I News interview about my bollocks

Richard Herring: I had my testicle cut off – men faint when I talk about it

Read here - https://inews.co.uk/inews-lifestyle/richard-herring-testicle-cut-off-men-faint-talk-3035969

"Men are very protective of that area," says the comedian, having recovered from testicular cancer. "It taps into man’s biggest fear, and the vulnerability of it all"

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By Kasia Delgado

May 3, 2024 10:00 am(Updated 10:20 am)

If someone had asked Richard Herring in his 20s whether in theory he’d rather lose his genitals, or die, he’d have probably chosen death. “My genitals were much more important to me then,” he says, “I’d have worried about sexual function, and what it might do to my life, what guys in the changing room might say.” 

Yet when a doctor told the comedian aged 53, that because had testicular cancer they’d be removing one of his balls, he didn’t actually mind too much. “I wasn’t yelling ‘hurrah!’, but I was so worried about dying, more than anything, that I just wanted the cancer gone. I think when the oncologist told me about the operation, she expected me to be more upset, but the tumour was six centimetres already – bigger than the testicle itself – and I just wanted to stay alive.”

Instead of fear, he says he felt an intense sense of relief as he floated away under the general anaesthetic; when he had first got the call confirming that he had cancer, he’d heard his two-year-old son laughing in the next room, and thought, “oh my god, he’s not going to remember me, I’m going to be dead in two months.” Herring cried, and he felt anger, too. “About them not having a dad, how it would affect them, and then my own anger that I’d put so much work in and they wouldn’t know who I was… I also thought that it might be better if I died straight away, the kids would be so young it might affect them less.” 

This was in 2021, during lockdown, and he went into overdrive, attempting to make as many memories for his children as he could. “A lot of my trying to create these magical moments actually went a bit wrong, because the magical memories actually come when you’re not trying, but it was all very profound to me, and everything came into sharp focus. 

“I’ve thought about death a lot since I was a little kid, but in that moment I understood what I might mean. I just suddenly knew what was important, and it wasn’t my testicle.” 

He had wondered about how his sex and hormone levels may be affected, but says that’s all been ok for him. Following the operation, and a course of chemotherapy, Herring no longer has testicular cancer – a type, which he has since learnt and rather wishes he’d known sooner – has a very high survival rate. If caught before it has spread, nearly all men survive.

It seems like a strange twist of fate that the stand-up comedian and writer, who lives in Hertfordshire with his wife and two children, would have ended up losing a testicle, given that he’s previously done an entire show about male genitalia called Talking Cock and has written a book called The Problem with Men, about masculinity. 

“The balls are often seen as the centre of being a man,” he says. “I got a tweet the other day from a guy who’d been to the doctor and found out he had testicular cancer, who said that having his ball taken off had made him feel like half a man, but at least he’d see his kids grow up. The idea that you’d feel half a man is really indicative of male fragility, and the male psyche, and that the weakest part of men’s bodies is the thing they try to pretend is the strongest. 

“I find it interesting, with all the debates around gender, that actually I don’t feel any different in myself for having one less testicle, and even if I had both taken off, I’d still feel like a man inside. Then again, I’m not a big tough guy, and also I’m in my 50s, I already have two children.” Then, he adds, jokingly, “And, actually, my wife was suggesting we have a third child, so having my genitals gone might have been helpful for me…take my balls off, please!”

The testicle-removal has been a part of Herring’s latest standup show Can I Have My Ball Back?, in which he talks about the doctor explaining to him how he’s going to do the operation. But an odd thing has begun to happen, about five minutes after he tells the story. “About six men have fainted during the 15 or so shows I’ve done so far,” he says, “and the first time we called an ambulance because we thought the guy was having a stroke. 

“It’s not that graphic but do I mention them cutting a hole in your stomach, and then squeezing the ball through the hole, and then I talk about them asking whether I want general or local anaesthetic, and I say, well, I’d love a local because then I can watch my own testicle popping out of my stomach. It’s a joke [he had general] but it obviously brings to mind the idea of being semi-castrated. I don’t even think it’s the detail, it’s more the very idea of something happening to their genitals. Men are very protective of that area, and it taps into man’s biggest fear, and the vulnerability of it all. You know what, though? This is the one time when it’s a positive to have external testicles because they’re not in your body, so unless the cancer has already spread, them being on the outside makes it easier to get rid of, and makes it a more treatable illness.”

Catching it early, though, is the key, but Herring is like many men who put off going to the doctor. “I noticed there was a heaviness in my balls, and it felt odd, but I didn’t go and get checked straight away, I didn’t want to waste NHS time, and because it was Covid I thought what a terrible time it would be to get cancer. I also figured that nobody in my family’s ever had this and they all lived a relatively long time, so I foolishly thought I was saved from this sort of thing. 

“I didn’t talk to my wife about it, either. Then I was away on an acting job in Wales, and I remember feeling like something is definitely wrong, so when I got home I told my wife and she convinced me that I definitely needed to see someone. I rang the GP, and they saw me within 36 hours.” 

Since talking openly about his experience, men have got in touch to say that they, too, have had their testicles removed, or that his story has made them go and get checked. “The important thing is to know yourself,” he says, “and once a month or so, just feel yourself and check for any changes. It’s scary, and I completely understand why people don’t do it, partly because of the embarrassment of knowing there’s going to be a someone in a white coat feeling your testicles, but it’s worth the 30 seconds of discomfort, because it’s really unlikely to be cancer, and if it is, you can get something done. I think that living with the fear of it being cancer is worse than the reality of having it.” 

Herring, while in the clear at the moment, is hyperfocused on his remaining testicle, and does worry about his health. He has since got fitter, and has found himself working less, and spending more time “having fun” both with his family, and on his own. “I was also very aware that when I was having chemo, I was surrounded by people of all ages, some with possibly fatal cancer, and so sometimes I find it hard to process that I’ve even had cancer, and it’s more like I’ve dabbled in it. But it did make me think, well, if this doesn’t kill me, then something else will, so I’d better have a nice time.” 

And, of course, because Herring is a stand-up comic, he can’t help but see the absurdity in even the scariest of moments. “When I was having my CT scan for testicular cancer, I noticed that the machine was made by Siemens. That kept my mind occupied for quite some time.”

Richard Herring’s new stand-up show Can I Have My Ball Back? is now on its UK tour. Information and tickets her