who are afraid to make a commitment to anything less they are judged and mocked.

So slowly the teenager bubbled to the surface. This was going to be my chance to see my heroes live. This was like the Sex Pistols reforming (in almost every way, from the motivation being financial to the danger of embarrassment). I could never have seen them in the 1980s when they meant so much, but now I might. And when I heard that I was going to be able to watch the Python press conference online I had to throw aside the mask of indifference and admit that I wanted to watch that. I tuned in to see an empty table with a badly laid table cloth on it and five chairs around it and the chorus of "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" playing over and over again, fading out, then starting again, as if this was the menu screen for a DVD. They could have played the whole song, or some of the many other songs that the Pythons have done. But no, just the same 90 second section over and over again. For ages. As journalists waited in the auditorium, presumably being driven slightly mad by it. It was possibly the funniest thing Python has done since Life of Brian and I was genuinely hoping that they wouldn't turn up. Just leave that tape playing and see how long it was before people went home.

Alas that wasn't going to be it and the Pythons came out and did some faintly disappointing business about the the World Cup and Boris Johnson and then struggled to hear the questions, whilst I struggled to hear their answers. It was faintly shambolic and I again wondered about the wisdom of doing it and internally debated whether I wanted to see it after all. Also it's at the O2 which I think means it's going to be very difficult to make it work.

In the end I loved the Sex Pistols reunion in 96 (though I had never genuinely been that big a fan of theirs, just gone along with the opinion my friends who were obsessed). If I can channel the uncynical Doctor Who fan in me and accept it for what it is then maybe I will enjoy it. Or maybe it will feel a bit hollow and dent my love for these men.

Should we ever go back? Both as a fan and a performer myself it's a question that is hard to answer. Much as part of me likes the idea of getting back together with Stewart or the other members of our TV show team when we're in our 50s or 60s, perhaps it's better to leave that stuff where it is.

In other news a stranger stuck her finger up my bum at 9.30 this morning. She was, of course, a doctor, though I wasn't her patient and it happened on the top deck of a bus. And then I got off the bus.

What was that about not revisiting past glories?

No, obviously she was a doctor and I was having a check up (it was still on a bus though. It wasn't). She apologised to me for what she was about to do, thoughI felt I should be apologising to her. I was getting the better end of the deal in every sense. It's been a while since a woman I'd met just five minutes earlier has put her finger up my bum, so it was a nice nostalgic trip back for me. She was the one having to  digitally investigate the arsehole of a fat 46 year old man. All those years at medical school for this. It probably takes so long to learn to be a doctor as you have to spend 3 years on getting acclimatised to putting your finger up ageing arseholes (in both senses). It is strange how some actions are totally acceptable in one context and yet would be the worst thing in the world in any other.

If I came back from a gig and told my wife that a woman had put her finger up my arsehole I'd be in all kinds of trouble. But I could let her know today and divorce papers remain unfiled.

I know a lot of comedians get mileage out of such procedures. But it is a really weird thing to happen. I don't know what she was looking or up there, but I don't think she found it. Maybe one in a thousand arseholes has a pearl in it. Maybe that's one of the perks of being a doctor. That would explain her disappointed and disgusted face once the experience was over. Isn't life a fine thing?

And talking of things that upset my wife, after three months sabbatical, a very small proportion of you will be delighted to learn that Me1 Vs Me2 Snooker is back, with a frame that has everything. Potting, missing, in-offs and the ever constant threat of a cat pissing on a sofa. Download from the British Comedy Guide or make sure you never miss a frame and subscribe on iTunes. Given none of the players have so much as picked up a cue for three months there was some spectacular play going on. Hopefully it will become a more regular fixture now the controversy over frame 38 has been adjudicated upon by the National Self-Playing Snooker Federation

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