Herring's head on my body... No, wait...

Herring’s head on my body… No, wait…

Richard Herring – Talking Cock, The Second Coming – Forest Arts, New Milton – 16 March 2013

Talking Cock was originally performed by Richard Herring back in 2003 and was conceived as “man’s answer to the Vagina Monologues”. The precise reason for bringing the show back, beyond it having been successful and allowing the chance to use the “Second Coming” pun, is not explored, but I am glad he did as I never got to see the show the first time round.

The centre of the show is based around two anonymous surveys Herring has been running ever since the original idea came to him – the boys survey and the girls survey – which seek to get to the truth about how men and women think of the male member, with questions ranging from (for men) the quantitative areas like length and girth through to the more anecdotal – “Where have you put your penis for fun?”, “Do you have any nicknames for your penis?”. This could – and does – lead to many a cheap knob joke, but this is never the point of the show. It’s an amusing demystification of what men and women truly think.

The (straight) male psyche means that, outside of the pre-sexual days of childhood, most men know very little about anyone’s penis but their own, which means that they have little or no concept of what is normal and what isn’t. Witness the story of the American who was uncircumcised while everyone else was, leading to a complex about why he was abnormal. When his family moved to China he saw that none of the boys there were circumcised and thus reasoned he must be part-Chinese.

In terms of material, Herring has a wealth to work with. He begins the second half by reading a section of the book (originally published back in 2003) that he can’t fit into the flow of the show otherwise. It’s just as funny and just as deserving of an airing, and it’s a shame that the results of the survey can’t be shared with the audience all night.

However. In the first half of the show, Herring came out and launched into his show in such a rush, it felt as though he had somewhere to be. It was clear he knew the material intimately (I think he said at one point that he had performed the show over 500 times) and it seemed at times as though he was trying to recite it all as quickly as possible, without letting the material breath or the audience fully appreciate it, which was a shame. Come the second half, Herring slowed down and the show took off.

The question that perhaps hangs over this show is “Is it necessary?” The Vagina Monologues success was linked to a rising wave of feminism, women owning the sexuality and their bodies. It was seen as empowering. Do we need man’s answer to this? Aren’t men empowered enough as it is? Well, Talking Cock isn’t about empowering men. In some respects it’s the opposite. If this is, in some way, a phallocentric society, it is because the penis is in many ways a largely unknown commodity. Instead, it is the word penis and what it represents that in some way rules, not the actuality of small collection of sinew and skin that spends most of its time hanging limply and vulnerably on the outskirts of the male human body. By bringing out the truth of infinite variation and the wide range of feelings from both men and women, the power of the image and representation of the penis is largely diminished. As the survey responses show, many men feel inadequate about their penis and the show aims to help these men realise that their concerns are unfounded. As one woman answered to the question “What’s the most unusual penis you’ve ever seen?”, “I’ve never seen a usual one.”

A-

Additional edit made 22/03/13

I’ve used Storify to just add a clarification to the above review, stemming from a brief interaction with Richard Herring on Twitter…

  1. So, as is my wont, I linked my review on Twitter
  2. Also, having seen @Herring1967 last night, I’ve written up some thoughts on the show – benjaminhendy.com/talking-c… – Spoiler – I enjoyed it
  3. And lo, Mr Herring does appear, and this can only have been minutes before he went on stage in Winchester (I’d seen him in New Milton the night before).
  4. @BenjaminHendy glad you liked it. My delivery is naturally fast and I can’t hang around if people aren’t laughing straight away. I felt …
  5. @BenjaminHendy audience were more relaxed in 2nd half thus and laughing more, hence difference in pace. But not bored with show. Opposite
  6. I hadn’t meant to imply he was bored with the show, but I can see how it could be read like that
  7. @Herring1967 No problem – thanks for replying. Was my first show of yours so, while I’ve seen you on TV etc, not totally used to your…
  8. @Herring1967 … delivery style. Anyway, definitely won’t be the last time I see you. The 4 of us who came all loved it and we’re left…
  9. @Herring1967 … Wanting more. As it should be. Next up is ordering Fist of Fun and getting all nostalgic. Hope Winchester goes well. 🙂
  10. @BenjaminHendy if i slow down there will be less stuff in the show! See you at the next one
  11. I completely see his point. As I mentioned in my review, there was a lot in the show, and it still felt like we were missing a lot of detail. I bought the book of the show afterwards, which Richard kindly signed for me, and it’s clear that there’s so much funny stuff in there that he’s done well to whittle it down to the 1 hr 45 or so that it currently is. It would be a shame to lose any more content, and – as someone who has regularly railed against films that go on too long – I can see why the breathless pace was necessary.

    This highlights, for me, one of the best things about Twitter – the ability to interact with the people who put on the shows you see (or write the books you read), give feedback and get explanations. And I also felt it was important to add this to the review as an addendum, giving Richard the right to reply to my comment. I really hope my comment didn’t put anyone off from seeing the show as it is well worth going. Hopefully my final grade gets that across.

    And cheers Rich!