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Friday 14th March 2014


The tectonic plates of all the various things I have to get done by August are starting to grind into one another and creating mindquakes and jitters. I am still some way from organising all the material for Sunday's Meaning of Life show, though have a fair amount of stuff. I thought it would be fun to do the Hamlet bit from WAGTD! but with an actor playing Hamlet and so started typing up the script for this (so far it's only existed in my head). On copy and pasting the To Be or Not To Be speech I realised that I had missed out quite a crucial line in all previous performances. I am amazed that nobody has ever picked me up on it. It's one of the famous bits - "Thus conscience does make cowards of us all". I don't think I've ever said it. And it's really hard once you've got a memory based routine worked out to insert something new (I believe that I made a similar mistake early on with the begat routine in Christ on a Bike - leaving out a name or two and it was hard to insert them once the trail had been laid down). It's made particularly tricky as the next line is "And thus the native hue of resolution". So Shakespeare basically starts two consecutive lines with the word "thus" which is very poor writing. I don't know why people rate him so much.

Those last few lines had been the hardest to learn as well. I had had to get that line in my mind by imagining Hugh Grant in a Man Friday costume, vowing to give up smoking on January 1st (the native Hugh of- new year's- resolution). Now the line comes out without that image, but in the early days it was a useful way to remember. But now I've got to remember to put the "thus conscience does make cowards of us all" first. It should be easy as it's such a famous line, but I bailed on it in Windsor tonight.

I also had to write 100 word fringe guide entries for both my new shows, but managed to geet them together in the dressing room before the show. Goodness knows if any of the stuff I wrote will make it into the stand-up show, but here's what I've got.

Richard Herring – Lord of the Dance Settee. After covering weighty issues like death, love, religion and spam javelins, “The King of Edinburgh” (List) is in a frivolous mood with this show about daftness, whether the term “cool comedian” is an oxymoron, bouncing joyously on the sofa and how Herring’s whole career is a failed attempt to top a piece of visual slapstick comedy he came up with at 16. Can he revisit the joke thirty years on or will it smash his old bones? “Dependably funny” Chortle. “A new Richard Herring show is a never-ending cause for delight” The List


The Rasputin one is a bit easier as I have a stronger idea about what it's about and what's going to happen. Here it is:

I Killed Rasputin – a new play by Richard Herring. American Journalist EM Halliday visits the aged Russian Prince and conspirator in the murder of Rasputin, Felix Yusupov, improbably still alive in 1967.  The former richest man in Russia, now reduced to making money from his tall tale, is haunted by the Mad Monk, who even 50 years on refuses to die. Will Yusupov finally reveal the truth? “I don’t know of an instant in modern history where so many reputable as well as disreputable historians have solemnly repeated such a patently improbable story as if it were gospel.” EM Halliday.

E M Halliday will be a character in the play. He genuinely interviewed Yusupov in 1967 and I've long thought that this was a great device to explore the truth about Rasputin's death and the extraordinary life of Yusupov. It's almost unbelievable that this relic from a destroyed past would still be alive in the 1960s and with him so close to the end of his life there was a chance that he would reveal the truth. And Halliday's unusual scepticism about the story is crucial. Alas in reality Yusupov was not too forthcoming (though did drop a couple of hints) and once I finally tracked down the magazine with the interview in it, it was disappointingly short and sparce on detail. In a sense that gives me more scope to create the play and there is plenty of other material that gives us a sense of Yusupov and what he might and might not have done.

It's not important that the E M Halliday of the play is similar to the real one, as he serves the purpose of being a dramatic device, but I would like him to have something of the real journalist in him. I hadn't done too much research on him as yet, concentrating on Rasputin and Yusupov, but I googled him today. Not too much came up. He was once the editor of American Heritage and he wrote a few books, but as a largely twentieth century figure the internet is not full of biographical detail about him.

I had assumed that Halliday was long dead, so my heart jumped a little when I saw that one of his books was published in 2003 and then I came across this short bio on the Harper Collins website, which says "he lives in New York City". Suddenly I was presented with the previously unthought of possibility that Halliday might still be alive. If he'd been in his twenties in the sixties he'd be in his seventies now. It had seemed impossible that a pre-revolutionary Russian Prince would have been able to listen to the Beatles, I realised that I had made the same stupid assumption about this man. Might I meet him and ask him about what he remembered of the interview?

Alas a little bit more research and it became apparent that Halliday had died in 2003 at the age of 90. Annoyingly I had the idea for this play before then so if I had got my act together I might have met him. I should be able to track down his obituary in American Heritage, but if anyone has any info on Halliday or a contact for anyone in his family then do let me know. As I say, it's not really going to be about him exactly (though I love the quote above), but it would be nice to get a slither of the real man into this.

The gig in Windsor was a little bit odd with a slightly spiky feel from the audience, as if they didn't know what they were coming to see. I've always had good ones here before so I don't know if I was imagining this, or whether my recenJust A Minute appearances had brought in an older crowd. But things had got off to an odd start. There are very few cues in the show, just three CDs with audience walk in music, opening music and closing music. There are three points where I need a black out and there is a little bit of timing involved with one of those. I always go through these with the tech before the show and though the instructions are simple I make a point of going over it a couple of times. And I explain why I am doing this saying that although you'd think this would be easy enough, somehow mistakes are often made. In one tour show the technician managed to mess up every single thing he had to do, which is quite impressive. But this means I can state something quite simplistic without being too patronising. And I do explain that as long as the final black out happens at the right point (and I am not left standing there like a lemon) then it doesn't really matter if other mistakes are made.People make mistakes and I understand that. It's an unfamilar show to them. That's why I go over it in a bit of detail.

But actually tonight's error did throw me. I come on to a rousing chorus from Verdi's Requiem and I am used to that giving me a little burst of adrenaline and it also creates a certain atmosphere and expectation for the crowd. Tonight though the tech played the music that is meant to go at the end of the show as I entered. It shouldn't really have mattered, but it didn't give me the lift, it slightly confused me and the show started with a splat rather than a punch. I didn't say anything about the error as, of course, no one else would have noticed it (and neither did the technician until I told him in the interval), but it put me on the back foot. And I don't say this to have a go at the guy. He just picked up the wrong CD and he had worked very hard on setting everything up and seemed like a decent person. But it took me a few minutes to get back into the swing of everything, at least in my head, and a small change like that might have sunk the show.

I think the audience were more reticent about the crudeness of some of the material than worried about the start music not being portentuous enough, but it was interesting that it did make a psychological difference. This shit isn't just thrown together, it seems.

After a run of rather good performances of this show, this one didn't feel like it connected with everyone (though at least a few of the audience enjoyed it).  Maybe it was all because I had found out that EM Halliday was alive and then found out he was dead. I had foundhim and then lost him in the space of five minutes. My heart could not recover so soon.

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