Posted: Sat Aug 30, 2008 2:12 pm Post subject: Richard Herring
Spirit of Fringe award 'cop-out'
Stand-up Richard Herring has hit out at the decision to give the "Spirit of the Fringe" to every comedian in Edinburgh. Herring, who has been appearing at the Edinburgh Fringe for 17 years, said it was his first Edinburgh award but it was a "patronising cop-out".
David O'Doherty won the main prize at the If.comedy awards and Sarah Millican was named as best newcomer. The £4,000 Spirit of the Fringe prize money was spent on booze for an end of festival party for the comedians.
Awards producer Nica Burns said she was sorry Herring did not join the 200 comics at the Spiegeltent on Monday night who consumed £4,000 of booze in a mere two hours. She added: "The panel decided that in a year when the spirit of the comedy fringe was a hotly debated topic that there was no one show that embodied that spirit. It is their extraordinary camaraderie, their talent and their enormous contribution to the Fringe which the panel has recognised and celebrated." She added that while she "totally" disagreed with Herring, she was delighted he was continuing the tradition of debating the awards.
Writing on his blog, Herring wondered whether every comedian could now put If.comedy winner on their posters. He said: "Far from looking like a magnanimous celebration of the comics, it actually looked like the panel were saying - 'To be honest, no-one epitomised the spirit of the Fringe this year, so we're just going to give it to you all'. In a year where there were fewer shows nominated than usual, which already gave out the signal that the panel thought there were only seven shows in the whole Fringe good enough to be on the list, it only felt like a bit of a kick in the teeth that they couldn't think of anyone to give the prize to."
Herring said he challenged Ms Burns about the decision. She gave him £20 to represent his share of the award. The awards producer said: "A man who can be made happy by a mere £20 is pretty special. All the other men in my life have cost me a great deal more!"
The comedian went on to say that the awards had lost their power since they stopped being called the Perriers two years ago. He added: "Now most of us seem to enjoy the chance to have a party at the end, paid by some men from the city, where we can get drunk and socialise with our fellow comedians and toast the end of another year."
I thought it was a pisstake to give the 'Spirit' award in that way too. Though I disagree with Herring on the reason why - at best it was lazy, at worst I think it was a cynical advertising ploy by if.com to have their logo printed on so many flyers and posters up and down the country for each and every event that the comedians perform in future... and that's certainly worth £4000 worth of booze!
Richard Herring live at Woodville Halls, Gravesend 28th November 2008
By Michael Purton
During stand-up comedian Richard Herring’s gig at the Woodville Halls Theatre in Gravesend on Tuesday (November 25), he described being slapped by a young woman after a performance in Nottingham two nights earlier. She had obviously found something in his show extremely offensive, but it seems to me she had been offended because she simply had not got Herring’s sophisticated humour. To be frank, she was too dumb to understand the irony of Herring’s material, which looks at taboo subjects, such as paedophilia, and satirises the over-reaction to the issue of the general public and media.
Perhaps the reason that Herring, although a professional comedian for almost 20 years and a regular on TV and radio, is not as successful as marquee names like Peter Kay is that he does not appeal to the lowest common denominator - to people like the woman who slapped him. Anyone who turns up expecting to see a string of crude observational ‘I’m just like you, members of the audience, really I am’ jokes will be disappointed.
Fortunately that was not the case in Gravesend, with the small audience laughing along with Herring as he made intelligent jokes, and crude jokes with intelligence behind them. One of the best was the following play on maxims: “I chose to live my life by the motto ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’. Unfortunately, as it turns out, my enemy is his own worst enemy, so I have to invite him to barbecues and stuff. Its quite annoying as I don’t really like him.”
Other material included a satirical look at childish hand-symbols for sexuality and descriptions of his own pathetic attempts to pick up women in bars, and it was all painfully funny. His appearance was part of Gravesham Council’s efforts to establish a regular comedy night in Gravesend, and if the acts remain as excellent as Herring, the venture will be a success.
Richard Herring cuts out swearing for Trevor McDonald's Tonight show Jody Thompson,
Richard Herring is taking part in an experiment to see whether comedy is funny without swearing for a special on the Tonight show with Sir Trevor McDonald. Richard - former one half of comedy duo Lee and Herring who had a hit in the Nineties with the cult Sunday morning show This Morning With Richard Not Judy - played a secret filmed stand-up set at the Porthole Comedy Club at Kilburn's excellent The Good Ship pub last night.
We can report that Richard's show is hilarious and still incredibly rude - even without his usual swearing. According to Richard, ITV are filming another set when he does let his more fruity phrases flow to compare the two for Tonight, and he kept apologising to Sir Trevor everytime an errant f-word slipped out. We did wonder whether it was anything to do with the Mirror's campaign to curb swearing on television, but ITV woulnd't tell us anything officially as they say it's too early into the production. Oh well, we did try for you.
Anyway, Tonight's not back on until 5 January next year, so you'll have to wait 'til at least then to find out. In the meantime, you can catch Richard live next at London's Bloomsbury Ballroom on 18 December along with fellow comics including Robert Ince and former partner Stewart Lee. Or enjoy him on Al Murray The Pub Landlord's Edinburgh And Beyond show a couple of years ago here.
My family values Richard Herring, Comedian Chris Hall
21 March 2009
I wrote a sitcom based on my family. The parents in You Can Choose Your Friends were very much Mum and Dad but my brother wasn't like my brother, and he got quite annoyed because he thought I was saying that was what he was like. I was in awe of my older brother, but he was also quite a threatening figure - he used to beat me up.
I'm 41 and the youngest of three. My brother, David, 48, has a daughter, Emily, 18, and my sister, Jill, 46, has two sons - Andrew, 21, and Michael, 25 - and a daughter, Sarah, 22. It's been great seeing them grow up and being the cool uncle without all the hard work. It is weird to think that that generation has grown up and I haven't started yet.
My youngest nephew, Andrew, and I are pretty similar. He is the most likely to be a comedian or performer - he's cheeky, funny and likeable. When he was 14 or so I gave him the drugs talk, saying, "A bit of marijuana is OK, but don't touch any of the other stuff", but instead he just kept asking, "Have you had drugs?!" He's very sensible and I keep on putting my foot in it.
My dad is a retired headmaster and my mum is an ex-teacher. I was taught by both of them. Once a guy was kicking me after rugby and I said "Leave me alone or I'll get my dad on you!", which was the only time I broke the code.
My parents felt old-fashioned, growing up - they were quite disciplinarian. We went to church and had to learn music, but in hindsight it was a good thing. They are very fair-minded, sometimes ridiculously so. They were once burgled and thought that some cuff-links were stolen but then they found them and so they sent the money back to the insurance company.
My sister is much more emotive than me - she's very loud and outgoing. My sister's children are much more like friends to her than we were with our parents. There is a danger of being spoilt and expecting too much from life, but it's good to give them freedom and understanding.
My mum's father was working class and worked all his life in the construction industry. When he was a young man his father came home, grabbed his book and threw it in the fire saying, "You'll have no need for reading with what you do."
My 97-year-old grandma is amazing. She was fit and active till she was 90 but she no longer recognises anyone. She's a big figure in the family - a big cuddly, loving and loveable woman.
Dad saw my show where I talk about how much I love and respect him - I could barely continue when he was there in the front row. But then after the gig all he said was, "Ah well, I'll talk to you when you get home." It's that father-son thing where you don't go around hugging or kissing and saying I love you but you take it as read.
• The Headmaster's Son is on tour until April 25, see richardherring.com
Richard Herring interview Richard Herring tells us about Virgilio Anderson, Stewart Lee, writing his material, and his new show, Hitler Moustache...
Jul 14, 2009
Comedy genius Richard Herring's new show, Hitler Moustache is currently previewing, ahead of its proper debut at Edinburgh next month. And the man himself has spared us some time for a natter about it...
I guess my first question has to be "Who is Virgilio Anderson?"
I wish I knew the answer. He is a man or a made up person, who knows? When Facebook allowed your name as the page address he took richardherring. I'm almost certain that he's genuine and he has no idea who I am but I was trying to find out why he'd taken my name for his page and he wouldn't respond to me so I just started to write about it and it escalated out of control.
I mentioned it on Twitter and it's turned into a little viral meme but it's not for anything which is what I like about it. It's one of the nice things about the internet, something stupid like that can grab people's attention and people were just making up rubbish about who they imagined he was. Stephen Fry tweeted about seeing Virgilio Anderson on a ferry. It's kind of nice when it gets to that level. I was a bit worried it might spiral out of control and then ruin his life. It was a bit too ‘Dave Gorman' to meet him but I was about to email him and say, "have you seen all this stuff?" and try to reassure him that it wasn't mean because he looks like quite a nice guy.
People are coming to previews of my show and asking, "why are you talking about Virgilio Anderson?", which would almost fit into the show but as we've seen it takes quite a while to explain what it is. It's just been a bit of procrastination, really.
Your new show is called Hitler Moustache. How do you begin writing something like that?
I find with Edinburgh now it varies a little bit, but I've been on tour and written a book this year and I had a preview at the end of May so I've had no time to have actually written anything. Ideas have been flying around in the back of my mind and I grew the moustache for a week, so on the first preview I just talked through everything. I had a routine bubbling around in the back of my mind for a few months about racism and I write a blog every day so sometimes you can take something out from that and find a bit that might work as a good bit of stand-up but it's not really sitting down and writing.
An hour now seems impossibly short. Even in the previews I'm getting about half-way through the story and then I have to wrap up. I've chucked in a couple of routines that will not be in the show - safety routines that don't really fit in with the theme.
Yeah, yeah... one of them is based on a blog, one of them is based on when I used to write the phonebook twenty years ago, which I think I've mentioned before in passing but I've never done it before in one of my shows. There might be a way of sneaking it into the final show but I think the more confident you get with the stuff, the story is strong enough to hold peoples' attention without having to put in extraneous routines.
I've just watched The Great Dictator, I've read a bit, but you need to sit down and really work at it. It was one of my ambitions as a stand-up is to be able to on stage and talk without any preparation whatsoever and be funny. Which is sort of what we're doing with the podcast - we don't prepare that at all and the first preview felt like that. It's quite an exciting process and I think it's quite interesting, as long as the audience knows that's what's happening.
The Headmaster's Son got some really great reviews, including a 5 star review from Chortle. Do you feel under any pressure that Hitler Moustache has to live up to that?
You can't really get to that point where you start worrying if people are going to like it; you've just got to try to do the best job you can. I've been doing stand-up now for six or seven years and I'm getting better as a performer every year so even if one idea was a better show I'm probably already a better performer than I was last year so I'm kind of hopeful that it will go down well . The pressure is kind of off because I do these shows to do these shows; it's not like I'm trying to get on TV on impress anyone; just to entertain people. The reaction has been great so far and I'm only about 25 percent of the way there so I feel quite confident that it's going to be a good show.
My favourite show is Christ on a Bike. That didn't get any 5 star reviews, but people remember it quite fondly so there's no point worrying too much about the critical acclaim. I think I know more about comedy than most comedy critics now, so they might not get what I'm doing which sometimes happens. Someone Likes Yoghurt got Worst Comedy Experience of 2005 from the Daily Telegraph but it wasn't; it was a good show, an interesting show but I think a comedy critic, even if they didn't like it, they'd have to go "Well that was an interesting hour of my time."
Someone Likes Yoghurt was quite unique in that it had a lot of improvised material. By taking the Collings And Herin Podcast to the Edinburgh Show is that going to be your outlet for improvisation this year?
Yes, it sort of is in a way. We improvise it so they're going to be quite different shows. Even if we talk about something before in the kitchen and then we'll go up to record it and realise we've ruined it because we've talked about it. Part of what's great about it is surprising each other about what we're going to say and me being astonished by Collings' ridiculous opinions and him having to cope with me taking things way too far.
Because I get bored so quickly I tend to mess around with the routine and try to find new jokes in any show but, yeah, that will be 100 percent made up. We have things to fall back on, things that people enjoy hearing but it's quite natural and organic that we'll run our subjects into the ground until it's not funny, then it becomes funny again and then we'll stop doing it and do something else. We don't say, "Oh we better not do anything about bumming this week."
I think what makes it brilliant is the stuff on there that isn't very good; it proves the stuff that is good is made up. The hit rate of funny stuff given that we're literally sitting down and talking with each other is astonishingly high, but if we didn't have the other stuff, the bits that don't work, people would suspect we've scripted it all, or worked out in advance what we're going to do. I'll be interested to see whether that works in Edinburgh at lunchtime when I'm going to be quite tired. Maybe we'll see that it's just me being grumpy for five days but who knows? People seem to like those podcasts as well.
You've been doing a new show a year for a few years now. Is that something you'd like to continue with?
The show is a big part of my year and it is financially viable. I'm now actually making money because I've cut corners with costs, I tour it, and then I do a DVD through Go Faster Stripe. If you add all that together it kind of makes the six months it takes to put the show together worthwhile. I'm gaining momentum all the time; more people are coming year on year, but I just like creating a new ‘thing'. And it isn't that difficult; once you've got a ‘thing,' writing an hour seems pretty easy and then it becomes 90 minutes or two hours once you tour it.
I've kind of got a slight backup in that I could do Christ on a Bike and Talking Cock again. I'd quite like to do that because they're not on DVD and it's almost the 10th anniversary of Christ on a Bike. One year I was going to do Christ on a Bike as well as my other show but I couldn't do it every day and I couldn't find somewhere to do it just at weekends, but so much time has passed that I can have a look at those shows and rewrite them a bit. I've also got so many new fans that haven't seen those shows that it'd be quite good if I don't have time to write a show.
It's really great to be pushing myself and to just be working for yourself. I'm not working to any agenda and the audience tends to come with me. If they don't like it one year they still tend to come back the next year because they know that I'm taking chances - I don't want to churn out the same show where people see the same sort of thing. The Headmaster's Son is quite a sweet look at my childhood, Hitler Moustache is a harsh look at racism and politics and a ridiculous stunt so hopefully if they like me they'll like both shows
I think it's good to keep pushing yourself. As I get older it's more difficult, more tiring to do these things. Because I'm a writer, often when I'm doing these gigs at night it wipes me out completely the next day and I have to balance out if it's worth the time I'm taking doing gigs against what I'm losing in terms of being able to write stuff, but it's been working out okay. I think I'll have done eight shows at Edinburgh this decade which is a pretty impressive hit rate but I still get people complaining that I repeat material. I write 365 blogs a year, 52 podcasts a year and I write about 160 minutes of new material every year and you're still complaining about doing a joke that's 20 years old when I'm doing a charity gig, where I don't necessarily want to try out my new stuff? If I write something in a blog and it's good I'll use it on stage or somewhere else; that's part of the reason it exists.
You've been doing comedy in one form or another for about twenty years. Do you still struggle to find your own voice in your work?
Coming out of ‘Lee and Herring' it was hard to find a new voice. For Stewart it was a bit easier because he was much more himself and his stand up persona in ‘Lee and Herring' and was also doing his stand-up all the time anyway. I had to find a new thing to do on my own; my character very much depended on being with someone else. I think certainly the last four or five years I've really got a hold of my own thing I do in stand-up. Occasionally you'll see someone and be a bit influenced by them for a little while, but that's a good thing I think. What's strange on the circuit is I'll see someone who's really good and then pretty much realise that they've obviously been influenced by the stuff me and Stew did 10 or 15 years ago but that can be quite good.
One year I saw people like Terry Saunders and Josie long, I went to their shows and I was doing quite aggressive nasty shows and that made me think maybe i should do a slightly more lyrical and human show and that's why I kind of did The Headmaster's Son. You'll see someone and they'll point you in a direction or influence so that's kind of inevitable.
I like Charlie Brooker and I think reading his book you'll notice the blogs around that time maybe were slightly influenced every now and again. I really like a writer called Jonathan Ames and reading his books made me think I could write really incredibly personal stuff that I was too scared to write about before so you still get influenced by people and I think if you didn't that would be a shame. That's part of what an artistic community is about; you see each others' stuff, you realise when you're getting boring or when you're just treading water a bit.
I'm pretty good at writing for other people and I'm pretty good at taking someone else's voice. I think with Al Murray when I wrote Time Gentlemen Please I found it quite easy to get into his world; writing him and the other characters we both created. Journalists compare me to Stewart Lee but I don't know if they understand that we worked together for a long time; I think we both influenced each other. Sometimes people will say, "That's quite like a Stewart Lee routine," and you go, "well that's because we wrote together for 15 years and we liked the same kind of comedy which is why we worked together."
It's for other people to say if they think I'm like anyone else but I think I'm treading my own path, and quite deliberately so. I'm not thinking about becoming a TV star or anything; just trying to write good stuff and seeing where it leads me.
How do you see the Internet affecting comedy?
I think it already has, really. I'm doing a show in the autumn; a weekly sketch and stand-up show which I'll write and put together in the week and then put out on the internet which will be funded by people paying to see the actual show. If enough people come to see it I'll make almost as much money as I would writing a radio show but I have the control over it to do exactly what I want. Suddenly you get this kind of freedom.
The podcast and the blog and everything, it's a way of getting people interested in your work. I've been Twittering a lot over the past few weeks and you'll notice that people come up to you and say "I follow you on Twitter" or "I love the podcast". This stuff on the internet for free... it's like a calling card or advert. I don't understand why Matt Lucas and David Walliams do anything for the BBC. If you've got enough money make it yourself, have all the money from it and then sell it to the BBC. As successful artists become more successful they can break away from the restrictions that are being imposed on them by television.
I think the whole Ross/Brand thing is in danger of destroying TV as a viable place to do this job because you can't be restricted as a comedian. You can be edited down afterwards but as a comedian you want to go and do your thing not be thinking "Oh, I wonder if this is too offensive to say?" You want to think if it is too offensive to say, the producer will edit it out. That's why the podcast is popular; we can say anything we like and the public aren't stupid and most of them don't give a fuck about swearing or being offensive. They like that, they want that, so that's where they're going to go to get their comedy and that is terribly bad news for something like the BBC.
I want to talk about the reunions you've done with Stewart Lee, Tedstock and the 10th Anniversary TMWRNJ Show. Do you have any plans to revive the double act?
Every now and again it always comes up; Stewart always talks about doing it in 25 years time when we're really old. We did enjoy doing those shows and I think it's quite obvious that on stage we're having a good time and it's great that people love it so much. I think it would be a backward step unless we can think of something amazing to do. I wouldn't rule it out, it does seem like a lot of people who were fans of ours when they were kids are now in a position where they could get something done, but we're both doing well with what we're doing and the danger is if it would be as good as people remember it being?
We're good friends and but if we were to do it again I think we'd actually have to write some new material rather than just using the old stuff in a post-modern way. We should have done an Edinburgh show a couple of years ago when the people who liked us were in their mid-twenties and it would've been fun to do a reunion tour but it's kind of one of those things that it wasn't as successful as anyone could really imagine it being. The media never acknowledge it - it's only comedians and comedy nerds. It's never in I Love the 90s, none of our sketches are in the top 100 sketches. You'll sell 600 tickets pretty quickly and we could probably sell 3-4000 tickets but would that be the case if we did it all the time? Because it's a rare thing just every now and again people want to see it.
How do you feel about unlicensed recordings of your work, such as the infamous Heckle YouTube video and the reunion bootlegs?
Half a million people have seen the heckle video and I get people who'll come to gigs on the strength of that clip, so I'm absolutely happy for that to go up. I think it's not all about making money; a lot of it's about not making a lot of money. The BBC aren't going to release TMWRNJ so put it up on YouTube as far as I'm concerned. It would be great to have a proper release just so we can stick in all the extra stuff that would be there. With Fist of Fun there was at least another two or three shows worth of material that we could put out if it still exists.
Some of Stew's commercially available DVDs are being pirated. No-one's really making much money out of those; it's just for the love of putting the show out, but as long as the BBC don't want to put out a DVD I'm happy for the stuff to go out. And we were never going to commercially exploit the reunion gigs, so why not have it out there for free? It's nice if more people can see it.
Your DVDs tend to be packed full of additional content. Are you a big fan of DVD extras?
It's just nice to give value to something, and that's all we really wanted to do with that.
On the last DVD I had one of the early previews that just got filmed and I put that out in its entirety and that's just for someone who's a big fan of mine and is interested in the process. Most people aren't going to be interested in watching a poor performance of an early version of the show! There was a podcast on there and film stuff I've done and bits and pieces and it's nice to give some background.
As a comedy fan I got annoyed when a book came out that was sparse; nothing in it, someone cashing in on the TV success...
Hence the Fist Of Fun book?
Yeah, that's why we did the book, with that we really wanted to make it worthwhile. It's just about giving value and why not? So that's just the fanboy in both me and Stew.
With the Someone Likes Yoghurt DVD, Chris Evans from Go Faster Stripe came up to Liverpool and we had a day's worth of filming for the extras. It's just fun to give people a bit more and make it worthwhile and not feel you're just giving people an hour of stand-up that's available on another DVD but filmed in a different location where you're just ripping people off.
You've got a few strings to your bow: writer, actor, author, game show panellist. Is there anything you haven't done that'd you'd want to do?
It's just trying to get a balance between all those things, really. Now that I'm getting more of those panel show jobs it's quite good because earning a living doing those frees you up to do the stuff that you don't get paid for. I'd be happy to do one of those a week and then have the rest of the week to do whatever I wanted. If a little acting job comes along that's nice but I'm much more interested in doing the live stuff, the podcast, stand-up and the writing.
I'd like to be able to get my scripts on TV more. I write a lot of sitcoms and comedy dramas that don't get made, so I guess if I could expand a little bit it would be in that direction. I think the scripts are good; I think they should be on TV, most of them, and it's kind of frustrating that it's very difficult to get stuff on.
I'm incredibly lucky to have been working for 20 years. I've constantly worked making a living, I've never had to do anything else and something comes up all the time. It feels like things are definitely moving in the right direction; I feel like I'm getting better at doing what I'm doing, people seem more interested in it, I'm getting more offers of work so it's quite nice to take what comes and see where life takes you.
There might come a point that if I got a bit more successful I'd spend a few years just doing the shows again; as I said, like Christ On A Bike and Talking Cock, but it'd even be nice to do The Headmaster's Son again at some point. It felt like it was getting to a level where it might break through a little bit more. We did the London run and that was great; it felt like if I hadn't had to go on tour we'd have extended the London run and who knows what might've happened? It could've been a much more successful show so it's nice to have those shows there ready to go, but it's also great to force yourself to create something new.
You mentioned your book coming out, is that going to be in the same vein as Bye Bye Balham?
How Not To Grow Up is much more honest and open about various disgraceful ridiculous things I got up to. It's much more of a narrative about the year whereas Bye Bye Balham I spent a bit of time editing and adding information.
I see that book and, if we do any more of those, again as a DVD extra. They're for people who really, really like me and love the blogs and maybe don't want to read it all on a computer screen. How Not To Grow Up is more of a book that people who are not necessarily fans of mine might be interested in. There's a crossover with both Oh Fuck, I'm 40! and the blogs but there's a hell of a lot of extra stuff I was actually up to which I don't really tend to talk about in the blogs.
Frankie Boyle recently said he was going to quit standup in a couple years because he believes few comedians past 40 are funny. Do you believe that's necessarily true?
It's hard work being a stand-up; it's much harder and not as well paid as doing a game show or a chat show on TV so a lot of the good people will veer off into that or they're doing film work. Simon Pegg's doing films, Steve Coogan's doing films... they're not going to come back and do a little room above a pub, but that's how you become a good stand-up.
Ben Elton has been away from stand-up and doesn't know what the fuck any of it is about and when he came back he was doing very obvious and crappy material from what little I saw. But if you're still on the circuit and still interested in doing it and still interested in the job you can kind of get better. Stew's just... every year you're thinking, "Wow, this is getting more and more interesting." You wouldn't want him to give up because he's pushing things in a new direction.
It's circumstance and luck that's left me in this position. I feel fortunate because I'm still in a position to create interesting stuff, I make a good living at what I'm doing and I can see that it's possible to keep that going for the rest of my life. Ten years ago I would've said I wanted to be on TV and that's all I'm really interested in. If we'd become Little Britain as Lee and Herring neither of us would've done these interesting experimental shows which is kind of what's making us who we are at the moment. If Stew hadn't done 90s Comedian he wouldn't be seen as one of the greatest stand-ups of all time.
I think it's a job the older you get the more you should be doing but it's up to Frankie if he doesn't want to be doing it when he's 40. It's hard, tiring hard work but, you know, Billy Connolly is an amazing stand-up and he's in his sixties.
So Frankie's wrong, but I think I'm one of the ones he likes, he comes to see my shows, so I think I got into his small demographic!
The second coming
24th June 2010
Richard Herring has turned his back on Hitler and embraced Jesus Christ. But the Cheddar-born funnyman hasn't been regaling me with the tale of his conversion from Nazi to born again Christian.
"Last year, my Edinburgh show was about Hitler. This year, it's about Jesus. My target audience is clearly Pope Benedict," laughs the likeable comic. Richard's show Hitler Moustache was a huge hit at the 2009 festival. At the sell-out gigs, he mused over why an innocent square inch of facial hair has taken the blame for Nazism.
This year he's revisiting and substantially reworking his first and favourite solo work, Christ On A Bike. Now 10 years older than the Messiah when he died, has Richard achieved as much with his life as JC himself?
"Christ On A Bike – The Second Coming is about my relationship with Jesus, having grown up as a Christian and then becoming an atheist," explains Richard, who was part of the prodigious Nineties double act Lee & Herring with Stewart Lee, creating the cult television shows Fist of Fun and This Morning With Richard Not Judy. Back in 2001, my mum said that if I was so sure Jesus isn't God, why do I spend so much time reading and talking about him? That got me thinking. So this show is about me trying to work out who Jesus really was and also to look at why I'm so obsessed with him even though I'm not religious."
Combining child-like guile with rigorous academic research, Richard attempts to discover the true historical Jesus, find out why he is all things to all men, discovers a mistake on the very first page of the New Testament and tries to ascertain if Jesus ever really did walk like a lady and wear a bra. "I also look at whether my obsession is about fear of being wrong and how as a kid I had this meta-nihilistic thing going on where I thought I might actually be Jesus."
Along the way, Richard tells me he'll ask all the great theological questions, like why did Jesus always call Simon "Peter"? Was it the same as the way Trigger always called Rodney "Dave"? Whatever happened to the gold, frankincense and myrrh? Wouldn't they have made a humble biblical family like the Christ's wealthy beyond their wildest dreams? And how many weeks would you have to take Holy Communion before you had consumed an entire Jesus?
Richard, who honed his stand-up skills on the Bristol comedy circuit, first performed Christ On A Bike at Edinburgh in 2001 and is still a landmark set in his illustrious career. "It was nerve-wracking because I had always been part of a double act before," admits Richard, who has written for Al Murray's Time Gentlemen Please and Little Britain. "It was a big, big step for me. Thankfully, it went really well and built by word of mouth. It's the one show that people are still asking me about even now and it feels like the right time to revisit it.
"I also thought it would be nice to give myself a bit of a break from writing a brand new show, but actually I think it's going to be just as difficult. Still, it's nice to have a concept there and the bones of a successful show in place because normally at this time of year you get the fear that you're doing something that might not work."
In addition to his stand-up set, Richard will be performing an unscripted, unplanned, unedited and unabashed hour of topical guff with pal Andrew Collins (BBC 6 Music, Banter, Not Going Out) at the festival, which will be available to download as a podcast within hours of each show. It will be an extension of the weekly podcasts the pair produce throughout the year, which have garnered a loyal fanbase, with each freely downloadable instalment heard by about 20,000 listeners.
"I've always been an early adopter of new technology," says Richard. "I've been doing a daily blog for seven-and-a-half years and I really enjoy doing the podcasts – it's a really interesting way to try out new comedy. Unlike television, there are no boundaries or time constrictions with doing something on the internet and I think it has been a big factor in getting new people interested in my comedy. It's the same way the music industry works now, where people listen to stuff for free on the internet and if they like it they'll go and see the band play live."
While Richard crops up on our screens occasionally, we're in agreement that other than the odd gem like Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle, comedy on television has become cheap and sanitised, turning still-green fledgling comics into overnight celebrities.
"I don't think TV is taking any chances. Panel shows are inexpensive and easy to do, which is why there are so many of them. I think that me and Stew were lucky that we got on telly when we did because back then they would just let us get on with it. Now TV execs are trying to put together shows with people who don't necessarily work well together. I think the people on telly should be the ones writing the shows and the material as well. Not just put behind a desk and told what to do. It shouldn't be so easy to get on TV, but I think that the people making the choices about who to put on there don't really know that much about comedy. They're more interested about making stars out of young blood."
In an era in which comics veer towards TV in favour of working the live stand-up circuit, Richard is adamant that live work is where comics and comedy really grows and thrives.
"Doing live work makes you better. It's as simple as that. I'm such a better comedian now than I was when I was doing Lee and Herring, for example. I've worked really hard at being a stand-up in the past six or seven years and I've improved. It would be easy to just be the captain of a panel show rather than going out and doing the work. If you can earn £1,000 doing a TV show why would you go out and do a live gig for £25? But it means you lose the craft. I won't just do something for the money. Different things motivate different people and it is comedy that interests me and getting better at it."
Richard Herring on how to survive as a comedian in the modern, frightening world
In several impressive and frighteningly labour intensive ways, Richard Herring is one of the hardest working comics in Britain. To list just a few of these endeavours (deep breath):
... Herring has written and performed original shows in Edinburgh virtually every year since 1987, written more than 3,000 entries in his daily blog over the last eight years, written and released two series of free, original sketch shows ('As It Occurs To Me') and roughly 200 episodes of his other podcast with Andrew Collins, released two DVDs in 2010 alone plus a book about his childhood and six episodes of 'Richard Herring's Objective' for Radio 4, and is about to embark on another six-month tour for latest show Christ On A Bike.
The result of this vast amount of work has not been stadium tours and mainstream fame, but something arguably much more valuable and sustainable: a dedicated audience, a unique identity, and a reputation for the kind of entrepreneurship that the Internet was supposed to make possible.
We sat down with Richard ahead of his 2010/11 tour to ask just how a comedian can go about forging a following (and making a living), even when BBC One doesn't come calling.
My Life In Travel: Richard Herring, comedian, writer and broadcaster 'I have learnt that travel broadens the waist'
Interview by Sophie Lam
22 January 2011
First holiday memory?
From the age of about three to six, I used to go with my family to the Isle of Arran for our holidays. We stayed in a little cottage by the sea and I remember there was a coal fire. Once, my dad hired a rowing boat and we all went out to sea, but it got quite rough and my mum was screaming at him that we were all going to die; we got back fine. Another time we were driving down a winding road by the sea and my dad let me sit on his knee and steer the wheel.
My first holiday with my girlfriend, which was to Sicily in 2008. I think partly because it was our first holiday together and it was really romantic, but it was also really beautiful. We went to an amazing Roman villa called the Villa Romana del Casale and stayed in Syracuse where Archimedes was born. We hired a car and I was a bit uneasy about driving because all the streets are basically the width of the car, but the drive to the Roman villa was lovely.
Favourite place in the British Isles?
I like historical places such as Stonehenge and Fishbourne Roman Palace in Sussex. They aren't on the scale of anything in Italy, but they're my favourite places in Britain. I also love the beautiful landscapes in the Lake District.
What have you learnt from your travels?
That travel broadens the waist! Also, as a writer, being in a completely different environment can really fire the imagination and senses. It's good to see different cultures and you realise that each has a different norm and thinks that its way of doing things is right. It helps you realise that we should be more understanding of one another.
Ideal travelling companion?
My girlfriend. Before we were together I went on holiday on my own quite a lot and liked that autonomy, although it could get a bit lonely. However, my girlfriend and I seem to agree on what we're doing so there's no pressure.
Beach bum, culture vulture or adrenalin junkie?
I tend to have one holiday where I'll be a beach bum and one where I go somewhere interesting and look at cultural things. We're going to the Maldives next which will involve being a beach bum, and we went to Prague a couple of months ago to look at the historical stuff. Sometimes you can combine them if you find the right place, like Italy.
Greatest travel luxury?
I like to stay in nice hotels. I used to be happy camping and staying in youth hostels but now I will spend a bit extra on getting somewhere very comfortable. I went to Thailand about 10 years ago and really mixed it up, staying in nice hotels and then beach huts that cost about £2 a night. Often the beach huts were better.
I'll often read a book a day when I'm sitting on the beach. I read all sorts: comedian's autobiographies, some of the bigger history books and also novels.
Where has seduced you?
I keep going back to Italy. I love the lifestyle, the people, the history and countryside. You feel it's the sort of place you'd like to be old in.
Better to travel or arrive?
It depends on how you're getting there and which airline it is. If you spend a bit extra then travelling can be great, but I usually spend the money on the holiday rather than the flight.
Worst travel experience?
I had the worst and weirdest experience while inter-railing in Europe with my friend in 1986. I was writing my diary on a train and this old woman and a young girl came and sat in our carriage and started laughing – it was really odd. They got up and left and a strange dust appeared on my diary.
After that, we had a run of bad luck. We got to Pisa and couldn't find anywhere to stay so decided to get an overnight train to Vienna. Before we got on we ate some salad but started feeling ill on the train. The toilets were locked so we had to throw plastic bags of sick out of the window. Then we were in the wrong part of the train and had to sleep on the floor, and when we got to Vienna I left my wallet in a phone box. I think I had a gypsy curse on me.
Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons. It was summer and either mine or my girlfriend's birthday; we walked around the gardens and had amazing food and the rooms were luxurious and full of interesting stuff. We had a lovely time.
I go to Edinburgh a lot for the Fringe and I finally got around to going up Arthur's Seat a couple of years ago. It was nice to look down on Edinburgh and get away from the madness of the Fringe. It's quite a challenging walk, especially if you've been spending the month drinking and not exercising.
Best meal abroad?
A place we came across in Bangkok; it was a proper Thai café. The food was spicy, gorgeous and authentic and the experience was great. Often when you go abroad you're eating a romanticised idea of the country's food so it was nice to eat what the locals enjoy.
I want to go to Egypt and see the pyramids and I'd also like to do the Inca trail.
It would be Pompeii or Rome, for losing yourself in the history. A lot of Pompeii has not yet been excavated and that's what's exciting – there's more to be found.
To the Maldives for two weeks. I had a very stressful time last year and worked really hard so I decided to splash out.
For someone who gains so much from being angry about stuff, he seems unfeasibly happy.
Interview Richard Herring Matthew Gardner catches up with the comic as his tour takes him through Yorkshire
1st March 2011
As a comedian who’s been on the circuit for over 20 years, Richard Herring just wants to do a good, honest job and be well-remembered. He parallels himself to an unsung hero – a 50-year veteran and Leeds native adored by many. “I want to be like Barry Cryer; he’s had a really nice career,” Herring says, reverentially. “He’s the kind of guy who’s not a listed favourite of anyone but is respected for an excellent career. I’d just like to think I could be in my 70s and people would still come to my gigs.”
Now a youthful-looking 43, Herring returns to Leeds with Christ on a Bike: The Second Coming, reworking a show first performed in 2001. It’s for good reason, too. “It’s nice to go back; it was the first show I did as a complete solo stand-up and I thought I’d be a lot better at doing it,” he explains. “I wanted to bring it to a new crowd who didn’t have chance to see it first time around. There aren’t DVDs of it; I want people to see all my material.”
The new tour follows his celebrated 2009 show Hitler Moustache. He tells fans: “Last year the show was about Hitler. This year it’s about Jesus. My target audience is clearly Pope Benedict.” Despite the edginess of his topics, Herring’s demeanour and direction is one of comfort and openness. He’s not in it for the money; he just likes entertaining. “You can have 10,000 people pay you £10 each and you’re made for the year,” he shrugs.
Many people remember Herring from his 90s double act with Stewart Lee in Fist of Fun and This Morning with Richard Not Judy. While he doesn’t rule out reforming with his good friend, he knows that they have separate careers. In his recent autobiography How I Escaped My Certain Fate, Lee said the pair didn’t split, they simply “stopped” – a solid description of an understanding friendship that continues to this day, as Herring confirms: “It feels like a different time… I see a different person when I watch those things. It’s 12 years since we finished doing that. “We might get back together… you never know. Still, it’s great that people still keep up with it and I’m so proud of what we did. The live solo work’s still the most important stuff, though; I have complete control over it.”
You don’t see Herring on TV stand-up shows, though; the format leaves him feeling slightly disillusioned. “The way people judge success isn’t necessarily what it is,” he says. “A lot of people think that if you’re not on TV, you’re not a professional comedian. Getting noticed on TV isn’t a sign of quality; it’s a helpful tool to launch careers but the mould you’re in on screen can detract from the essence of the job.”
And so the funnyman happily plays intimate gigs and enjoys time with ‘colleague’ Andrew Collins in podcasts and on BBC 6Music, with the odd TV appearance now and then. Herring just wants to sustainably do what he loves the most. He’s not against a change, though. He may return to TV soon with a self-penned project; something different. “I’m gonna have another go at writing. I think I’m a good at it and I’m happy with everything else I’m doing. I’d like the chance to do a comedy drama or a sitcom.”
If he lives up to his Barry Cryer goal, the best is undoubtedly yet to come from Herring, even if it’s his stand-up that defines him.
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