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Book: How Not To Grow Up: A Coming Of Age Memoir. Sort of

By Richard Herring

I have been aware of Richard Herring since the Fist Of Fun days; I read his daily blog, I follow him on Twitter, I listen to his podcast with Andrew Collins and have been to one of his live shows (The Twelve Tasks of Hercules Terrace). I feel a connection of similarity – similar age, similar appreciation of comedy, did well at school, a tendency to over-think things – and I think he’s funny; however, despite this, he is sometimes a hard person to like. His belligerent attitude on the Collings and Herrin podcast (not typos) towards his ‘colleague’ is part of his comedy persona but it borders on the unpleasant; this has even transferred to the BBC 6 Music show, although with much less swearing. His constant belittling of Collins and his fans can be wearing, so it’s lucky he can be funny as well.

The reason for this introduction to talking about his book is that it can colour your view of Richard Keith Herring based on his honesty in this recounting of the year in his life around his 40th birthday. Based on his daily blog (he has kept a daily online journal for seven years, which is quite an achievement in itself, and the first year of which was turned into a book of its own from a smaller publisher), this is a reflection on the evaluation of his life as he approaches 40 and an assessment of who he is and what he wants from life. He talks about everything candidly (although names are changed to protect the innocent and guilty, apart from long-time friend and fellow performer Emma Kennedy), from his fighting with a trainee lecture to his awful diet to his desire for a threesome, a desire so strong he turned it into an Edinburgh show. As he nears 40, he reflects that he isn’t as successful as some of his contemporaries (he is good friends with Al Murray, and wrote Murray’s Sky sitcom, but Herring doesn’t have an ITV series and isn’t asked to go on celebrity programmes), he isn’t settled like his father – who had a career as a headmaster with wife and three kids – and isn’t in a stable relationship; he’s overweight, he drinks too much and tries to have sex with younger women all the time. He doesn’t come across as particularly pleasant person, but he is intelligent and funny and comes across as thoughtful about moral issues – it is a contradiction.

There are sections in the book that do feel like they’ve simply been transcribed from his blog, rather than rewritten specifically for the book. However, there is a definite narrative to the book, as Herring moves from the bleakness of his existence (from his perspective) to a more positive outlook because of being in a proper relationship based on more than sexual attraction. He stops drinking, he goes to the gym more, he watches what he eats, he makes an effort to do the work of his ‘job’ (i.e. writing). This happy conclusion feels a little hollow if you’ve followed him subsequently, knowing that his weight oscillates from fat to slightly less fat, and the exercise doesn’t last and alcohol still plays a part in his life, but you do feel happy for him finding happiness in a genuine relationship.

As someone who deals with words in my day job, I had a few niggles about the book itself. There are a few footnotes, about six in all, but they have been misnumbered, so that the text has a superscript number one but the bottom of the page says it is number two. There are words near the end of a line that have a line-breaking hyphen in them even though they are still on the same line. Also, I think that the book could have used a few more edits from Herring to finesse some of the writing, because it occasionally falls a little flat in the prose – the funny sections work well, but descriptive passages could have done with some better chosen words or phrases. Despite this, the overwhelming feeling you get from the book, apart from laughter, is of a genuine, honest and heart-felt account of an interesting period in Herring’s life, and I’m glad I bought the book (if only to pay him back for all the free podcasts and blog posts). A very enjoyable look at the life of a comedian who still enjoys being child-like but in an intelligent way.

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