I recently had a chance to catch up on several episodes of the Collings and Herrin podcast, listening to them in a marathon session in my travels to a university summer course.
The podcast features comedian Richard Herring and “journalist, script writer / editor and broadcaster” (as he likes to be described) Andrew Collins. It started last year as an opportunity to reprise their roles established on a BBC radio show where they reviewed and commented on the week's news.
The podcast frees them of the restrictions imposed by radio so they can develop ideas and be as politically biased as they feel. And they can swear a lot too.
Listening to a batch of them with the hindsight of some of the news stories which have developed these last few months was fascinating. Their takes on Susan Boyle (before she became an instant worldwide celeb) and Michael Jackson (before he died) were fascinating and thought provoking, not to mention alarmingly accurate in their prediction of what was to pass.
This is a side effect of the podcast's quality. At face value they are just bloody funny. Often offensive using extreme language (particularly Herring) they produce many laugh out loud moments in each episode. The podcast has evolved from its inception with both Collins and Herring developing into exaggerated caricatures of themselves ('The Podcast Richard Herring' has become a separate personality). 'Collings' plays the woolly liberal, “Herrin' the attention seeking child with relentless infantile taunts and sexual jokes many of us first exchanged on the school playground.
In one of the earliest episodes the Podcast Richard Herring first emerged when he reacted to an Andrew anecdote involving his mother by describing her as a “fucking idiot.” I laughed so loud I almost crashed my car and knew then that the podcast would become essential listening.
What is clear to anyone who has listened to the podcasts (or at least 2 or 3 of them) is that both men care passionately about injustice and have well argued views on society as portrayed and influenced by the media. They are, at heart, idealistic and occasionally wooly liberals. Just like me.
That a podcast containing incessant jokes and insults which include 'bumming', recommending that a the Prime Minister should ejaculate on his predecessor's face to increase popularity (nyum nyum nyum) and having sex through the wound of a tortoiseshell can make me laugh uncontrollably but can also make me think about prejudice, the media, the ills of society and how I live my life is a testament to how clever and talented the two men are. Andrew is the perfect foil for Richard as he understands his intellect and his comedy.
If I ever get round to creating a category on my blog to highlight my 'heroes' - people who have affected my life by influence, inspiration or my general respect for their craft, Richard Herring will be included. But until 2008 I wouldn't have said this and this why I'm writing this now in light of what has happened this week.
For the last year or so, I have become a big fan of Richard's work – his daily blog, his books, DVDs and his performances. All as a result of the podcast which is given away for free, and which has helped to promote the work of its two performers.
Before last year, I knew who Richard Herring was. He was the main writer on Time Gentlemen Please – which ranks alongside Fawlty Towers and The Office at the top of my favourite ever sitcoms. But that was largely it. I hadn't paid much attention to him in the 1990's during his successful partnership with Stewart Lee and post Time Gentlemen Please he dropped off my radar.
I subscribed to the podcast last year out of curiosity, remembering how I enjoyed the sitcom and also as I had liked much of Andrew Collins' work in the media, most notably his time at the NME in the early 1990's. He interviewed The Wedding Present at the time they recorded my favourite ever album and the article adorned my bedroom wall during my late teens, and embarrassingly stayed there well into my adult life. (And like everyone else I knew Andrew best from his work on 'I Love 1983').
This brings me to this week and an article on comedy in The Guardian written by Brian Logan, in which Richard is featured.
People reading the piece may form a completely wrong impression of Richard both as a person and a performer. Some lines from the article (which is titled 'The New Offenders of Stand-Up Comedy'):
This year, veteran comic Richard Herring is sporting a Hitler moustache for his show, Hitler Moustache, in which he argues "that racists have a point".
….Herring now does most of his work on the web. His weekly podcast, presented with Andrew Collins, makes a point of "pushing back boundaries and saying anything we want". One recent episode aired Herring's purported hatred of Pakistanis, a routine that he expands on in his new standup set. In another routine, he claims to support the BNP's policy to deport all black people from the UK. Into the awkward laughter that greets this joke, he says: "Don't go thinking I'm the new Bernard Manning. I'm being postmodern and ironic. I understand that what I'm saying is unacceptable." Then he pauses. "But does that make me better than Manning, or much, much worse?" This is "playing around with things", he tells me: "it's the intent behind it that's the important thing."
Now I know what Richard was saying with the Manning reference but in the context of the preceding lines and the rather lazy point being made by the article it remains clouded.
The problem (and the point which has upset Richard so much about the article) is that an impression can be gained that Richard Herring is embracing racism as a mechanism for comedy (ironically or otherwise) or, at worst, that Richard Herring is racist.
Had I not listened to the podcasts and only remembered Richard from the Time Gentlemen Please show I may have formed the impression from Logan's piece that his current 'Hitler Moustache' project was some ill-judged shock tactic approach to comedy he had taken to maintain his career. (It isn't anything of the sort).
Had I not watched Time Gentlemen Please (which despite its in your face catchphrase comedy always had an underlying commentary on social stereotypes) my thoughts on Richard from the article may have been worse.
Not everyone who is aware of Richard has listened to his podcasts, read his blogs or seen him perform. Anyone familiar with these will know that he is quite passionately anti-racist, anti-prejudice, and a promoter of charity and fairness.
No doubt he has been misrepresented and misunderstood many times in his career but I can understand why this article has upset him so much. At the risk of pigeonholing society myself I would argue that the average readership of The Guardian is Richard's target audience, which makes this even more sad.
It is my newspaper of choice in print and online,not just because its writers often echo my views but also as when they don't it allows me to challenge my thoughts and engage with the content. It is a fantastic newspaper. This article though makes me angry, not because I believe that Logan has an agenda, or even that his piece is just lazy (which I think it is), but because I feel it misrepresents someone I have huge respect for, and who I feel is deserving of a higher profile. Logan and / or The Guardian should retract this piece and publish a prominent apology. Richard would be justified in seeking legal opinion on this too. I feel it is this serious.
I may be just repeating the tone of articles written by far better writers than me – the blog posts of people who happen to be called Richard Herring and Andrew Collins say it all more eloquently. But I'm angry about this and I want to show my support.
See Richard's shows, listen to the podcast, visit his site and buy his books and DVDs. He's good.