Metro 65

Richard Herring: ItÂ’s time to consider death but why so grim, Reaper?

Friday 24 May 2013

Our columnist goes to the dark side to take on the thorny issue of death.

I’ve been travelling the country showing people my Cock since February, but now there are only a few more dates to go (I am getting it out in the open air in Regent’s Park on Sunday – I hope I don’t get arrested). But there’s no time to relax once my penis-based work is done because I have to write a brand new hour of jokes by August for the Edinburgh Fringe.

Having covered religion, politics, love and meat missiles, this time I am exploring that undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveller returns (apart from Jesus, Lazarus and that bloke with the canoe) – Death.

ItÂ’s not that I actively seek out taboo subjects (well maybe a little bit). I am just fascinated by those issues that people are reluctant to discuss openly or think we shouldnÂ’t joke about. Death is one of the few universal experiences for every human being (and ant, tree, okapi, amoeba and childhood dream) and yet itÂ’s one (like the penis) that is shrouded in euphemism, mystery and terrified awe. Why shouldnÂ’t we discuss and laugh about this inevitability while our hearts still beat and our jaws are still attached?

I want to come at kicking the bucket from the perspective of someone who is not (to my knowledge) dying (I am pretty certain that I am immortal and seem to be proving that one breath at a time). If I do peg it before August, I have asked that my body be frozen and then placed on stage for people to gawp at, which I suspect will sell more tickets and have more to say about snuffing it than I could manage alive.

It’s very hard to contemplate your own death. First of all, imagine there’s no Heaven (it’s easy if you try) and that when you die, you’re dead (as seems most likely and indeed reassuring to me – do you really want to live for eternity?).

But try to visualise non-existence. WhatÂ’s it like? ItÂ’s cold, dark and silent. ThereÂ’s nothing. Nothing at all. You canÂ’t see or smell or taste anything. Also, youÂ’re not there. Can you contemplate the total absence of yourself? Go on, tryÂ… noÂ… youÂ’re still there, arenÂ’t you?

This should be easy: itÂ’s something you experienced for the first 13 billion years of the universe and yet the prospect of returning to that state of nothingness is unimaginable and fills us with fear.

An individual death is rarely funny, or worth orchestrating a campaign to get a novelty song with an unpleasant association to No. 1 in the charts, but the subject is still ripe for humour. Possibly a bit over-ripe. Actually, itÂ’s gone off a bit, hasnÂ’t it?

Laughing at what we fear takes away at least some of its power. Of course it sucks when people we love cease to be and itÂ’s obviously not that exciting a prospect that one day Death will finger us (especially given the icy nature of his perilous digits), but letÂ’s not be solemn about it. We will stop laughing when we die, letÂ’s not stop laughing while weÂ’re alive.

The show is called WeÂ’re All Going To Die! That can be a panic-inducing and terrifying scream, a blank statement of fact or a calming reassurance. Death is going to happen to all of us, letÂ’s accept it, try to stave it off for as long as possible and enjoy this precious and brief flash of light before the blessed relief of failing to exist and no longer having to worry about whose turn it is to buy the milk.

Richard Herring brings Talking Cock to the RegentÂ’s Park Open Air Theatre on Sunday. For tickets, go to