My wife, Catie [Wilkins], and I really like old houses. Our semi-detached was originally built in 1702 and is grade II listed. We also happened to be househunting one particularly cold Christmas and the first room we saw had a little snug with a large fireplace. The house has been various things over the years, including a doctor’s surgery, a fire station and a tannery. We wanted a characterful house but also somewhere that would enable us to work from home.
I spend it working on my podcasts. I have quite a few. My Leicester Square Theatre Podcast features me chatting to comedians on stage. One of my biggest coups was getting Stephen Fry to come on. It even made headlines in Australia because he revealed that he’d attempted suicide the previous year as a result of his manic depression.
I also do a book club version where I interview household names about their latest books. I have another where I play snooker against myself and commentate on it. Oh, and I do a podcast where I clear stones off a nearby field in an attempt to create a wall that’s visible from space. It’s both an art project and a parody of the boringness of podcasts. Some people use it to go to sleep.
In early 2021 I was diagnosed with cancer. A scan revealed there was something quite big in my testicle that wasn’t my testicle. I’d been obsessed with masculinity and genitalia my whole life so it seemed like some sort of punishment. Before my tears had even dried, I was working on which passwords and instructions I needed to pass on to Catie. She had no idea how to do the bins. I was determined that my dishwasher skills would not die with me.
I remember at the start of the pandemic thinking this would be a pretty bad time to get cancer, but the NHS was amazing. I had chemotherapy and it worked out OK. On the whole it has been a positive experience because, apart from the one obvious negative, it sharpens your mind.
We moved to a 1950s bungalow in Cheddar, Somerset, when I was eight. My parents were married just before the 1960s and missed out on the Summer of Love. Coming from lower-middle-class roots in Middlesbrough, they wanted to make sure that me and my two elder siblings worked hard at school and were very polite. They were stricter than most parents, but they are good people — community and church-minded. Dad was headmaster at my school; Mum taught me in another school. Luckily my dad was reasonably popular so I wasn’t bullied.
Ally and Sally, two ventriloquist’s dummies made by my great-grandad Thomas. They’re named after a popular Victorian comic strip character called Ally Sloper and he used them to pass on Methodism to children. Ally is a papier-mâché horror with a red nose. When you pull a string the back of his hair shoots up. I used him in my first Edinburgh Fringe show. I’ve grown quite good at ventriloquism — Nina Conti has given me tips. Sometimes I ask Ally a question and he knows the answer. Or I make a mistake and the puppet corrects me.
Can I Have My Ball Back? A Memoir of Masculinity and My Right Testicle by Richard Herring is published by Sphere at £20