Richard Herring’s 2010 hour-and-a-half standup show The Headmaster’s Son begins with some Jesus jokes, which are fairly original as Jesus jokes go. Herring recounts one of the times his compartmentalized father struggled to decide which box he was in during an Ascension Day pause of silence where his son-and-pupil Richard Herring let out an unforgivable belch. The result of this abhorrent, though admittedly accidental, piece of blasphemy is left dangling until the end of the show.
Stylistically, Herring’s show gives the impression that he has memorized word-for-word this theatrical monologue, which has been painstakingly written for diction and rhythm. Though he speaks quickly, the pacing feels like a poetry slam piece with punchlines.
Fascinatingly, Herring has been keeping record of his own history, organized neatly in blue folders, since he was a child. We see in a special feature on the Fist of Fun DVDs that he has reams of his early career day clippings as well. He kept a diary as a teenager (and has been blogging every day since 2001). He reads a section of his teenage diary as part of his show, observing that his sense of humor back then was almost exactly the same as it is now except without any irony. He was doing Jesus jokes in biology class, too.
While Herring is known to have plenty of cock jokes, and indeed this show has an extended bit about wanking off pedophiles with his abnormally small hands to prevent children from getting involved, this is not the bulk of the show. In fact, after the wanking jokes smoke has cleared, the show has deep emotional intelligence. He wonders to what extent his healthy upbringing impacted who he’s become and his relationship to relationships. His parents were his role models for love, and he assumed that because they met at age 13 and are still in love today, that’s what he would do as well, and because he didn’t wind up, or indeed even sleep, with his first love, it shattered his view of what romance was supposed to be. The show culminates in a surreal argument between Herring now and his 16-year-old self, each blaming the other for the way things turned out and wondering if perhaps they turned out exactly as his 16-year-old self wanted. I suppose it makes you wonder: If you achieve the life goal you had set for yourself when you were 16, should you consider yourself successful even if your goals have evolved since then?
Ultimately, there’s a little of something for everyone here. Plenty of low-brow gags, but also introspection and nostalgia that gives audience members a sense of relief that their botched first relationships, disproportionately rebellious teenage ideals, and embarrassingly healthy and uneventful upbringings are not unique to them but part of life. Richard Herring: The Headmaster’s Son is on sale at GoFasterStripe.com on region zero/PAL 2-disc DVD with 3-1/2 hours of bonus material, including a video podcast with Andrew Collins before their split, an interview with Richard’s father about his reaction to the show, a video tour of Richard’s school, additional readings of his diary, music videos, and much more.