Richard Herring's Leicester Square Podcast (RHLSTP) has been running since 2012 and shows no signs of slowing up any time soon. Herring, formerly one half of a comedy double act with the lesser-known Stewart Lee, is instantly likable and infectiously silly. But he's no slouch either, with a quite phenomenal output encompassing stand-up shows, radio sitcoms, a daily blog, an autobiography and compendiums of his trademark emergency questions, not to mention several appearances on celebrity game shows, with varying degrees of success.
He is often dubbed the Podfather in the media, and whilst this moniker is slightly cringe-worthy, the veteran has earned his stripes. Crowdfunding has allowed Herring to produce original content without being straitjacketed by production companies, much to the delight of his fanbase. The long-running RHLSTP has a cult following and he has since taken the podcast medium into uncharted territory, with two tangential but surreally funny numbers: 'Stone Clearing With Richard Herring', in which he records himself clearing a nearby field of stones; and 'Me 1 vs Me 2 Snooker', in which he commentates on games of snooker played against himself.
He was on fine fettle here on his return to Oxford, reminiscing fondly about student days spent eating chips, playing the fruit machines at the Carfax chippy and generally not having sex. There were some jokes for the locals early on, with references to Boswells and a lament for the demise of the Oxford Story. But audience members expecting a raucous evening (such as previous episodes with the likes of Greg Davies, David Mitchell and Bob Mortimer) were in for something different, though no less engaging.
Herring was on more earnest form than usual, discussing the recent Extinction Rebellion protests and the looming climate crisis with his first guest, George Monbiot. The activist, journalist and Oxford resident is a compelling and acerbic speaker, and he took no prisoners when picking apart modern political decision-making. And there were moments of levity too: while not a comedian by trade, Monbiot had some superb anecdotes from his years spent as a globe-trotting investigative journalist and activist, most of which involved him getting in some pretty painful scrapes. One tale from West Papua allowed Herring to add a new emergency question to his collection: have you ever nearly died from a poisonous hornet-induced coma? A slight change from autofellatio, ham hands and armpits that dispense suncream (all frequent in-jokes on the podcast).
After the interval came Paul Sinha, stand-up, broadcaster and quizzer who is best known for his work on ITV gameshow The Chase. The two comedians sparred nicely, with easy chemistry and well-timed gags. But there were more profound discussions to be had, too. Sinha spoke openly about a rollercoaster year in which he has proposed to his long-term partner, won the British Quiz Championship and been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. Despite it being a poignant and potentially difficult issue, Sinha was frank about his condition - he wants to continue working as much as he is able to do so - and he and Herring regularly found moments of lightness and humour. Though not perhaps on the level of the RHLSTP episode with Stephen Fry (in which Fry told of his depression and suicide attempts), Herring showed again here that he is more than capable of blending wit, feeling, and serious themes in an eminently watchable way.