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5 December 2008

My Tommy Cooper moment…

Maybe the credit crunch is good for comedians, but I've barely had time to sit down and rest at all.

By Richard Herring

I am suffering from a medical condition that doesn’t get much written about it in the press – mainly because it’s a bit of a minor and rubbish problem. But tens of people around the UK are affected by it and I think they and I deserve some publicity and maybe a medal.

I have Benign Positional Vertigo, which affects the inner ear and can make the sufferer feel a bit dizzy at certain angles.

You might think I should just avoid those angles, but that’s not as easy as it might seem. Because the worst one is when I am lying down – my head feels as if it is spinning like that of some kind of possessed teenage girl – another is when I am sitting back. It’s difficult to avoid lying down and sitting back, unless you sleep standing up. Life is a rollercoaster when you’ve got BPV (as all the cool kids call it, or would do if they had heard of it).

I have had this problem before, it comes and goes, but usually hits me when I am tired or overworked. I haven’t really stopped working (if my job can be called work) since Easter.

You’ve probably seen me on Never Mind the Buzzcocks or on the Dave Channel or heard me on Radio 4 – what do you mean you haven’t?

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In the last three months I’ve also been gigging all over the country and on the continent (once in Belgium, but it still counts), kept up my daily blog, recorded a disgusting weekly podcast (which some of the more sensitive correspondents who comment on my pieces might want to avoid, or possibly listen to – I secretly think they enjoy being appalled), written a sitcom script, script-edited another sit-com, written links for a TV show and several pieces of journalism and most gruelling of all written a fortnightly column for the New Statesman website.

It’s great to have the work, and maybe the credit crunch is good for comedians, but I’ve barely had time to sit down and rest at all in the last eleven weeks. I really need a holiday – but won’t be able to take one until Christmas. I am eschewing my family to fly to some distant beach to just laze around in a hammock. If I live that long.

Because I can never be sure when the dizziness might strike – what if I am operating heavy machinery or driving a plane (the fact that I think that you drive a plane is probably reason enough to guess that I never will do so).

The other night I was walking down to the Tube station on the way to a gig and found myself swaying from side to side like a cartoon drunk, feeling queasy and exhausted. I felt pretty wiped out and unsteady on stage. As I bent over to mime the act of anal sex with my hands (it’s part of a routine I do – sometimes I remind myself that I am 41 years old and feel that I have wasted my life) I thought I might actually go down. Would this be my Tommy Cooper moment? Would my last act be to spit on my own hands and pretend my finger was a penis penetrating a resistant anus? A fitting epitaph to my life? Perhaps.

I commented on this, which gave me a chance to explore an idea that I had been contemplating. It’s about that thing people say when someone passes away, as if it’s some kind of comfort: “At least he died doing something he enjoyed…”

But I don’t want to die doing something I enjoy. That would be really disappointing. Say I had just started having sex with a pair of eighteen year old female twins, something I very much enjoy (in my imagination at least) and then suddenly my heart gives out – all I have left to me is a brief second of thinking – “Oh crap, I haven’t even got going. I had so many things that I was hoping to achieve in this scenario” and bang, I’m out of there. My life ends in soiled disappointment. Plus I go straight to Hell for being a party to group sex, lesbianism and incest. And no one could blame God for that decision. But I’d at least have liked to have fully finished the crime if I was going to do the time – especially if the sentence was eternity in a big pit of fire.

No, I want to die doing something I really hate doing. Or more accurately, just as I have to start something I hate doing. So let’s say we’ve just had Christmas dinner (on a year when I am not in a hammock) and it’s my turn to do the washing up and I’ve got to do all the greasy baking trays and stuff.

Just as the hot water is running into the bowl I keel over and then I am laughing. Not only have I had a big dinner – something I enjoy – but I have completely got out of having to do any of the tidying up afterwards. Some other schmuck will now have to do washing and drying (if there’s any justice in the world it will be my brother – making it a double victory for me) and I get away scot free.

Imagine the triumph and delight I’d be feeling as I sunk to my knees. We should envy the dead in these situations, not feel sorry for them. In fact if someone else did that to me, I’d be kicking their corpse and calling them a selfish bastard. Not only leaving the housework to be done, but adding all the inconvenience of their useless cadaver to deal with. At Christmas as well! By the time you’d called the ambulance and the funeral directors, the grease and roast potato marks would have really dried on, making their job doubly difficult.

So I don’t want to go on stage doing something I love, especially if it’s during one of my more childish and pathetic bits. I want to go at the beginning of an opera, or whilst working in a sewer or during the opening credits of “Balls of Steel” (how come none of those wankers have ever had to resign from anything – they are the most objectionable and needlessly offensive pricks I have ever come across and I have listened to some of George Lamb’s radio show).

I didn’t die. Not this time. Though if I get an attack of the dizzies at the wrong time this bastard condition could take me down. For example if it happens during my regular stints down the sewer. So I object to it being called “Benign” Positional Vertigo as if it couldn’t possibly do anything to hurt you.

It should be at least “Tedious” Positional Vertigo or “Potentially Dangerous in the wrong situation” Positional Vertigo or “Malevolent” Postional Vertigo. Anything but benign.

No wonder no one is talking about it. It sounds positively lovely.

I finally get myself an illness and when I tell people about it they think it’s doing me no harm.

And it isn’t.

But it could. That’s the point.