Richard Herring: The 12 Tasks Of Hercules Terrace
Show type: Edinburgh Fringe 2004
Battling a mid-life crisis, the short, fat comedian attempts 12 improbable feats - from running the Marathon to killing the Loch Ness Monster - to prove that Hercules was a sissy. Who says there are no more heroes?
The personal comedy documentary, detailing some 'madcap' challenge has become a staple Edinburgh show, thanks in no small part to the efforts of Dave Gorman.
Now every two-bit comedian running short of ideas invents some sort of adventure for themselves, and hey presto, a show. In the right hands, it works, but in the wrong it can be as interesting as a childhood 'What I did in my holidays' essay when all you did was go to a caravan park in Prestatyn.
Richard Herring is, of course, no two-bit comedian, but an accomplished writer and performer, plus something of a comedy hero to anyone who was a student when Lee and Herring were at their woefully short-lived peak. And not for him one simple challenge; instead he chose 12, in a modern-day attempt to emulate the labours of Hercules.
It also gave him something to beat the creeping depression following the breakdown of a relationship, which reduced him to sitting on his sofa in his pants, eating pizza. Lest you think this made him sad and lonely, he was also leading a full and interesting life spotting car number plates. For some insane reason known only to himself, Herring was trying to complete a game from his youth, in which you have to spot every number on registration plates, from 1 to 999, in order.
That, subsequently, became one of the challenges, alongside running the marathon, rowing a celebrity Boat Race, parachuting and fire walking. Suddenly he came from couch potato in a funk to action man, despite his natural laziness.
In fact, from the point of view of an Edinburgh show, he tried to do too much, withso much narrative to explain that it leaves very little room for the jokes.
Some of the challenges could be shows in their own right: for instance, he decided to date 50 women in 50 nights in homage to Hercules's boast that he impregnated 50 women in one night. There's must be a wealth of material there, but after a month-and-a-half, and a cost of £4,678.44, all he got out of it was a five-minute routine which show off his impressive power of recall. And possible liver damage.
There can be few comics who put this sort of effort into their show: he also travelled to Loch Ness to slay the monster, took part in a animal rights protest version of running with the bulls at Pamplona, cleared out elephant dung and is still trying to steal the underwear of a respected academic.
In telling of these adventures, Herring proves a charming raconteur, playful and self-deprecating, but the anecdotes just won't fit into the hour, even at the breakneck speed he acheives, with one eye always on his watch. And no wonder, he's been keeping an entertaining on-line diary of his exploits over the past months leaving him reams of material that cannot possibly be condensed.
There are laughs to be had, mostly in the way he awkwardly tries to shoehorn the challenges he chose to match those of the mythological demi-god, or in his determined obsession to track down those elusive number plates, whatever deranged behaviour it took. But still, the over-packed narrative rules.
There is a positive message at the end: even if it's just to pull yourself together if you're down because no one else will, but it's an addendum, rather than the driving force of the show.
This may well have more legs as a longer touring show, or maybe a book. But at the Fringe it has a rare problem: too much information.