Richard Herring: The Headmaster's Son
Show type: Edinburgh Fringe 2008
What’s worse than being a podgy, swotty, virginal schoolboy? What if your dad’s the headmaster too? Fist of Fun and Oh Fuck, I’m 40 star relives childhood embarrassments, first love and belching during the minute’s silence in church. What are the psychological repercussions of schooldays filled with suspicion and mistrust?
Why do we end up like we do? Richard Herring blames the parents… or at least his father. As Dad was also headmaster of the Cheddar school he attended, Herring feels he was ostracised by his fellow pupils, making him socially awkward and an unable to fit in. Was this the formative experience that led him to where he is now: a 41-year-old man with no stable family life telling puerile, pedantic jokes for a living.
But as tellers of puerile, pedantic jokes go, few come sharper than Herring, who is back for what seems like his 73rd Fringe with yet another thoughtful, funny and personal hour of coruscating stand-up. His consistency in producing fine shows year on year is impressive indeed.
He certainly hits the ground running with this one, delivering a superlative routine about Christ’s ascension to heaven, full of gleefully sarcastic blasphemy. It’s only tangential to the thrust of his story, but it’s hard-hitting, silly and gag-rich, and a perfect prologue to the insightful reminiscences that follow.
The main character in the show is not, as you might think, Herring’s father – but the teenage Richard Herring himself; a gauche, isolated, conformist bursting with misguided arrogance and solemnity. And there’s documents to prove it, too, in the form of his teenage diary. He seriously imagined these precious thoughts would one day hold significant historical value, convinced that he would be a man of such greatness Gandhi would look like Jade Goody by comparison.
You can see the roots of Herring’s stand-up in these hilarious extracts. Today, the grown-up Herring exploits the gaping gap between his exaggerated delusions of grandeur and mundane, slightly tragic, reality to brilliant comic effect. Then, there was no such self-awareness. The childishness and the idiotic behaviour wasn’t doused in the irony it is now. This strong strand culminates in an artful dialogue between his 41-year-old and 15-year-old selves; the younger asking where it all went wrong, and the elder protesting that it didn’t.
Amid all the thoughtfully funny, musings on how his life turned out, Herring offers some hugely entertaining diversions – the clear favourite being about his selfless efforts to tackle the menace of paedophilia – to add some variety to the mix.
A too-soft ending aside, this is one of the strongest shows Herring has produced in his already impressive canon. He’s always a Fringe must-see, this year more than most.
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett