As this book is entirely based on stories about, uses of and views on the spam javelin, I am aware that in many instances in this review I will have to use discreet language; this is made more simple, and hopefully more enjoyable, by the extensive amount of euphemisms Richard provides within his text, including the bald-headed mouse, Jack the Dripper and the Russell the fur-faced chicken. As Dooyoo were quick to honour my product suggestion of this title I will endeavour to provide a review that is light on obscenity, but considering the subject matter (thats penises) I cant make any stiff promises.
Your first impression of a man in his late thirties who writes a show and book about old Spurt Reynolds may be unfavourable, but Richard Herring is a perfectly normal and very funny man whose in-depth research stemmed from an interest in mens feelings about themselves and their place in society in relation to their penises, rather than an interest in looking at loads of willies. (According to the author, many of the disturbing images he subjected himself to will probably scar him for life).
Richard Herring has performed at the Edinburgh Fringe as comedian and playwright for over fifteen years, and his show Talking Cock was performed in a number of venues, and translated into a number of foreign languages, between 2002 and 2004. In the 90s, Richard was best known for his television work as half of the Lee and Herring double act, in which he played the part of Herring, in the shows Fist of Fun and This Morning with Richard, Not Judy, and he was also the primary writer of the sitcom Time Gentlemen Please starring Al Murray.
Talking Cock has been his most successful Edinburgh show, following his earlier instalments such as 2001s Christ on a Bike and 1994s Richard Herring is Fat, and its conversion to book format is his first printed work, something he is unsure whether his parents will be proud of. The comedian/playwright/writer is currently in the process of completing twelve impossible tasks for his new show at Edinburgh in the summer, The Twelve Tasks of Hercules Terrace. He has already run the Marathon and is over halfway through his fifty dates in fifty nights, but his intrusive and very funny daily journal goes into much more detail than I could, over at www.richardherring.com.
A VAGINA MONOLOGUE WITH BALLS
Talking Cock is a large format paperback and is the kind of book that it is easy to get the wrong impression of. Its not, as Im sure many casual browsers in W.H. Smith have mistaken it for, a collection of hilarious knob gags or a load of pictures of naked men, its much more than that. Although it is that a little bit.
The genesis of the idea, described in the introduction, came when the author was preparing for his performances of Christ on a Bike in 2001, and heard the huge response to the popular anti-masculine show (I hesitate to describe it as feminist
although it was really), The Vagina Monologues. One of his female friends told him he should do something similar about the limbless Chihuahua, and once Richard began to think about this, his new show idea was in progress. He felt there was a genuine need to discover, and inform others about, how men genuinely felt about themselves and their manhoods:
Despite mens constant prick-shtick, we actually say very, very little. And of that very, very little, only a minute proportion of our comments are in any way serious. Can you imagine a man discussing the subject seriously?
Fellas, can we all just stop singing rugby songs for a moment. I want to talk to you about my ongoing struggle with erectile dysfunction.
It would make him a laughing stock. Moreover, it would make him a laughing stock, who obviously had a tiny cock.
Its easy to understand the authors motivations in performing and later writing about the issues he chooses to, and the end result is informative, witty, reassuring, disturbing, silly, painful and heartwarming. Although on more than several occasions, Richard Herring has to reiterate that he is not obsessed with cocks.
LAYOUT & STYLE
The 300-page book is divided into twelve sections, all covering different aspects of the sergeant with one blue stripe who loves to stand to attention. All of these are very interesting and written in a very enjoyable way, even the more sombre topics being handled in a positive way. A large part of the Talking Cock stage show was based on results from a questionnaire set up on the shows website, exploring every angle of the dangle that the author considered important to build up a profile. Although the show has been put to rest now, the questionnaire is still open for any interested men and women at www.talkingcock.co.uk.
The results of specific questions provide a foundation for a lot of the chapters, and also lead to a number of side sections littered throughout the book, providing humorous or interesting information that may not have been suited to inclusion in a chapter. This extends to Cock Facts and the occasional Cock Stat at the top or bottom of pages, making for an informal read and a pleasant, temporary diversion.
As mentioned earlier, the humour aspect is fairly continuous throughout the book, but it doesnt make light of the subject matter. The fact that some chapters focus on debatable and sometimes depressing topics such as failure to perform and involuntary circumcision means that people will likely enjoy some chapters more than others in fact, fans of travel humour authors such as Tony Hawks and Dave Gorman will likely find Richards detailed tale of his visit to the Iceland Phallological Museum in chapter 8 of particular interest but its a great read and a humorous roller coaster ride (probably penis-shaped) from start to finish.
The afore-mentioned twelve chapters cover all aspects of the penis story that Richard Herring considers important:
1. Never Mind the Bol***s
Heres the Sex Pistol!
This introductory view of the organ in its literal sense (and shape), featuring a definitive update of that insensitive and unimaginative cross section diagram everyone had to learn in school, featuring new names that describe it much more memorably. Results of the website questionnaire also provide some merriment in terms of unusually shaped penises, and Richard draws particular attention to the response that best describes his feelings towards the sex pistol: Ive never seen a usual penis.
2. The History of Mr. Jolly
A historical look at the way different cultures and religions have regarded the penis, saluting the hedonistic and liberal Iron Age Britons for depicting the Cerne Abbas Giant (which you may know as the Rude Man carved into the Dorset hillside, the cover star of this book), and paying special tribute to the Sumerian God Enki who, after spreading his own seed on the ground to create life, proclaimed let now my penis be praised. A more critical opinion is given to Middle-Age Christianity and its often absurd laws regarding the use of mans manhood, providing a wide sheath of information on the subject.
3. From Tiny Acorns
A very light-hearted chapter concerning mens childhoods, and how this can affect their impressions of what is considered right. Stories of people hiding lego bricks inside their anatomy and parading round in the flesh are given alongside teenage experiences and the authors own (albeit exaggerated) childhoos memories of bathing with his father and being impressed by a noticeable size difference between his member and what appeared to be a Cock Ness Monster.
4. The First Cut is the Deepest
Beginning with a statistic that roughly one in five men (700 million worldwide) undergo a circumcision procedure at some point in their lives, this chapter examines peoples personal experiences as told in the questionnaire to judge whether such operations are necessary. The general conclusions are that there certainly are advantages and problems on both sides of the toss, and this is handled in a very sensitive and fulfilling manner.
5. Shaking Hands with the Unemployed
In case that euphemism left you wondering, this chapter focuses on what is often called Onanism, or alternatively shaking hands with the Governor of Love. Statistics and some very funny stories are provided, as well as information on how such practices have been viewed over the years by different cultures; there is even an interesting note on the reason Cornflakes were apparently designed to taste so bland when originally introduced, the author suggesting a new advertising slogan of Kelloggs Corn Flakes. The one thing guaranteed to get you down in the morning. A very enjoyable and harmless practice
I mean chapter.
6. Men Will F*** Mud
One of the killer sections, this has some excellent personal tales from men who have gone to great lengths to get their end away, leaving any female readers who are cautious about their appearance that there is no need to worry; just ask the jelly toilet roll bloke. (Obviously all questionnaire results are anonymous). There are also some statistics on rather unsavoury practices that, try as I might, I could not even mention in this review; youll have to check them out for yourselves.
7. The Naughty Nazi Salute
Erectile dysfunction, and its opposite, have long been a source of amusement and criticism, despite the fact that such problems are deeply personal and potentially upsetting. As well as judging the equipment and products available to treat such conditions, this chapter also points out that sensitivity and care must always be shown. Very touching.
8. Let Now the Penis Be Praised
Richard takes the readers aside here to discuss his own problems with spending a year researching penises; that would freak anyone out. He needed to find a kindred spirit, and after deciding that Cynthia Plaster-Caster, the woman famous for making plaster casts of rock band members members, was too motivated by sexual goals (how disappointing), he found himself visiting the Icelandic Phallological Museum to see the largest collection of animal penises in the world, owned and maintained by a man who must at least be a little obsessed with cocks. An infamous womaniser has already donated his penis following his death, so visit at your peril. Im not going.
9. Prick My Prick: Does it Not Bleed?
Those of a nervous disposition may like to skip this chapter. Seriously, I mean it. So begins the most psychologically painful chapter, discussing the fragility of the penis and many popular ways for it to be damaged. Special note is given to the famous case of John Wayne Bobbitt (you know, the quite nasty man who some say deserved to have his penis cut off by his wife and thrown from a moving vehicle), as well as the results of the question posed as to whether men would rather lose their eyes or their legs, or their genitals.
10. I Dont Use it as a Rule
Yes, this is the inevitable chapter and quite a substantial one, concerning that age-old question of whether size is important. Plenty of statistics and personal stories could put even the least secure man at ease, and the ultimate moral is that its the man attacked to it thats the most important size is certainly no guarantee.
11. Brains in Their Y-Fronts?
This chapter tackles the long-held view by some people that men only think with their John Thomas (or whatever pet name they like to use), and points out that in many cases it is true. Even the author himself admits to situations in which his primal desire to spread his seed as far as possible has overwritten his better judgement, but it also shows that many men can be considerate and caring. Right on, brother.
12. Filling the Unforgiving Minute
A concluding chapter that provides some answers for the questions how do you feel to be a man? and what do you think a man is? The inclusion of the authors own dream involving penis enlargement is also a very nice addition, as it proves that no matter how satisfied or well-read a man is on statistics and averages, he will always want to be more.
It may be blindingly obvious that I worship at the Church of Richard Herring and have done since his television days, but this is a genuinely enjoyable book that acts as a great gift for any man or woman with a sense of humour, who dont mind reading about willies. There are mixed reviews on sites such as Amazon as to the need for such a book, but most are overwhelmingly positive; after all, most people need to be reassured every once in a while, and combining it with a comedy book makes it a great read that can be easily dipped in and out of at leisure. In any case, I hope this review has provided a clear impression of whether you would really like or loathe this publication.
It would be impossible to hate such an everyman as Richard Herring, even if his tales of desperation and worry during his research for the book do provide you with some inevitable laughs at his expense, but this book takes a completely open perspective on every subject it covers, involving the voices of men and women of varying sexual preferences and races. The warning label on the front stating Warning: may include knob gags is a little deceptive, as this is much more than the trashy cash-in it could have been. Funny, interesting and honest, this should surely be taught in schools as opposed to the impersonal perspective given by chapter seven of the science textbook. You know, the chapter it always falls open at.
This book makes men feel proud about their appendage, and while it is obviously geared more towards male readers it never seeks to exclude women in the way 'The Vagina Monologues' ridiculed men. At the end, the author attempts to persuade every male reader to say "I love my cock!", and for their female or male sexual partners to proclaim this when next they encounter it in all its morning glory.
And when I bought it in W.H. Smith, the nice young lady at the till took some time examining the cover and blurb before saying, interesting book. This one turns heads.
Publisher: Ebury Press
Amazon price: £6.99