The Loneliness of the Long Distance Punner

Paris, Milan, Keswick and Hull - the glamour of being a comedian on tour

I am just about to embark on an international stand-up tour which will keep me busy until June 11th. It is a slightly surreal itinerary, which sees me playing Hull one day, then Paris the next, then Milan, then Keswick. It’s as if someone wants to give me the illusion of having a glamorous life, but then bring me crashing down to earth. Not wishing to be rude to the people of Keswick. But all you have is a Pencil Museum, which is hardly a match for La Scala Opera House or the Eiffel Tower is it? And I really, really like pencils. A lot.

My show is called ménage à un and is loosely themed around the subjects of loneliness, only-ness and Onanism. But I felt it was quite an apt title in any case, as stand-up is surely the most solitary and masturbatory of art forms. Each night I stand isolated in a spot light, vigorously massaging my organ (in this case my brain), then shooting my brackish ideas over the audience’s delighted and sometimes less delighted faces (not everyone enjoys their face dripping with unsavoury ideas).

And just like such a one sided sex act, it can seem like such a good idea at the time – while it’s actually happening you’re both up for it - but once it is over, you catch each other’s eye as if to say, “What the Hell was that about? What were we thinking? Why did we both willingly and enthusiastically put ourselves through that ordeal?” And then you slink off separately into the night, feeling nothing but shame and confusion, vowing you will never see each other again, but secretly hoping you will accidentally meet in another dark room and repeat the whole sordid scenario. Only then can a comedian feel he has really earned his money.

I think people might imagine that a stand up on tour must have the most wonderful and gregarious of lives: working for an hour a day, then getting pissed, taking the finest drugs and sleeping with a string of nubile groupies. But in reality this kind of thing only happens about 97% of the time. And it does not make up for that yawning 3% chasm in which we are a secluded breed of unloved outcasts.

If a gig goes badly, there is the mortifying walk of shame, through the throng of disappointed punters, before you are swallowed by the night and make your way anonymously back to your hotel where you sit alone in your room attempting to pleasure yourself to the poor quality soft pornography, laid on for sexually unambitious businessmen.

If the gig goes brilliantly, it is even worse. You have wowed a room of people, you are literally a god to them. But when you return to their earthly realm, real life seems monochrome by comparison. The company of such tedious mortals is not something that you crave. So you head to your hotel alone again, contemplating the fact that the fleeting adoration of a room of drunken idiots is probably no substitute for the true love of a devoted wife or the unconditional devotion of a tiny child. Then you drink yourself into oblivion before inevitably tuning into Lusty Asians VIII and allow the night to come full circle.

Of course, I am jesting. It is my job. You must never take anything I say seriously. Though you must always suspect that in everything I say there is some grain of truth. Imagine what fun it must be being my girlfriend. No wonder I am alone.

But in reality I am not as downhearted as I might seem. I love this ridiculous and wonderful (I almost baulk at calling it this) job.

It is the autonomy of stand up that makes it such a brilliant, unique and exciting medium for the communication of ideas. There is no-one telling you what you must do, no producer telling you what you can or can’t say, no executive suggesting you try to appeal to a certain demographic, no actors to misinterpret what you had to say. It is just you on your own, doing the stuff that you think is funny. It is possibly the last pure art form.

In ménage à un, I mourn the fact that I have lived for nearly 40 years and yet never taken part in a threesome. I thought that by drawing attention to this in the show I might persuade a couple of young ladies in the audience to take pity on me and make my fantasies come true. But after over fifty performances I have lowered my expectations. For a while I just hoped my desperation might lead to a twosome, but if it ever has done then I was not involved. So recently I have taken to asking any single men in the crowd if they are prepared to come back to my hotel room and pleasure themselves next to me, so that at least I won't be alone.

Who says comedy is the new rock and roll?

Richard Herring began writing and performing comedy when he was 14. His career since Oxford has included a successful partnership with Stewart Lee and his hit one-man show Talking Cock
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The struggles of Huma Abedin

On the behind-the-scenes story of Hillary Clinton’s closest aide.

In a dreary campaign, it was a moment that shone: Hillary Clinton, on the road to the caucus in Iowa, stopping at a Mexican fast-food restaurant to eat and somehow passing unrecognised. Americans of all political persuasions gleefully speculated over what her order – a chicken burrito bowl with guacamole – revealed about her frame of mind, while supporters gloated that the grainy security-camera footage seemed to show Clinton with her wallet out, paying for her own lunch. Here was not the former first lady, senator and secretary of state, known to people all over the world. This was someone’s unassuming grandmother, getting some food with her colleagues.

It might be unheard of for Clinton to go unrecognised but, for the woman next to her at the till, blending into the background is part of the job. Huma Abedin, often referred to as Clinton’s “shadow” by the US media, is now the vice-chair of her presidential campaign. She was Clinton’s deputy chief of staff at the state department and has been a personal aide since the late 1990s.

Abedin first met Clinton in 1996 when she was 19 and an intern at the White House, assigned to the first lady’s office. She was born in Michigan in 1976 to an Indian father and a Pakistani mother. When Abedin was two, they moved from the US to Saudi Arabia. She returned when she was 18 to study at George Washington University in Washington, DC. Her father was an Islamic scholar who specialised in interfaith reconciliation – he died when she was 17 – and her mother is a professor of sociology.

While the role of “political body woman” may once have been a kind of modern maid, there to provide a close physical presence and to juggle the luggage and logistics, this is no longer the case. During almost 20 years at Clinton’s side, Abedin has advised her boss on everything from how to set up a fax machine – “Just pick up the phone and hang it up. And leave it hung up” – to policy on the Middle East. When thousands of Clinton’s emails were made public (because she had used a private, rather than a government, server for official communication), we glimpsed just how close they are. In an email from 2009, Clinton tells her aide: “Just knock on the door to the bedroom if it’s closed.”

Abedin shares something else with Clinton, outside of their professional ties. They are both political wives who have weathered their husbands’ scandals. In what felt like a Lewinsky affair for the digital age, in 2011, Abedin’s congressman husband, Anthony Weiner, resigned from office after it emerged that he had shared pictures of his genitals with strangers on social media. A second similar scandal then destroyed his attempt to be elected mayor of New York in 2013. In an ironic twist, it was Bill Clinton who officiated at Abedin’s and Weiner’s wedding in 2010. At the time, Hillary is reported to have said: “I have one daughter. But if I had a second daughter, it would [be] Huma.” Like her boss, Abedin stood by her husband and now Weiner is a house husband, caring for their four-year-old son, Jordan, while his wife is on the road.

Ellie Foreman-Peck

A documentary filmed during Weiner’s abortive mayoral campaign has just been released in the US. Weiner shows Abedin at her husband’s side, curtailing his more chaotic tendencies, always flawless with her red lipstick in place. Speaking to the New York Observer in 2007, three years before their marriage, Weiner said of his future wife: “This notion that Senator Clinton is a cool customer – I mean, I don’t dispute it, but the coolest customer in that whole operation is Huma . . . In fact, I think there’s some dispute as to whether Huma’s actually human.” In the film, watching her preternatural calm under extraordinary pressure, you can see what he means.

In recent months, Abedin’s role has changed. She is still to be found at Clinton’s side – as the burrito photo showed – but she is gradually taking a more visible role in the organisation overall, as they pivot away from the primaries to focus on the national race. She meets with potential donors and endorsers on Clinton’s behalf and sets strategy. When a running mate is chosen, you can be sure that Abedin will have had her say on who it is. There’s a grim symmetry to the way politics looks in the US now: on one side, the Republican candidate Donald Trump is calling for a ban on Muslims entering the country; on the other, the presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton relies ever more on her long-time Muslim-American staffer.

Years before Trump, notable Republicans were trying to make unpleasant capital out of Abedin’s background. In 2012, Tea Party supporters alleged that she was linked to the Muslim Brotherhood and its attempt to gain access “to top Obama officials”. In her rare interviews, Abedin has spoken of how hurtful these baseless statements were to her family – her mother still lives in Saudi Arabia. Later, the senator and former Republican presidential candidate John McCain spoke up for her, saying that Abedin represented “what is best about America”.

Whether senior figures in his party would do the same now remains to be seen.

Caroline Crampton is web editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 26 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit odd squad