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Talking cock

  • "I know more about cocks than is healthy to know," says Richard Herring. Richard Herring is a comedian, but he is barely smiling now. "Probably more," he adds, "than anyone knows." How big your average penis is, for example. How many men are born with two. Hundreds of slang terms for the flesh canoe, porridge gun or Spam jewellery, as you might call the little chap. And how much men worry about them, in the silent loneliness of vulnerability that, by definition, dares not speak the beast's name. Above all, Herring knows how men worry. So far, 7000 people have filled out the questionnaire on his website that provides much of the raw material for Herring's latest show, Talking Cock. He never expected that to happen; he never expected the kinds of responses he received, either. Men certainly were not the rampant brutes they believed each other to be. "I think it surprised me that 55percent of gay men had 10 or less sexual partners," he says, "but then that is something that is a stereotypical idea that makes you go OK, that is my prejudice, in the same way that women think all men will just shag everything that moves." He laughs, sheepishly. "I think that about men as well!" But actually, once he started to write a show about men and their penises, he realised none of the men he knew fitted the mould. "Some like sleeping around and most don't. My mum and dad have been together since they were 14 and have never been out with anyone else at all." There were plenty of "lovely questionnaires", he says, from men and women who were just plain positive about each other. And then there were the legions of anxious: the 42 per cent of men, for example, who confessed they felt under pressure to perform. All those responses go to show, he says, that when it comes down to it, men and women aren't from Mars and Venus or whatever other bits of outer space you might fix on. They are really pretty much the same. "Men are just as vulnerable as women," he says. "I can understand why we have that battle of the sexes thing, it gives a frisson, it is fun and we like doing that. But actually we are much more similar. Men and women want to be needed and loved." In a sense, this was the inspiration for the show. He went to see Eve Ensler's Vagina Monologues and, although he thought it was interesting, he felt rather excluded. "Which is fair enough," he says. "It is a woman's show, but it seems a shame not to write about how men and women share their genitals with whatever they choose to share them with. The only positive story in The Vagina Monologues about a man is about someone who likes looking at his girlfriend's vagina. Which is, you know, fine. But it isn't most people's experience of sex." Most people's usual experience of sex probably isn't half as funny as Talking Cock, either. I meet Herring after a performance in Shakespeare's Stratford; he is still full of on-stage adrenalin and talking mostly in double entendres. He has to shorten the show in Australia, he tells me. Cut a bit off. "Oh no," he groans. "I am not trying to do this, honestly." If you think about the penis for long enough you find yourself turning into a one-man Carry-On team. "It does make you realise how pathetic most English humour about sex is," he says. "Which is a good thing." Talking Cock is comedy with a humane agenda - it was even reviewed appreciatively in the British Medical Journal - but for Herring, it has also been a slightly gloomy education in comedy itself. Most comedians do not like to analyse why people laugh, but when you are talking about someone who wants to kill himself because he feels like a hermaphrodite in the men's changing room and people are laughing, the question stares you in the face. "People are so conditioned to laugh at the small penis stuff - or a big penis, in fact - they will laugh even at that." That is it, really: the penis in itself is a joke. Women can celebrate their private parts with a show like The Vagina Monologues; the closest men get is Puppetry of the Penis, bending the funny little fellow into amusing shapes. Of course, Herring's show is funny too, but he says no man would talk about his penis any other way - which may explain why, as soon as he flagged the idea of the show on his webpage, theatres in Europe started calling for the translation rights. It has now been bought in 14 countries. Thank You!!! For More Details Landing page video