Metro column 10

Richard Herring: Only laugh at wry humour if you're sexually desperate
Richard Herring preaches the importance of keeping your eyes to the ground in the presence of men who consume alcohol.
Richard Herring This week Richard Herring discusses the consequences of the question, ‘What are you fugging looking at?’

‘What are you fugging looking at?’

A phrase that fills the bravest heart with fear (though I might have slightly misheard one of them – not a term I am familiar with). It’s why we travel with our eyes averted as if we lived in the City Of God; why we pretend to read John Grisham books on the bus; why we would never know if our country had been conquered by giant lizard-folk, provided they all wore the same shoes as us.

The first time I was asked what I was fugging looking at was in the summer of 1991. I was enjoying an alfresco pint with friends. A woman I was hoping to have sex with made a crap joke about René Descartes and I pretended to find it amusing. Like I say, I was hoping to have sex with her. I laughed, throwing my head back in what I imagined to be an alluring manner, accidentally catching the eye of a gigantic drunk man, who was slamming his fist into the face of his smaller but equally drunk companion.

‘What are you fugging looking at?’ he slurred. There is no answer to this question that will leave you unharmed but I was young and stupidly gave the worst wrong answer: ‘Nothing.’ ‘You think it’s funny, me hitting my pal?’ he continued, walking towards me, as his buddy slumped to the floor, presumably delighted they weren’t enemies. ‘No, I was laughing at something my friend said,’ the register of my voice rising from baritone to falsetto in one sentence. Should I tell him the Descartes joke or would that make things worse? ‘Because I don’t think it’s funny,’ he growled, ignoring my protests that were now in such a high voice that they could only be heard by bats.

Within seconds, I was on the floor and his large boot was connecting with my temple. One of my female friends, slight and tiny, bravely pushed herself between me and the assailant, asking him if he’d hit a woman, when all logic said that of course he would. But he didn’t and she possibly saved my life. The Descartes joke woman felt so guilty that we had sex that night. However, I would not recommend this as a dating technique.

I was asked what I was fugging looking at again this week. Walking along the street alone, I thought of something mildly amusing and even though I wasn’t trying to have sex with myself, I gave a wry smile, accompanied by a sideways glance. Two men in beer-stained football shirts were passing and my smirk hit them right between the eyes.

‘Whaeryoufugginlookinah?’ came the inevitable question (admirably abbreviated to a single word, almost as if he was conscious of my 600-word column limit – though I’ve just wrecked his good work by explaining that). I was tempted to reply: ‘A ginger-haired man with a red face and a drink problem’, but, older and wiser, I walked on silently at an unaltered pace, eyes to the floor.

Fortunately, this man was so drunk that he had already forgotten why he was complaining before the ululation had left his lips. My head remained unkicked, though I slept alone.

The moral of these stories is that wry humour is a dangerous weapon and you must only laugh if you’re sexually desperate.

And if you think this week’s column was laugh-free, then I did that deliberately to protect you from that lout sitting opposite you… Don’t look, you idiot.

Richard Herring is currently touring Britain with his show, What Is Love, Anyway?

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