Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Richard Herring 'How not to grow up' Book Signing

A highly respectable crowd has gathered on the top floor of Waterstones, Leeds to hear Richard Herring discuss his new book, 'How not to grow up'. The seasoned comedian has a career stretching back to the very start of the 1990's, and throughout that time has managed to make a living as a stand up, blogger, script editor, author, panel show guest, and most famously as comedic partner of Stewart Lee. The new book is said to cover Richards thoughts at turning 40, so we can surely expect a mature and insightful pondering from a well respected, and well travelled 'veteran' of his profession? A member of staff asks us to offer him a warm hand, and the applause beckons him to the stage: 'Thanks for the warm hand' he says 'I'll be using that later...'

And so it goes, Richard Herring, his year of sporting a Hitler Moustache at an end, is back to his chirpy, cheeky, completely immature self (though as his talk makes clear, he's never been away from it). He opens with the intro to his book 'Ive always been immature. Ever since I was a small child' which then proceeds to explain a growing, nagging feeling he had; that being so immature was perhaps not normal. Looking at his parents he saw how, by 40, they were married with children and nice houses and had proper hobbies like 'making elderberry wine'. The question rose in him whether this was some deficiency on his part, or had he actually done well to still be living the carefree life of a student, who makes his money out of cracking 'nob jokes'? Richard reads a few chapters to us, but generally talks his way through his thoughts and the experiences that occurred over this period of conflict. He talks about hitting his late 30's depression and recounts addictions to Flumps and deep fried chicken, laughing mockingly as he passes the sad lonely late 30's figures in the window of 'Chicken Cottage' on his way to the much more upmarket KFC where punters en route to Nandos would equally mock his sad and lonely state. 'I can laugh about it now, and it sounds quite humorous' he says 'but at the time, it was a genuine low period'.

Essentially the book splits in two, he tells us; the first half him being a general idiot, hanging out 'with 22 year olds and still wearing converse allstars' and living the life he's lived since leaving Uni. But then the realisation slowly dawns on him that in less than one year he will hit 40 and he is forced to evaluate his life. But this isn’t purely a book about turning 40. 'You can hit that point at anytime in your life. When you realise something has to change. It can happen at 22, it can happen at 40'.

Its not surprising that he's not had time to take stock of his life before. From completing Uni, writing for Ianucci / Morris project 'On the Hour' and co creating Alan Partridge, to a mass of mid 90's TV work with Stewart Lee, and in this last decade he has toured a brand new stand up show pretty much every year, as well as writing a hugely successful sitcom, and more recently a blog every single day, loads of podcasts with Andrew Collins... in short, a very busy man. He estimates that 60% of the things he does now are for free, and almost everything he does is 'self made', i.e. his own writing or performing, as opposed to appearing on TV panel shows, or guesting in other peoples work.

But despite this exciting and seemingly busy lifestyle, he admits the majority of his time is spent sat in his pants eating monster munch and playing computer games. He says he has managed to stay 'artificially young', though admits this is more a generational thing, a shift in society that has taken place over the last few decades - not laziness, but more a freedom, and a choice, and the ability to delay those massive life changing events, if required. Or avoid them altogether. But, is childishness such a bad thing? And isn’t it inherent in us all? 'Having childlike wonder in the world is a positive thing' he states. 'But 'mature' people are still childish, they just have the negatives of the child, like selfishness and insecurity'.

Its an interesting point. And goes someway towards Richard justifying his continuing interest in pushing himself further. As you may have seen in our interview with him in Issue 1.2, he is truly thankful that he never became ‘absolutely massive’ - he now has a strong fanbase who will accept and enjoy whatever he does, whilst also having the creative freedom to tackle whatever he wants. What I admire most is the refusal to rest on one thing; he is constantly trying his hand at so many things. He writes countless Sitcom scripts for pilots that always get rejected. 'Obviously "Big Top" (appalling BBC sitcom based in a circus starring Amanda Holden - see it was only on last year and you’ve already forgotten it) was a lot better' he comments, and it is sad that someone so talented doesn't get the chance to allow his work to be seen by a larger audience. But he doesn’t mind. He knows what he produces is good, and besides, as he says - he still gets paid for a rejected script. That seems to be the unofficial moral of this story – realising how lucky he is, and that actually, things have worked out pretty well, so far. Yet there’s no sense that he’s been gifted this way of living, while the rest of us continue with our drudgery. He gave up a lot, pretty much all the things his parents have, to make his way as a Comedian. It’s the risk you take, but only now, it seems, is he aware of the different path his life has taken and this book sees him weighing up the pro’s and cons of that decision.

And so this talk, and the book (which I've yet to complete) is a strange alternate view of that busy, creative man bursting with ideas. He is clearly a very intelligent guy, and a genuinely nice one too, he just suffers from that self imposed pressure that he simply isn’t doing enough with his life. But it seems over the course of producing this book he has come to terms with who he is, what he does and, possibly, where he's going. I think that’s something we all need to figure out at some point and a challenge we can all relate to. And i guess the point is; you might as well have a fucking good laugh while you're at it.

Dean Freeman

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