Fist Of Fun to be released on DVD Joy for Lee & Herring fans
4th May 2011
Stewart Lee and Richard Herring’s Nineties TV show Fist Of Fun is finally to be released on DVD. Independent label Go Faster Stripe has brought the rights to the cult BBC Two show, and plans to put the first series out by Christmas – after filming some extras in the summer.
Fans, led by Herring himself, have long lobbied the BBC to release the show, which first aired in 1995. Earlier this year, he blogged: ‘The BBC won't release the DVD and are even dragging their feet about letting us do it ourselves, arguing that they invested money in the show and haven't seen any return on that investment. Which might be because they have never released it. Only the BBC could think of asking for compensation for lack of revenue after they had made no attempt to make any money from a project.’
The rights have now been bought for a reported £15,000 – and Lee said: ‘Of course we can sell them after gigs and I don't think it should be too difficult to make the money back.’ In an interview with the Digital Spy website today, Lee deadpanned: ‘I think it's quite important for Richard's self-esteem… I think he feels he did something really good in Fist of Fun and it's never had the credit it deserved. I think it's really important for him to get it out there. I'm really happy for him that that's happening. I'm slightly ambivalent about it. I really liked the first series. I feel with the second series we were encouraged to make a number of artistically ill-advised compromises.’
Writing on Twitter, Herring said: ‘I am delighted that we'll be able to bring you Fist of Fun on DVD. We are going to make sure it has lots of great extras, but I think series one might be ready for Christmas. We have had to do the DVD ourselves though – at some expense – as the BBC don't think it was worth it. Let's prove them wrong.’
This much I know: Richard Herring The comedian, 44, on love, personal deficiencies and why Barry Cryer is still the best
14 August 2011
You can joke about anything. It just depends on your angle and the way you go about it. There was that row with Frankie Boyle talking about disability – I like him as a comedian, but there's got to be a reason for doing it. I think the way he did it was just awful. I prefer to be punching upwards rather than downwards.
When you're a young comedian, there's a tendency to think you're brilliant. At first Stewart Lee and I were like: "We're amazing!" And then the struggle begins. I'm glad I wasn't snatched up too quickly – there are some big cons to big fame.
If something's true you should be able discuss it or ask whether it's true. It helps me as a comedian. But it doesn't necessarily help my personal life.
People tend to be surprised when they realise I'm only 5ft 6in. Now I tell them on my website. I think you have to point out your own deficiencies if you're emphasising everyone else's for a living.
Love is earned. I sort of argue in my [Edinburgh] show that the love of a parent for a child is not that impressive, because that's going to happen automatically. In the end you earn love; you have to deserve love.
I'm not interested in telling people what to think. I'm interested in making people think. I make people think about stuff, spread information and ideas. Both my show Christ on a Bike and this one, What Is Love Anyway?, came from questions I asked when I was eight, about religion or love.
There's a selfishness in one kind of love, relationship love, because you're getting something in return. If you really wanted your partner to be as happy as possible, if you really loved them, I think most of us would say: "You should go out with someone better than me because I'm really not that great."
We have to act against our nature sometimes, to keep us on the straight and narrow, but it is ultimately ridiculous. Comedy lets us step outside of that and remember: we're not "meant" to be married. Or have a government. Or a boss.
Somebody I admire is Barry Cryer, who's still so interested in comedy. I hope I'm the same – I don't feel threatened by new people coming up. As someone who has never been married and never had kids, I would be an oldish dad, even if we got on with it straightaway, but I do feel young in heart, don't feel that divorced from culture. It's on the agenda. But it'd have to happen fairly soon.
We get cross with people who don't live up to our romantic expectations of what love is. Romance, monogamy, fidelity: they're all constructs we've put on to society. When someone like Ryan Giggs screws up we seem to be angry with him, but it's really because he's destroyed our group notions of what love and marriage should be all about. The tabloids' anger is actually anger about nature.
Edinburgh hasn't changed, but I have. My first Fringe, 20 years ago, I shared with 30 others. This year I'll be taking a nice flat with my girlfriend. Last year up there I didn't even drink. The older I get the more I think I owe it to people who are paying quite decent money. Now I relish concentrating on every single show.
Richard Herring talks about how love has inspired his new Edinburgh show
If Richard Herring isn’t quite a household name on his own, pair him up and he becomes one. First, in the 1990s, as half of cult comedy duo Lee and Herring on BBC2’s Fist of Fun (with friend and fellow stand-up Stewart Lee) and more recently alongside Andrew Collins on their eponymous BBC 6 Music show and almost eponymous Collings and Herrin (sic) podcast.
But his latest double act – a three-and-a-half-year relationship with comedian Catie Wilkins – not even Herring predicted. In fact, such is his surprise at finding himself happily cohabiting with Wilkins in a cosy corner of Shepherds Bush that Herring has eschewed the usual profanities in his new Edinburgh show to write about another four letter word altogether: love.
It’s quite a change of direction after the controversy surrounding his previous two outings: Hitler Moustache (on politics) and Christ on a Bike (on Christianity). Or not. “In last year’s show, I sort of concluded that religion was similar to love: a delusion we all believe in,” says Herring, enjoying a morning coffee in Westfield. “So I thought I’d take that idea and examine it a bit more, especially because in the last three and a half years, I’ve been in the most serious relationship I’ve ever had.”
And the longest. Herring is open about his womanising past. There were relationships, of course, including 18 months dating actress Julia Sawalha, his former object of infatuation on Fist of Fun. But it wasn’t until he met Wilkins at one of his own comedy lectures that he first felt Cupid’s dart. Prompting the question at the heart of the new show: What is Love, Anyway? “Getting married and having kids is on my mind,” he says. “I’m thinking about why I’ve not done it before in my life and I’m asking: where is this relationship going next?”
The answer, at least for now, is Edinburgh, where the couple are decamping for the whole of August. Wilkins makes her solo debut in A Chip off the Odd Block but this is Herring’s 20th fringe (his only breaks due to tours and writing commitments). And for the first time, the lovebirds are sharing a flat of their own, “a little oasis away from the festival” says Herring, far removed from his first Edinburgh experience in 1987, bunking down on the floor of a masonic lodge with 30 other Oxford students.
“The early years were horrible,” he recalls. “We went up at the wrong time when stand-up was the predominant form and student revue and sketch comedy were seen as archaic. We got a real kicking, certainly enough to make me question whether I wanted to do comedy as a career. You could get psychological and say I keep going back to prove myself after that unpleasant beginning.”
Or you could argue that at 44, he no longer needs to. Currently writing a second series of Richard Herring’s Objective for Radio 4, as well as Gorgeous, a BBC script about cave guides in his native Somerset, Herring is busier than he’s been in years. So why does he put himself through what is described by many as a glorified trade fair?
“Because I want to be a part of it,” he says. “Edinburgh is a great thing. Some people are cynical and only head up in the hopes of getting a commission. But I’m beyond that now. It’s not about making money. It’s about going up and trying to do something good. As a comedian, I want to carry on pushing myself. A month of performing the same show and you can’t help but improve.”
Edinburgh also holds a place in his heart. “I’ve lived in that town for practically two years of my life; every corner has a memory. And the older you get, the more nostalgic you become. There were loads of tears and worries. But so many great things came out of it. I made nearly all my lifelong best friends from that first Edinburgh and over the years, I’ve met loads of new friends. And girlfriends!”
He and Lee, who lived together in Acton after university, are still good mates to this day, meeting up next week to record the commentary for a long-awaited DVD of Fist of Fun (“We’re trying to get it out mainly to stop the five people a week who ask me in the street when Fist of Fun is going to be available on DVD”). Andrew Collins is another story. Last month, the two suffered a rather public falling out when Collins signed up to present a new show in their old 6Music slot with Josie Long. Both parties blogged about the fallout, but Herring insists the row has been blown out of proportion. “We’ve reached an impasse but it’s good to have a break. Andrew can be a bit over-emotional and called it a break-up. I’m just very busy. He is the only person apart from my girlfriend I’ve seen every week for the past three years. I’m pretty confident it will work out.”
For the moment, Herring is focused on Edinburgh and, beyond that, spending more time at home with Catie. He first moved back West in 2003 to be near the BBC and his then writing partner Al Murray. “Shepherd’s Bush felt a bit rough and ready – I liked that. Walking down the high street is like travelling through three or four different continents in one.”
However, he and Wilkins are now considering leaving London for “somewhere we could raise a family”. Can we expect the requisite Herring & Son show at Edinburgh 2012. Herring grimaces audibly. “I don’t think I’ll become one of those comedians,” he says. “We’ll have to see if I do.”
Richard Herring’s perfect weekend
6th January 2012
Multi-award winning comedian Richard Herring has been making the nation laugh for more years than he cares to remember. We caught up with him to find out about his perfect weekend.
It’s Friday afternoon, what’s on your mind?
As a comedian Friday afternoon does not signal the end of work, in fact work is probably just about to begin. So I am probably thinking about how to get out of the traffic jam I am and get to where I am going in time.
My current tour is called What Is Love, Anyway? It’s based on the question posed by the insane, Welsh, poet-philosopher Howard Jones in 1983. In the intervening 28 years, no one has dared to answer . . . until now. So, come Friday, chances are I’ll be driving to a provincial theatre to perform What Is Love, Anyway?
Who normally has the pleasure of your company at the weekend?
I spend any free time I get with my girlfriend, but I will probably be gigging, so will be seeing a select bunch of nerds who dig my stuff. And hopefully they will be laughing. For instance, on What Is Love, Anyway? I’ll be asking those around me whether love is just a chemical reaction in our brains by which our body selects potential sexual partners, or if it is a magical force which guides us unerringly to our soul mate. Oddly it’s usually waiting until we’re off our face at a night club to do so!
How do you prepare for a big night out?
I might put on a nice shirt and my favourite shoes, but I am more interested in going out than preparing to go out.
What’s your favourite party outfit?
I have some new Jeffrey West boots that I like very much. But I am not too bothered about what I am wearing, so much as where I am and who I am with.
You’ve just arrived at the bar, what’s your first drink?
It varies so much these days. I don’t like drinking alcohol as much as I once did and try to limit things. So it’s a toss up between wine and beer, but I drink wine too quickly and beer makes me feel bloated, so I might have a cup of tea instead.
What is your favourite nightspot and why?
As I work most nights my favourite place to be is at home with my girlfriend. This questionnaire makes me realise how boring I am.
It’s a sunny Saturday, what are you up to?
Probably sitting inside writing blogs, but if I get my arse in gear I love to go walking or running by the river.
What’s your most memorable weekend and why?
If I could remember, it wouldn’t be memorable surely.
What’s the recipe for a perfect night in?
Home cooked food, bottle of Champagne, DVD, Scrabble, early night.
What’s your favourite DVD and what would you eat while watching it?
This is Spinal Tap. I might eat some meat on tiny bread so I can join in with the film.
Sunday Breakfast-cooked or continental?
I have porridge with fruit for breakfast every day
Sunday lunch; down the pub or home cooked?
Down the pub. Nice pint of Guinness.
Where and how do you like to relax?
I need to get away for a fortnight to really relax, sit on a beach, reading books, drinking cocktails. I spend a lot of my time working, writing, touring or on TV. For instance, I recently completed my 94 date nationwide tour of my Edinburgh Fringe show, Christ on a Bike: The Second Coming – including 26 dates at the Leicester Square Theatre.
I’m also busy on other projects. In 2010, I published my book How Not To Grow Up and released Hitler Moustache on DVD. I also recorded the first series of his BBC Radio 4 show Richard Herring’s. That’s just touching the surface – you can understand why my idea of relaxing is to sit on a beach, read books and drink cocktails.
You’ve got a whole weekend off and a wad of money in your pocket. Which country would you head for?
Probably Italy. I love the culture and the food.
Richard Herring talks love Welwyn Hatfield Times reporter Ross Logan caught up with the comedian late last month ahead of his current UK tour.
January 20, 2012
Richard Herring, it seems, is growing up. Having written a memoir entitled How Not To Grow Up, this might seem like something of a volte-face, but at the age of 44, there are definite signs that the irreverent, former comic partner of Stuart Lee is settling down. And that he likes it.
That’s not to say he’s gone soft. Having deconstructed religion (Christ on a Bike), politics (Hitler Moustache) and sex on previous stand-up tours, Herring is about to skewer another of life’s great subjects – love. Herring will be at the Hertford Theatre on Friday, January 27, with his new show What is Love, Anyway?, an acerbic personal journey through Herring’s own romantic triumphs and failures.
The idea formulated while performing his recent hit show Christ on a Bike: The Second Coming, the follow-up to his original, debut show. “I said believing in religion was the same as believing in love,” says Herring, an atheist. “Some people were quite upset by that, which I thought was interesting.”
It’s more interesting when you consider Herring has been in a steady relationship himself for the past four years. “That’s about 25 years in Richard Herring years,” he laughs. “This is the most successful relationship of my life.”
So how does his girlfriend feel about him taking to the stage to decry the very emotions they’re supposed to share? “I think she’s a bit nervous, but she’s aware of what I do,” he says. “There’s some stuff about her in there, but a lot of people see it as a love letter to her. At the end of it, she’s the one.”
Nevertheless, people’s concept of “love” as a definable, obtainable thing still bothers Herring. He’s described himself in previous interviews as a “cynical romantic” and he uses the phrase again here. “I love romance, but then I always thought if you love someone now, how will you feel in 10 years? Somebody who just commits to these sorts of things – are they worse or better than me?
“I think part of the problem is people have over-romantic ideas, and think if you love someone that’s it. But love’s an ever-changing landscape, and it’s actually quite prosaic and boring. The test is getting through once the excitement wears off. My parents have been together for about 60 years and seem alright, but a lot of grandparents and parents go through life together and end up hating each other.”
How is balancing a relationship with the demands of touring? “You get used to it. It was harder when I was single or at the beginning of a relationship. With the job I do, you’re away a lot, there’s lots of temptations, so it’s difficult to find the right person who can put up with that. It’s a very easy job to stay young and self obsessed in. When you’re in your 20s, it wasn’t about the tour, but what happens on the tour, or where you’re going after the gig to get drunk. I partied quite hard. Now I can’t imagine how I managed to stay up till five in the morning.”
Further evidence, then, of Herring happily settling into middle age. But that, perhaps, is good news for his audience. He says: “I don’t think I was particularly happy with myself back then. I’ve got much more boring now. Touring’s less fun for me, but the show has got better. It’s really nice and good for my job. I’m not saying I regret going out and getting drunk, but it’s nice being in my 40s and thinking ‘I’m getting better at my job’. It’s a really nice place to be.”
In a sweet and rather serendipitous aside, I asked Herring where he was spending Christmas. He was in Somerset with his mum and dad on Christmas Day. Then he travelled up the A1(M) to Welwyn, no less, to spend Boxing Day with his girlfriend’s parents.
The Big Interview: Richard Herring
30 January 2012
When asked about past failures, career blips or outright flops, the response from most A to Z- list celebrities is disappointingly bland. Always with an eye on future opportunities, no blame is ever apportioned, no bitterness ever displayed and the nearest sign of emotion is a quiet shrug of the shoulders. Richard Herring clearly missed that particular lesson in the school of fame.
Years before Little Britain made household names of David Walliams and Matt Lucas, there were Stewart Lee and Richard Herring. The pair had met at Oxford University and, after being major players in the Oxford Revue, arrived in London as fully-fledged writing partners, working first on radio before being handed the holy grail of their own television show.
It wasn’t quite that seamless. Their first job was as writers on the Radio 4 satirical show Weekending where only 20 seconds of their eight weeks’ worth of material made it to air. But having been spotted by über-producer Armando Ianucci, they found themselves working with Steve Coogan, Chris Morris and Patrick Marber and accepted among the new generation of talent.
Within five years of leaving Oxford, their Fist of Fun radio show had transferred to television. The sketches and regular characters won a cult following. But it was axed after the second series and a similar fate befell their next venture This Morning With Richard Not Judy. It’s more than a decade since the door of the BBC was closed shut on the pair and Herring still feels they were badly treated.
“I wanted to be more successful, I wanted to keep on making television shows. I think what we were doing was really good and, yes, I did feel bitter about other people who were more successful. I’d see them and think, ‘Why isn’t that us? We have much more talent’.
“There was a lot of reverse snobbery. At the time alternative comedians ruled and the tide turned against the Oxbridge set. The fact that neither me or Stew had gone to posh schools didn’t seem to matter. When you’ve been on the brink of something big, it’s hard to suddenly find yourself out in the wilderness. Let’s just say it took a little time to re-group.”
Not much was heard from either, but then a few years ago, Stewart Lee was back in the limelight as the co-creator of Jerry Springer the Opera. Based on the TV tabloid talk-show, the show featuring tap dancing Ku Klux Klan members, won four Olivier awards and thanks to a sustained campaign by Christian Voice to get it shut down, it became a sell-out.
The pair remain good friends, but while his former writing partner – who recently returned to the BBC with his own show and put the past behind him – Herring admits he struggled to find his niche. It wasn’t that he wasn’t successful. He’s written both series of Al Murray’s Time Gentleman Please and was the author of numerous books.
But when a film script he had been working on was already a year behind deadline, Herring’s thoughts turned to stand-up. The result was The Twelve Tasks of Hercules Terrace, the show he took to the Edinburgh Festival in 2004. It was based on his attempts to, among other things, kill the Loch Ness monster and beat his nephew at tennis. It also drew a line in the sand. “I’d never been entirely comfortable with stand-up,” he says. “The sketch format was always where I’d been happiest, but I thought maybe it was time to push myself out of my comfort zone – literally by doing a parachute jump, and mentally by writing a one-man show.”
Edinburgh, a second home for comics each summer, was an easy re-introduction. However, Herring knew that if he was to return to stand-up full-time he needed to start small and began by booking gigs in spaces like the Basement of York’s City Screen, a venue which holds less than 100 people.
“When I went back out on the circuit I wasn’t anyone. There were a few people who had liked Lee and Herring who came to see me, but I’m under no illusion that it was anything more than a cult show. However, little by little they kept coming back. I’ve now done nine different shows and there’s confidence which comes with that. At first, performing was what I did when I wasn’t doing something else. Now it’s not only my main source of income, but it’s what I think of as my main job. That’s a big turn around, but it’s taken a lot of hard work.”
Herring spends six months writing each show and much of the rest of the year out on tour. Having tried to reclaim the Hitler moustache for comedy and having revisited his childhood growing up as a headmaster’s son, his latest venture attempts to answer the question What Is Love Anyway? Having also graduated to larger venues – in Yorkshire he will play seven major theatres – the tour also represents something of a step up.
“It took me a long time to decide to play to a bigger audience and it’s always a gamble, but the response to this show has been great – partly, I think, because it’s about a subject everyone can relate to. A lot of comedians are afraid to admit their own short-comings, but the fact is we are all flawed. I guess I’ve found that if you admit your failings, an audience warms to you. People appreciate it, but it’s the way I’ve always lived my life.”
At 44, Herring seems to have finally settled down. Partly, he admits, it’s due to being in a stable relationship and it’s also down to the fact he’s found more outlets for his creative frustrations. Nine years ago, he began a blog and true to his worth he has written an entry every day since. He reckons he’s written about two and half million words and the arrival of podcast has allowed him to create the kind of programmes he wants without interference.
Four years ago, he and the fellow broadcaster and writer Andrew Collins launched their own weekly podcast, described as a sideways look at the news and, as well as performing at last year’s Edinburgh Festival, Herring also recorded a daily podcast interview with other comedians.
“Trying to get anything off the ground on radio or television takes a long time. You have to jump through so many hoops that by the end, the idea you started off with has often changed beyond all recognition. Even panel shows are so highly edited these days. They need to have a joke every minute and everything even mildly offensive is removed. After the Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross episode no-one was trusted to self-regulate and people were constantly having a quiet word in your ear.
“It’s calmed down a bit now, but podcasts give you an enormous amount of freedom and that’s why I started doing it. Past history shows that I’m no businessman – if they make money, then great but it’s not why I do it.”
It’s a format which also allows Herring to experiment – his most recent podcast, Me1 v Me2, sees him spending half an hour or so playing himself at snooker. It’s not been entirely well-received, with one review saying, “I am becoming increasingly concerned that I am not so much enjoying the career of a comedian as being an unwitting spectator to one man’s descent into irrevocable mental illness.” However, that same reviewer also gave it five stars.
“The snooker podcast was born out of the idea that as kids everyone plays themselves at boardgames. I thought it had a certain theatricality and there are people who now either root for me, or the other me. Having said that, some people have been really annoyed by the deliberate stupidity of it. If someone was coming to my material for the first time, I probably wouldn’t recommend starting with the snooker.”
While Herring, who has watched today’s current crop of comics make fortunes from arena tours, says he has no desire to play in front of 50,000 people, the ambition of those early years hasn’t entirely been knocked out of him. A new radio series, Richard Herring’s Objective, was broadcast on Radio 4 last autumn, he and Collins have reunited for a series of live gigs and he’s in talks to get a sitcom off the ground.
However, since he started performing professionally more than 20 years ago, he says the main lesson he has learnt is to appreciate the ephemeral quality of comedy. “If you looked at who were the big names of comedy 50 or 60 years ago you probably wouldn’t recognise any of them, but that’s what is great about comedy – it’s always changing. It’s the same with stand-up – every time you perform it’s different. You don’t go out there to create a piece of sculpture, you go out there to entertain. It’s as simple as that, but I think for a lot of years I was looking for some kind of permanence to it.”
The British Theatre Guide describes Herring as “one of the leading hidden masters of British comedy.” A few years ago, he would have baulked at the idea of being anonymous, but it’s a marker of just how much he has changed that these days he almost revels in it. “I think being mildly famous suits me. I can go about my daily business and listen in to people’s conversations without anyone bothering too much.
“If I look back at the people who were on the circuit when I started out, there are not many who have managed to stay employed and the best thing is that I feel I’m improving rather than treading water. Feeling comfortable with where you are comes with age and if I was still able to tour even tiny venues in another 20 years I’d be happy. I guess I’ve got it made. It would be massively churlish to complain.”
Richard Herring - 2012-01-31 - Laughed Off The Page
Richard Herring speaks to Janice Forsyth about his career as a comedy writer and performer, as well as the success he has found on both television and radio.
Politicians' excuses? I was more believable when I was six Richard Herring: Dogs can be useful accomplices in covering up ill-judged decisions. Just don’t be surprised if someone smells a rat…
1st May 2012
I have been enjoying the shockingly poor excuses given by politicians at inquiries. Isn’t it amazing how many high-powered people have such terrible memories? I hope they have their names sewn into their underpants or they might wake up not knowing who they are. They are all making it clear that none of this is their fault, blaming underlings or predecessors or bigger boys, who ran away. How stupid do they think we are? I was capable of more believable fabrications when I was six.
One day, at primary school, I needed to go to the toilet for what I will politely refer to as a number two. When I was at school, if you were discovered using the toilet cubicle for such purpose you would be mocked and ostracised. I didn’t want to lose the respect of my classmates so I came up with a clever alternate and less humiliating plan. I decided to go in my pants.
As plans go, it might not be watertight, but I was confident I could keep the embarrassment hidden in my underwear: a potentially hubristic decision as we were doing creative play that afternoon and I was wearing very tiny shorts. But there was only an hour until home time. There might be some waddling, but I could do this. Alas, I hadn’t accounted for one thing. My classmates all had a sense of smell. They began to ask questions about an unpleasant odour. I had to think fast. I spotted that the window to the classroom was open and, with a stroke of genius, said: ‘Oh dear, a naughty dog outside must have done a poo. Naughty dog!’
It was an audacious lie. What kind of dog was capable of producing a pavement biscuit so fetid and powerful that the stench was strong enough to travel up from street level, through a window and still be this pungent? But my feckless six-year-old classmates were fooled. ‘What a naughty dog!’ they exclaimed, shaking their heads not at my lie but at the mischievous canine’s anal antics.
I had gotten away with it, like no Scooby Doo villain had ever managed to do. But then I saw some pesky kids standing in a circle, pointing at something on the floor. Like so many before and after, I had been undone by a surreptitious leak – shit gets out. ‘Who did this?’ asked the teacher. Had I been at the Leveson Inquiry I would have refused to bend and kept up with the naughty dog line but I wasn’t that foolhardy.
It would have had to have been a spectacularly naughty and crafty dog that got into the school, opened the classroom door and then emptied his colon unnoticed by anyone, before escaping, sniggering, like a scatological Muttley. I gave it up, ran out of the classroom and hid in the toilet until my mum came to pick me up – something I’d genuinely like to see more politicians doing.
Do use the naughty dog line next time you’re in trouble, though – it’ll get you out of anything. You’ve let off in the lift? Blame a naughty dog. You’ve crashed the Titanic into an iceberg? A naughty dog took the helm when your back was turned.
There’s an email that seems to show collusion between the Department of Culture and News International – a naughty dog hopped on to your desk and composed and sent the missive without your knowledge. Though to be believable, you might have to blame two naughty dogs. And a wicked cat. And a morally ambiguous tortoise.
Interview - Richard Herring
Freeview comedy channel, Dave will be sponsoring the Leicester Comedy Festival next month. Amongst the festivities is an exciting competition judged by veteran comedian and king of internet comedy, Richard Herring. I got the chance to speak to Richard about the upcoming competition, as well as how he uses the internet as a medium for comedy and how it has changed the way people make us laugh.
Richard, you'll be judging a competition at Dave's Leicester Comedy Festival pretty soon, can you tell us a little about the competition?
Yeah, for the competition anyone can upload anything that's funny. It can be any video but it has to be 30-60 seconds long- I suppose that's the skill. It can include sketches, animation, stand-up, a joke- whatever you think is amusing, and then they'll be judged by a panel including myself and some other comedy people, and I think some writers and critics. The one that we say is the best will win £5,000 and some top comedy advice from the creators of The Inbetweeners. So, that's quite a good first prize, and the second prize is £2,500 so it's a good opportunity. I personally love the internet as a medium for getting comedy across and I think this a nice way for someone new to try and get their work noticed and also win a bit of money, which will hopefully help them push onwards and make that into a career, if that's what they're interested in.
You mention that you now use the Internet a lot. Do you think that the old Radio 4 route into comedy, coupled with the laborious commissioning process is less relevant than it used to be?
Well, I think the Internet has made it less relevant because in the old days, when I started that was the only way to get anywhere- to get commissioned, usually by the BBC. That was a difficult process and it was difficult to break through. In fact for Lionel Nimrod, our producer had to threaten to resign when they said they weren't going to make that show. It was difficult to breakthrough but we were lucky enough to do quite well with that but even now as a fairly established comedian, it seems to me even now easier put something together myself. Something like As It Occurs To Me was an idea that I'd vaguely pitched to the radio stations and then I kind of thought, 'it'll take months to get anywhere, and then they won't let me say what I want to say because it's on the radio, and it'll have to be half an hour long', so why not just go out and make these things yourself?
That's not to say that radio and TV will become irrelevant, but I think it means that it's more democratic. You don't need to know the right people, you don't have to have the good fortune to be one of the acts that radio and TV people like, you just get out there an put something up and it's a way to discover if you actually are funny. In the past, if you weren't funny, you could pretend that it was all down to the unfairness of the system. Now you can put up books, audio, video or whatever, and it'll be judge on how many people listen to it. Also, another good thing about the internet is that the whole world and tune into it, so your more likely to find the like-minded souls that might like it. You might be doing something that's too niche for TV and 10,000 people might like it and that's enough to give you a good kick-start, or start making some money out of it, if that's important to you.
Do you think people's ultimate goal is still to get on the tele?
I think it probably is but I also think that it doesn't need to be. I'd also like to see more comedians just being concerned about good stuff and not really worrying about whether they're on TV or not. I think it's less relevant but it's obviously helpful in getting people to come and see you live. For someone like Stewart Lee, it has obviously injected a new life into his stand-up audience, but then again is it necessary? He's now slightly struggling over whether he's getting the right sort of people coming to see his stuff, so you don't necessarily need to do it. I haven't really been on TV in any major form for 15 years, and through using the internet I've managed to build up my audience to a very healthy number which means I can tour and make some money, and I've worked quite hard to get there. TV isn't necessarily the be all and end all. I also think that being famous is not as good as you might think. I think when I was younger, I was aiming to be the best comedian, and the most well known comedian and wanted everyone to love me, but actually, now I'm older, I think it's pretty cool that I can sit in coffee shops, enjoy a coffee and listen in on other people's conversations without them saying "isn't that Richard Herring over there?" You realise that there are more important things and I think, for me, comedy is the most important thing and if I do get some kind of TV exposure- great. If not, it's not the end of the world and I'm not going to try and avoid it but I also think, as long as the internet's there I can carry on doing everything I want to do, however stupid and self-indulgent it might be.
How do you reckon you would have used the internet if you and Stew were starting out now as opposed to 25 years ago?
I don't know, it'd be interesting to see. Stew would probably have been as resistant then as a young man as he is now as an older man. What I really like about it is that it feels a bit punk rock, I like the home made nature and the fact that you can do whatever you want to do. We were sort of doing internet shows on the radio before the internet. It would've suited us quite well, we were very interactive and we had email for our first TV show probably before anyone else did. In all likelihood, we could easily have done a show like Fist of Fun on the internet- it wouldn't have looked quite the same but there was a sort of Wayne's World feel to it, and that was a kind of internet show before the internet. I'm quite surprised it hasn't happened more with digital TV and that there aren't more lo-fi, really cheap digital comedy shows going on.
There was a period when they tried to do that on things like UK play, wasn't there?
Yeah, they did, but you can do really cheap shows that are properly funny, and that's the thing I'm hoping to show with the internet- that those shows don't cost me anything and you could film them and it wouldn't cost much more. They're still entertaining and you don't have to spend lots of money on sketches and a studio if you keep it lo-fi, and I think that's why something like this competition is quite interesting because it's not about producing something heavily produced that looks amazing. If you do that- great, but it's more about making someone laugh in a minute. I guess that's what you have to do as a stand-up as well. You have to be funny straight away, and to me that seems like quite a terrifying prospect, but I suppose that's what you need to do as a comedian. The biggest reaction I ever got from a live audience was a sketch I did as a student where someone said, "introducing Harold Pucks: the man who can only live in a vacuum", and then I would run on, and halfway across the stage, suddenly realise that I wasn't in a vacuum and just die in quite an elaborate fashion, diving across the stage. It was one of those jokes in which I just hit the floor and there would be an amazing laugh, and that was a sketch that took, at most, 45 seconds. So, you're looking for something like that, I guess. Something that's stupid, surprising or silly that can get a big laugh, maybe with a slight set-up. So, yeah, I think it would have suited us, but I'm also actually very glad it's here now. It's fallen very nicely for me and I was slightly wondering where I should be going and sitting, waiting for people to get in touch with me and realising that that wasn't really happening, so it was nice to take the autonomy and just get on with it. That's' what I've been doing for the last seven or eight years. 90% of what I do is generated by myself, whether it's an Edinburgh tour or a podcast. No-one comes to me and says "write this" and it's nice to have that power and that control over what you're doing, which I think the internet gives you.
Do you think that, with so much stuff out there, it's easier for stuff to get lost, or do you think that the best things shines through? You're established now, but I'm guessing that if someone started with a podcast of them playing themselves at snooker, it probably wouldn't get listened to.
Well, to be honest, it doesn't get listened to by many people anyway. I suppose I was and I wasn't [established]. With all the stuff we did on TV, it got an audience but it was very cultish, and when I toured on my own I was getting hardly anyone coming to see me in the early 2000's- genuinely down to around 30 people, and even when we toured as Lee and Herring, we didn't really get people in, so we weren't massively established. It helped that some people knew who we were, but the great thing about the internet is that you can do one thing, and if you do it very well, and it's get retweeted and emailed and it's on Facebook, it can reach an enormous audience very quickly. If something's good, I think it will, unless you have absolutely no friends or no one to show it to, spiral out of control. I think that's a good way of determining whether what you're doing is going to work or not. For the more eclectic stuff that I'm doing, it would be hard to get those things up and running, but also, there's nothing wrong with spending 10 or 15 years doing something without anyone realising that it's good. In fact it's quite a good thing because the problem with the internet is that there is this chance of an immediate result, and actually as a comedian, you want to be grafting away, and I think that's why I'm hopefully in a position where I'm producing pretty good stuff. If you take the last eight years, I've worked pretty constantly on stand-up and on podcast stuff, and really had to work at it and it's still very much below the radar. It's getting bigger and bigger, but only very gradually, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. Also, if you film something and it exists, you can always direct people towards that. If you look at the Isabel Fay Haters video that I was a part of, that's a real calling card for her and it's led onto her getting a deal and stuff, so I think it's choosing your moment right and not getting ahead of yourself. The young comedian's curse is that they want everyone to know how brilliant they are straight away, and they might be pretty good, but they're not going to be as good as they are in ten years' time. If you work for ten years, you'll get better as a comedian and you'll look back at the things you were doing ten years ago going "this isn't all that good!" It's all relative really.
Finally, will we see any more AIOTM?
Never say never, but it was such hard work, and I think it might be difficult to get the team together again; they seem to be going on to all kinds of success elsewhere, so I don't think we'll do any more of those, but you never know. We might do a special or something, but I found it genuinely mentally disturbing to have to do it so fast, so I'm kind of thinking that there might be some way of doing a slightly more scripted, less-than weekly, video stand-up/sketch show that I'd put on the internet and I'm interested in exploring what the internet can offer me, so we'll see what's possible. We're definitely doing some more Leicester Square Theatre Podcasts and we might try and film them and ask people to pay for the videoed versions if they want to, but only a token amount. I also thinking of doing something along the lines of Stewart Lee's stand-up show, but not on TV as it wouldn't be massively expensive to put something together that would look pretty good, and obviously the content is more important than the way you do it. Who knows?
Richard Herring: Early porn was a devil to download
25 Jun 2014
I was an early adopter of the internet, getting online in 1995. Back then it wasn’t the (shaven) haven of pornography that it has now become. It used to take ten minutes to download a single photograph (so my friends told me). You never quite knew what might be revealed as the picture slowly appeared from top to bottom. Lots of anticipation but also room for disappointment.
In those days, the internet was mainly used to get in touch with 20 bearded nerds to discuss the two episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation in which the Bussard Ramscoop was employed for a different purpose than its intended function of gathering hydrogen molecules.
Even so, my erstwhile comedy partner Stewart Lee and I decided it was worth having our own website (a version of it still exists at leeandherring.com) for the few people who had computers, even though you couldn’t use the internet if you were on the phone. It’s only 19 years ago but it sounds like something from the Victorian era, doesn’t it?
Recently, someone on Twitter sent me a Lee and Herring interview from 1996 from a magazine called .net. In it, I make some bold predictions about the future of ‘the Net’, as we seemed to call it back then. ‘In the future,’ I say, with my tongue a little in my cheek, ‘there will be no television or films or books or anything. It’ll just be the Net.’ We haven’t quite entered the Matrix yet (though would we know if we had?) but that’s not a bad bit of crystal ball gazing.
The article ends by saying: ‘You can email Lee & Herring at firstname.lastname@example.org.’ I had totally forgotten that there was a time when email addresses were numerical. That makes the 1990s seem positively medieval. Surely even Queen Victoria’s email address was email@example.com.
It seems so archaic that I wondered if I were to send an email to that address whether it might actually go back through time to the 29-year-old me. It was worth a go.
But what should I write? ‘Kill Stewart Lee, he will betray you’? Or ‘Here are the lottery numbers for every week until 2014’? Or ‘Warn the world about 9/11’? Should I be selfish, petty or try to save the world?
I was finding it hard to decide (and taking it surprisingly seriously, fearful that it might actually work). The information I gave could have repercussions. If I did convince the young me to kill Stewart Lee, then I would have done a great service to the world but I would probably be just being released from prison about now. And if I won the lottery every single week, then I reckon other people would get annoyed and stop playing. Even if I could stop 9/11, think how different the world would be. There’s not a person on the planet whose life has not been affected by that day. Stop it happening and everything would play out differently. Good and bad. I wouldn’t have met my wife. Worse, my cats would probably never have been born. I couldn’t risk it. What I am saying is that if I could prevent 9/11 I wouldn’t do it, for fear I might have different pets.
I realised I didn’t want to change anything about my life. There have been lots of bad things but they needed to be there to get me where I am. I am happy with what I have.
So I just put: ‘Things aren’t going to turn out like you think,’ and clicked send.
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