The Collings and Herrin Podcast
“Opposition is true friendship.”
Over the last couple of years, podcasts have come to represent my main source of audio-visual entertainment. There are many fine examples of this relatively new form of media, but my personal favourite is the Collings and Herrin Podcast.
What is Collings and Herrin? Well, imagine an anthropology experiment gone horribly, horribly wrong. Or a hostage situation where the only survivor is desperately trying to appease his captor, who is all the time waving a gun around and calling his captive a fucking idiot. Imagine all that and you have some sense of the Collings and Herrin Podcast at its most gleefully vitriolic and childish. It is all done for comic effect and works brilliantly, regularly rendering me helpless with laughter. It is not for the faint hearted or the easily offended, but for a small band of us in the know the sight of a new episode downloading to iTunes is the highlight of the week. Which probably speaks as much about our sad little lives as it does the quality of the show, but bear with me.
The format is simple: Stand up comedian Richard Herring sits in his attic with the broadcaster and film editor of the Radio Times, Andrew Collins, and they talk, with no script and a minimal amount of planning, for roughly an hour about everything and nothing and then publish the results as an audio file, free to download later that day. And that’s it.
So what’s all the fuss about? Well, partly it’s their dedication to the project. While other podcasters have fallen by the wayside due to inertia or working commitments, the Collings and Herrin Podcast has been broadcast weekly, virtually uninterrupted, for over three years. Even when one or both of them is unavailable one week (usually due to Richard being on tour), they have recorded extra episodes to fill the gap. Also, at recent Edinburgh Festival’s they have performed increasingly more and more live episodes, last year doing a total of ten over a two week period. That’s the kind of obsession I can get behind.
There’s more. I’ve been thinking about dedicating one of these appreciation pieces to Collings and Herrin for some time and so as first step I went back and listened to the entire run from the beginning. My day job involves writing reports for an Ombudsman. It’s the kind of thing I can do in my sleep and listening to Herrin berate Collings for his belief in homeopathy broke up the day. Having been back through the entire run, I would firstly advise new listeners to stick with it. The initial half a dozen episodes are a little ropey, with some sound issues, as well as the usual problems that any new show has as it beds in and tries to find its feet. Also, it takes some time for Richard Herring’s alter ego, Richard Herrin, to emerge, with his unerring ability to say the most inappropriate thing at the most inappropriate time. However (and I’m sure Andrew won’t thank me for saying this), by the time Herrin first calls Collings mum, ‘a fucking idiot’, you realise that you are listening to something rather special.
You see, the role of the true comedian is to exist on the fringes of society, testing its limits and advancing its boundaries. The best comedians, from Linda Smith to Jerry Sadowitz, have always been the ones that serve as an observer, looking from the outside in. Of course best doesn’t necessarily mean most successful and in many ways mainstream acceptance is the death of comedic creativity (I’d take Daniel Kitson and Simon Munnery over a post-Thatcher Ben Elton any day). A truly great comedian doesn’t just go on stage and make glib statements like, ‘Hey, have you ever noticed X? Isn’t it funny when that happens and aren’t I hilarious for noticing the same thing as you and saying it out loud?’ A truly great comedian stands on stage and says, ‘Hey, have you ever noticed X? Isn’t the world insane? We should do something about that. In the meantime, let’s laugh about it and the world might seem a little brighter’. Success doesn’t always kill good comedy. Yet when you compare the rhythmic and lyrical genius of just about any classic Bill Hicks routine to the sight of Peter Kay wallowing in the stagnant, fetid stench of his own shit observations, you see that the correlation generally holds true.
By extension, Richard Herring is one of the finest and hard working comedians currently on the circuit. If you’ve ever seen one of his shows, you will have seen a man who through over twenty years of performing is Hicksian in his timing and ease with an audience. In fact, along with his former comedy partner, Stewart Lee, he embodies the true ethos of Hicks’s comedy. And in the guise of his podcast alter ego, Herring channels the spirit of Bill’s own alter ego, Pan the Goat Boy, with his continual pleading to Andrew to let him bum him, fantasies of fucking Jesus in the stigmata (and being cock slapped by the selfsame Messiah), and arbitrarily deciding which side is right in most of today's major world conflicts. It doesn’t always make for comfortable listening and if you allow yourself to be offended by it, you will be without any difficulty. Richard says that he doesn’t often listen back to the recordings, preferring them to exist in the moment. It’s also the best way to listen: Make a drink, give the moral centres of your brain an hour off, and just go with it. And as you howl with laughter, unburden yourself of some of the cultural baggage which restricts the ability to form an objective assessment of the world. Laughter is to fear as reason is to knee jerk reaction.
Yet it takes two to make a successful partnership and while Andrew may often play Herrin’s straight man, feeding him stories and taking the brunt of a tirade issued in response to something he has said or done, Collins is also a very funny man in his own right. His Free Fringe show, ‘Secret Dancing’, is bloody good and it is a pity that Andrew has said that it will be his one and only stand up show, because for a first effort it is exceptional (the DVD is available at www.gofasterstripe.com, as are all of Richard Herring’s recent shows, as well as one-off Collings and Herrin recordings). Andrew is a regular co-writer with Lee Mack on his acclaimed BBC1 sitcom, 'Not Going Out', and you will often find during live podcasts that it is something Collings has said that gets the biggest laugh (audiences are also prone to booing him for some mildly offensive thing he has said, one of the podcast’s many running jokes). There are no passengers here.
And there is still more, because I was only half joking when I described the podcast as an anthropology experiment gone wrong. It is also a chronicle of our times. Since it started, we have seen the Cumbrian shootings and the death of Michael Jackson; the first hung parliament in a generation and the days of stalemate that followed. We have also seen the BNP gain seats in Europe and their leader appear on the most anticipated edition of ‘Question Time’ since its inception. And each of these events has been given the Collings and Herrin treatment. In fact, it’s amazing to listen back to the entire run and hear the idea for Herring’s anti-fascist show, ‘Hitler Moustache’, almost spontaneously appear during one episode. The idea of growing a Hitler moustache is muted by Richard one week and by the following week it has became the basis for his new Edinburgh show.
But there is also the meta-experiment, because the Collins and Herring Podcast is a record of itself: A small internet community, gathered around one central focus, self-funded, profile-raising and autonomous. But maybe that’s just me, because small internet communities fascinate me, as they seem a good model for the future, with more people likely to become self-employed, working from home (in a return to the pre-industrial model) via the internet. And as the office is worker is decamped and sent home, these small internet communities may just take on greater social significance.
You get some idea of that significance when you consider the podcast’s own brief and abstract chronicle, from its early beginnings, reviewing the Friday papers, mocking John Gaunt’s right wing comments in The Sun (and attracting his attention), to tales of the Mitford Sisters and the theft of an iPhone. A rhino-not-for-sale sign has not been for sale, Andrew has abandoned his Sisyphean attempt to remove graffiti from the toilets in the British Library, and Richard has offered to call any of your friends cunts for a small donation. It has even seen one dedicated fan, Tina Wiseman, die at a tragically young age and I think it is a testament to the podcast that her death affected so many people at the time, even those of us who never met her. Because the real tale of the first hundred and eighty odd episodes of the Collings and Herrin Podcast is the birth and evolution of a friendship. Two men who had been colleagues in the past, became partners through necessity and friends through opposition. And above all else it is the development and the transformation of that friendship, as heard over an hour a week, which continues to fascinate me.
If you’ve been affected or offended by anything in this article, then the Collings and Herrin Podcast probably isn’t for you. Don’t worry about it, the world is an enormous place and there are plenty of other spaces to hang out. Yet its improvisational and iconoclastic style are endearing enough for a virtual community, a model village for the future, to have sprung up around it. Come on in, if you dare.