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Stand to attention; Alun Prichard talks to comedian Richard Herring, who seeks to -ahem -tackle the delicate subject of men's nether regions in what has been called the male answer to The Vagina Monologues.

Byline: Alun Prichard

EVERY ancient culture across the globe has in some way celebrated and even worshipped the male sexual organ. Temples were erected in its honour, towers built for it and the Ancient Greeks even paraded the streets with six foot sculptures.

Then,as mankind developed, so did attitudes to the penis.

Early Christians were embarrassed and disgusted by it while many cultures insisted on painfully changing its appearance with the knife.

But in the 21st century, we don't particularly worship or celebrate it and avoid mentioning its name out embarrassment. Instead, we make it the punch line in gags and the phallic scribbles are scrawled on bus stops and public toilet walls.

But comedian Richard Herring believes the penis deserves to be more than a mere joke or crude cartoon. He thinks it merits the same respect and intellectual discussion as female genitalia.

Women's attitudes to their sexual bits have long been openly analysed in the play,The Vagina Monologues, which have become a worldwide phenomenon. But there has never been a male equivalent until Herring came up with his comedy show Talking Cock.

``I was sort of resistant to doing a male version of The Vagina Monologues because I thought celebrating the penis is an odd thing to do,''he says.

``Then I thought maybe there's a way of doing it that would be interesting,and perhaps men need a show like this,as we don't really talk about the subject.''

Herring began by sending out a questionnaire asking men what they felt about their penises, their sex lives, their worries. Queries included: would they rather lose a leg or be castrated?What is the most trouble their penis has got them into?Andwould they star in a porn film? The first few questionnaires went out to friends who would not be offended; they in turn passed it on to others in a chain letter fashion.

Within a matter of months,Herring had 8,000 responses and an insight into how men feel about their genitals,as well as some strange things they do to them or with them. He then decided to go about writing a show he hoped would balance the serious and the comic.

``Through covering it with humour,men can enjoy the show without feeling embarrassed. They can laugh as well as think: `Thank Christ I'm not the only one that's happened to'.

``If I did it as a very worthy serious thing, men wouldn't be interested in it,but it's ostensibly a comedy show that men can laugh along to while getting information.''

So successful has this formula been that Talking Cock has been sold to 14 countries and is currently being performed on stage in six countries.

Herring has turned the show into a book and also performed a shortened version at the Melbourne Comedy Festival last year.

But Talking Cock's success has not come as a complete surprise -Herring wrote all 22 episodes of Sky TV's Time Gentlemen Please, starred in BBC2's This Morning With Richard Not Judy and the Edinburgh sell out,Christ On A Bike.

But he says that when the completed questionnaires were returning at the rate of 1,000 a month he found himself steadily anaesthetised to the shocking answers which could cause others embarrassment.

``I'm so inured to it all that. I can start that kind of vile talk about it anywhere then suddenly realise it's inappropriate,''he says, then goes on to give an example of something he brought up at a recent dinner party which would have had even the most open- minded choking on their meal.

Despite this,Herring admits he is still occasionally shocked to learn what some men admit to getting up to.

But he believes his research also shows how men really view their manhood.

``I found out a third of men have serious worries about erections, size,performance or shape. These are questions nobody has really asked men before.

``Men just tend to talk about it in: `I've got a massive one, you've got a tiny one' way and I think through this show women can receive an insight into why men behave how they do sometimes.

``Women realise that men have this body image problem that they weren't aware of and women can relate to that.

``When comedians have done stuff on the penis before,it has always been on theHerring goes on to explain that he wanted to make sure the show would appeal to both men and women.

He says women often approach the show with caution,expecting it to be misogynous or crude.``But I don't do that and women tend to really go for it -I've had audiences of more women than men and they really enjoy it, which is great because when men are there with women they're almost waiting for permission from the women to enjoy it.

``I see myself as a feminist.''

The gender divide is something Herring is keen to shorten and he dismisses Freud's theory that women are jealous of men's penises.

``There's absolutely no penis envy,apart from men who envy other men for their penises,often falsely.

``If women do envy men for their penises, it's because they wish they could pee standing up and avoid the queue for the toilet.''

Despite tackling such a contentious subject,he insists that he has not received many complaints. ``I've not received complaints in any major way. Out of all the shows I've done, very few people have been upset by it. The complaints have been from a couple of people who haven't even seen the show.

``Most people who would be offended would stay away unless they're poultry farmers who've misinterpreted the title!'' He explains that people often judge the show on the idea alone. ``Anyone who thinks it's just one big knob gag just hasn't seen the show. ``I find those jokes pathetic and most euphemisms are only used because people are prudes.''

The show goes much further as his dedicated research into men's thoughts and the various cultural reactions to it attests.

And as the conversation comes to a close,Herring can't help but pass on one of the facts he has learned along the way. ``The relative penis size of a human male is bigger than that of any other primate. ``So after all,it is man who is the king of the swingers,despite all the monkey's boasts in song.

``It is bigger than other primates because it is about intimidating other men rather than attracting women.'' Unlike the human penis,his show manages to discuss some sensitive issues without intimidating men and still attracting women to listen.

Talking Cock is on at Theatr Brycheiniog,Brecon on March 13.

CAPTION(S):

Would you Adam and Eve it? Richard Herring is on a quest to make the penis more accessible
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Feb 20, 2004
Words:1145
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