His 20’s were a fist of fun, his 30’s spent deciphering the intricacies of Big Cook and Little Cook’s business partnership, and then, oh fuck!, he was 40. Now, closing in on 50, he is settling down. He is married, has been present at the birth of his first child, and has managed to shake the majority of those pesky snooker podcast listeners. But, the comedian Richard Herring asks himself, is he happy now? Is the moon on a stick all it was cracked up to be?
This sort of odd, unprompted deviation from the expected course sets the tone for the show.
Without any preamble, Herring is straight into it, taking us through the events surrounding the birth of his daughter, Phoebe. What initially sets us to be a very narrative-driven show soon takes an unexpected turn. His wife, nine months pregnant, has started having contractions. Richard is prepared. He takes her to the bath, goes downstairs to get a glass of water, neatly sidesteps the cat litter box and heads back upstairs to attend to the mother of his child. He then takes a four-hour nap. At no point is this explained. He wakes hours later and travels with his wife through early morning London in a taxi to the hospital. This sort of odd, unprompted deviation from the expected course sets the tone for the show. Though this technique is by no means unique to Herring’s work, it’s where he is at his best, always trying to stay one step ahead (in some cases, a step behind) of what the audience thinks is coming.
Like any comic, the years spent crediting the voice in his head that asks ‘What if...’ have made it second nature for Herring to listen to what it has to say. But this sort of hypothetical thinking is only useful in fatherhood up to a point. In any situation he cannot help but imagine the absolute worst possible act to endanger his child – hilarious for the audience, not so hilarious for the new dad. Herring’s overly analytic inner monologue is a hallmark of his standup; he keeps it fresh by not over-indulging in it or allowing it to develop into some sort of neurotic caricature. It pays dividends again when laying out the finer points of his Marmite/Stewart Lee/Twix analogy, another highlight.
Anyone familiar with his other work – his podcasts, his former double-act, his newspaper pieces, snooker-playing, etc. – will be familiar with Herring playing the role of the fool, the fall-guy. He is happy to take the backseat as an interviewer, happy to be the butt of the joke in his weekly column. Herring the standup is a different beast. He is more measured and authoritative – at all points he is in control of the gig. And he has to be too, because there is a lot of material to get through; he’s on stage just shy of two hours. There is a sense perhaps that the show could benefit from being let breathe. Set pieces like the one on his in-laws’ new doormat would really flourish given a bit more space. However, that would mean having to drop some material and this is where he would hit a problem. There were a few lines here and there that felt a little bit laboured but nothing felt like filler and anyone would be reluctant to drop any sections.
The conclusion, if you can call it that, Herring comes to on the question of happiness is not the kind of self-help book platitude you might expect from other comics. He has always looked for answers to the big questions – death, religion, Hitler – and he treats happiness, domestic happiness in particular, in no less serious terms. Like his life in general, he has had to reposition his thoughts on these questions, summing up that happiness is only ever a fleeting experience and should be appreciated all the more for being so.
The pram in the hallway has not diminished Herring by any means. In fact, it seems to have reinvigorated his act, with his domestic life now a foil to his onstage persona and the source of much material. He is not the first comic to have stumbled across this fact and he won’t be the last. Hopefully, the next comic to base their show around the birth of their first child can produce a show of comparable quality.