Two-and-a-half years ago, I went through to Edinburgh to see Richard Herring‘s stand-up set, What is Love, Anyway? and to catch up with a few friends.  The next morning, I woke up with a hear shaped balloon hovering over my bed:

Given that the stated aim of Herring’s set was to destroy love before it destroyed him, I found myself wondering if this was love’s way of taking revenge on me. Was I going to experience Prisoner style trauma at the hands of this helium powered monster, or would I just turn over and go back to sleep? [1]

It seems to me that this incident echoes nicely with the theme of Herring’s show, which starts from the basis that love is just our daft way of contextualising a freak series of occurrences and chemical reactions and then builds up a powerful argument for the existence of love that can survive in this materialist setting.

Of course, Herring being Herring, he also takes time to chastise parents for failing to take care of their sexual excrement (or “sexcrement”) along the way.  There are fine examples of Herring’s fondness for skits that are stretched far past what should be their breaking point in this set too: at one point Herring asks the audience to imagine an absurdly dystopian scenario that’s quite literally built out of Ferrero Rocher pyramids, and he closes the show by performing a routine about visiting his one hundred-year-old grandmother in hospital that manages to be both close to the bone and genuinely moving at the same time.[2]

Somehow, Herring structures all of this so that it ends up underlining his argument, even if does feel like it should obscure it completely – in this way, his that contention that our romantic ideals have a power that survives their irrationality is demonstrated in the form of the show as well as in its content.

It also helps that What is Love, Anyway? is a lot more poetic than I’m making it sound here. If you’re familiar with Herring’s work, it’s closer to The Headmaster’s Son than to ménage à un. If you’re not familiar with his work, then there are plenty of crude jokes in this set, but there are also passages of unashamed lyricism that succeed without pratfalls or punchlines. [3]

Still, you might reasonably be asking yourself by this point what all of this has to do with a pink love heart balloon.  The only honest answer is, nothing and everything all at once!

Obviously this balloon wasn’t really an agent of love, out to destroy a sleepy blogger for his dubious taste in comedy, but that didn’t mean that this novelty hen-night leftover lacked emotional significance for me. At the time of the show, I’d spent a month wiped out with an infection that just wouldn’t fuck off, and this balloon had been floating around my room the whole time, watching over me while I tried to sleep through headache and fever like a cheap knock-off version of Barbelith:

This was just another delusion, of course, but the balloon was left there by my girlfriend Karen, so it became an ever-present reminder of the care she’d been lavishing on me on a daily basis.[4]

When I saw it hovering over me all sinister like me on the morning after the Herring show, I couldn’t help but laugh at how easily this silly symbol of affection had transformed into its opposite.  The only meaning it had was the meaning I’d allowed myself to attach to it, and if this seems startlingly obvious to you then remember that it wouldn’t have felt that way to me while I was in the grip of the fever!

Of course, the damned thing could burst or deflate at any moment, but hey – that’s just how it is with love. [5]

Richard Herring’s still out there, of course, still touring his emotions for fun and profit.  I’m off to see his latest show, We’re All Going To Die, on Sunday.  It should be brilliant, but there’s always chance that he’ll blow it this time.  I don’t care.  I’m willing to take the risk.

I guess that’s kind of how it is with love too.

Click here for footnotes!

Aggravator Aggregator

August 20th, 2009


  • Still thoroughly brain-blown by last week’s viewing of Adam Curtis’ latest film, ”It Felt Like a Kiss’, I’ve gone a bit doolally and found links for a whole Curtisathon. Old hat, good hat:
  • First, two recent bites from Charlie Brooker’s Screenwipe/Newswipe shows. This one covers the abasement of  TV journalism as a career path for people who like to bear the sight of their own reflections; and this one on the geldoffisation of event politics. When people say Live Aid killed Rock ‘n’Roll, previously the world’s last best hope of cultural salvation, this is what they mean, and why it matters. (b)
  • And going back a bit further, The Living Dead from 1995 (Parts One, Two, Three), a haunting three-hour tale of WWII necromancy and voodoo propaganda, a political Zombie fest of the lowest order. (b)

All that and some links to comic related stuff too!