Book review: Bye Bye Balham

by Richard Herring

Talk about money for old rope. Richard Herring has cut and paste around 200 days worth of blog entries, already available for free on the internet, and published them in book form. What next? Stephen Fry’s 1,000 Greatest Twitters?

But thankfully, as the couple of thousand regular readers will attest, Herring puts quite some effort into his daily Warming Up updates, and the result is an entertaining, often exceedingly petty, look into the obsessions and distractions that fill the mundane life of a sort-of-successful stand-up comedian. As well as the convenience of the medium, the book presumably aims to find a new audience for his online outpourings.

Herring started this back in 2002, when the word blog barely existed, as an exercise to help him overcome writers’ block and get him in the mood for writing. He claims it didn’t quite work out as expected, but many of the thoughts he committed to cyberspace have certainly mutated into routines and themes for his live shows.

This book – the first to be published by independent DVD label Go Faster Stripe – starts at the very beginning, and covers a period when he was struggling to write a book about penises, struggling to make a relationship work, and struggling to put bums on seats in both a UK tour and a Melbourne comedy festival run. Herring, now more than six years older and wiser, has annotated many of the original posts, putting the comments in greater context than a simple cut-and-paste job could ever do. However he has always been self-aware… it’s just that such knowledge never actually moderated his behaviour.

That said, the best entries are those that are stand-alone comic segments, independent of Herring’s state in life. His exaggerated deconstruction of There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Fly will have you chuckling aloud, as will many of his brilliantly extravagant turns of phrase:

‘Writing can be like pulling teeth,’ he blogs. ‘Not out of your mouth. That would be easy. Writing is like pulling teeth out of your genitals. It’s like being bitten in the cock and testicles by a massive radioactive rodent and then trying to prise its jaws away from you, only to find that when you finally manage to (after a week or so of struggle) , its adamantine teeth have come loose from its gums and are still piercing your bleeding and mutilated genitalia. And when you attempt to pull them out you find they are burning, white hot and also have little barbs on them, like fishing hooks and they are exuding acid and the Aids virus into your blood.’

His own inadequacies as a emotionally stunted adult are also well-covered, whether it be in his all-consuming determination to complete a heroically pointless game of spotting 999 consecutively numbered car registration plates, or throwing a strop in the amusement arcade on Brighton pier.

The humour of these entries contrast with those that give an honest account of the lonely, often disheartening, life of a comedian on the road alone, playing in rooms far too big for the audience he can usually muster.

The only criticism of the book is in including more or less every entry. Entertaining as it is, there’s unlikely to be enough demand for a new anthology of Richard Herring blogs every 200 days or so, so this collection could have been more judiciously edited to skip over some of the less illuminating posts, and instead cover a longer time span. Very little happens during his time in Australia, especially, except for the recurring theme of disappointingly small audiences.

But when it hits its target – which it does remarkably frequently for a limbering-up exercise not particularly designed for a wider audience – Bye, Bye Balham makes for a witty and endearing read. And if you already knew that from having read Warming Up for nothing, buying the book would be some recompense for all that free entertainment.

Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

  • Bye Bye Balham is published by Go Faster Stripe, priced £10. Click here to buy it from Amazon at £7.50

Published: 2 Feb 2009

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