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17 June 2008updated 27 Sep 2015 2:30am

Signing Herring’s filth

The comedy that can be had when someone signs your gig...

By Richard Herring

Last week I did a stand up gig promoting SCOPE’s Time To Get Equal Week (it is now no longer Time To Get Equal Week, but I’d like to think this is a cause worth supporting all the year round). As usual with these SCOPE things I got much more out of it than I gave. It was a terrifically fun gig for me. I had been a bit worried about it beforehand. My material is generally a little bit rude and this was going to be an audience who weren’t coming to see me specifically and I didn’t want to cause offence. Also I was the only “not yet disabled” act on the bill – I did point out I am emotionally disabled, though I am not sure people like me are included in the plans to get equality for all. Also I have the disability of being an arsehole, a group of people who also have no rights. Once we’re sorted out equal rights for the physically disabled, then I think we should move on to the emotionally and socially challenged. As always, I am only helping out at this stage because I anticipate I will get something out of it later. Even if that means marrying Paul McCartney – which I would only do so that I would have a platform for all my secret charity work that I don’t like to talk about.

Because the Time To Get Equal campaign is about getting equal rights for all people with disabilities, the audience included deaf people, which meant for the first time in my life I was going to have my act signed. As far as I was concerned this put me on an equal footing artistically as the omnibus edition of Hollyoaks and I was ecstatic. Not only that, but there was another lady who was typing up everything I said, which would then appear on a screen behind me. Obviously both these things were just begging to be subverted and I was really looking forward to getting up there and abusing these admirable services.

I started off by expressing my excitement and then discussing an episode of Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps that I had seen being signed, arguing that one of the good things about being deaf is that you don’t have to listen to the dialogue of this show. But it was a real pleasure watching the programme being signed as it became unintentionally hilarious, as a slightly embarrassed signer had to sign some rather choice language. “I learned the sign for tit wank”, I said, turning to the respectable lady who was signing next to me, to see her having to sign the words. “That’s it!” I said triumphantly. The audience laughed. I told her I also knew the sign for “monk” as a result of watching that show, and thus all I could say in sign language was tit wank and monk, though, I added, “That is more useful knowledge than you might imagine.” The woman maintained a suitably deadpan, though disapproving face, just like the people who sign for Two Pints. I had a feeling that a great double act was about to be born.
I turned to the screen and looked at it silently for a few seconds. “This is the worst autocue I have ever seen,” I remarked. “Look, it comes up only after I have said the thing. What use is that?”

I also commented that I had been concerned about the rudeness level of my material for such an event, but pointed out that now all the childish things I was saying were not only being translated into sign language, but also written up behind me as I went along, compounding my shame. Having my childish jokes written up behind me almost felt like criticism, imbuing them with an import that they didn’t deserve. But realising that the woman was committed to type in whatever I said, I covered my mouth and whispered, “Hello, it’s me, the typy-uppy lady. I secretly love Richard Herring. He is lush!” As Spiderman said, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

I decided to ignore that and continue to abuse my position. “Mississippi” I shouted apropos of nothing, just to see if she’d be able to spell it. Apart from an “o” popping up in the middle, it came out correct within an instant. It was actually massively impressive to see how the words kept up with the pace of monologue. It was wrong of me to tease these ladies in this way. But that’s what made it so right.

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I decided to do my homosexual hand sign routine in which I discuss whether we understood what gay men did when we were kids, when we tended to indicate homosexuality by pressing two fingers together – which seems to be a misunderstanding of the homosexual love act.

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It felt like a good idea to do the bit as it was partly about sign language and thus relevant, but I got slightly embarrassed as I remembered how filthy it gets. Luckily the audience were pretty filthy too, (and why shouldn’t they be?) and it went well. I was keen to see if the actual sign for “gay” was two fingers pressed together. The official one was not, but a deaf guy in the front row gave me the slang version which was one finger pointing and the one on the other hand pointing behind it, mimicking anal sex in not quite the same way as we did at school, but more accurately at least.

I was also interested to see how the demure lady signing would interpret the phrase “beef curtains” that was about to come up. She improvised by holding her hands together in front of her, pointing downwards and waggling her fingers around. I was very glad she had a good sense of humour about this. It was turning into a rather joyous improvisational gig and I asked the woman if she would come and do all my shows. Her matronly quiet disapproval was perfectly pitched. The MC, Gareth Berliner said that his favourite bit was seeing the words “crunching their beef curtains” appear on the screen, which is probably the first time anyone has had to type that into one of these machines anywhere in the world.

I tried to clean things up by doing the potato/potarto routine, but realised quickly that it was going to be pretty useless for the deaf members of the audience as it was based on pronunciation. That slightly threw me, but I regained my composure, returning to the rude stuff and mocking my own childish glee at making these women interpret my lewd remarks. “Felch,” I shouted, finally managing to stump and bamboozle the signer, which might have been a good thing thinking about it. I would hate to have seen her try to improvise something for that.

It was a very enjoyable gig for me, just so lovely to have so much to play with. I thought of loads of other stuff I could have done later on – such as wondering if the TV could read my mind and write down my thoughts. Which might have been fun with a playful collaborator who then made stuff up. I did wonder aloud if she was just writing down her own jokes behind me and thus it was actually her that was making the gig go so well.

I also thought I’d try my “Riddle of the Sphinx”/ Heather Mills joke (what walks on four legs in the morning, two legs in the afternoon and three legs in the evening? Paul McCartney and his wives) to see what a largely disabled audience would make of it. They reacted in the same way as most audiences which was to laugh and give a mock disapproving groan, but seemed to agree with me that it was one of the least offensive Heather Mills jokes doing the rounds and actually just mathematically accurate.

I guess I thought that the audience might be a bit more right on or “politically correct” because of the nature of the event, but of course, disabled people are just people and so laughed at the same things as any audience. And they took my tomfoolery in the spirit that it was intended.

I hope they had as much fun as I did. I love my job.