Interview with Dave
Richard Herring interview
He's come to sort out all of those niggly theological issues that have been plaguing mankind for years. We spoke to Richard Herring about his tour, taboos and his teenage self.
start quote I don't think Andrew Collins understands how scary [improv] is, he's a bit like Rain Manend quote
You're currently touring Christ On A Bike: The Second Coming – how's it been getting back to grips with your old material – has much of it survived?
Well it's a mixture, a lot of new material's been added but a lot of the old stuff has survived too. It was an hour long, it's now an hour forty, so there are four of five new routines in there which have reinvigorated it. It's been great going back to it and having another crack, it was nine or 10 years ago and so I'm a better stand up now. It feels new. It was never on DVD or anything so I had to reconstruct it from scripts, and bootlegs, but it all came back pretty quickly, even stuff like the 'begat' routine which is quite a big memory piece, I found that a lot of it was still mostly in tact in my mind. There's a fair bit of improvisation while I'm on tour as well, I'll end up talking about something that comes up in a show for a few nights running and it gets worked on, and eventually builds into a new routine too.
With the new show you've promised to answer all the great theological questions, and faced the taunts of hard-line religious types – sounds a little bit like Jesus, doesn't it? Are you our Messiah?
There are a lot of similarities…Jesus talked about the old Jewish religious laws and pointed out the hypocrisies in them. No, it's weird, there have been a few people complaining, a bit more than when I toured it first time round, but it's almost always people who've not actually seen the show and are complaining about a show they've imagined. I've had lots of positive comments from clergymen who've come to the show, and while they're not necessarily going to agree with what I'm saying they are acting in a much more Christian way, turning the other cheek, rising above it and all that. I think it's good that we live in a country where people can believe what they want to believe, whether it's me saying what I'm saying or the people who are complaining about me blaspheming. It's a shame when people concentrate on the tiny minority who complain, I think it's fair to say Jesus could cope with being mocked if he's everything they say he is.
Your book How Not To Grow Up is about turning 40 and still mucking about – how do you fight the descent into maturity?
You have to find a balance somewhere in between maturity and immaturity. There are bad things about both, I think the main thing is as you get older not to stop having fun. I'm quite lucky - my job makes me do stupid things, but there are downsides: as I said in the book I've not got a family and at the time I was single. You just have to stay engaged and interested, not just get to a point where you think because you're older you have to get the slippers out. My body forces me to be a bit more mature, the hangovers are worse and if you're working as hard as I am at the minute you've got to be pretty strict. You've just got to find your own way, really, I mean I'm 43 and I'm still drawing cocks on things…
Going back to your first solo tour, and having recently written about (not) growing up – is there anything you'd like to go back and tell your teenage self?
Well I did something similar on my Headmaster's Son tour, having an imaginary conversation with my younger self, and wondering what he'd make of me. I was recently talking to my nephew, being a cool uncle and trying to pass on what I've learned about drugs but then he just asked "have you taken drugs?", and we weren't ready to have that conversation. I suppose you just have to learn for yourself, it would have been great if I could have told my younger self to be more confident, I always thought I was fat but looking back at old pictures I was actually quite slim and good looking. I might have told me to persevere with stand up, because I gave that up at 22 to do the double act and the radio work, but in some ways it's been a good thing because when I came back to it I was a bit older and had better stories. I suppose for a comedian the bad stuff is where you get your best material from. We lost our TV show in 1999 but it was lucky in a way because it kept us striving to do better work, I think if you have a big success when you're young, or you get too much money, you lose that need to keep improving, so I think it's better if it comes later on.
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Your attempts to bring back the Hitler moustache, among other things, saw you tackling taboos head on – do you ever worry about attracting the wrong sort of audience member?
You're always conscious of it but I don't think it's something you can control. I'm quite a fringe interest so it's not really a big problem. There was someone from UKIP who came to one of the shows and started challenging me but it's not really been a problem, it's more of a problem for someone like Al Murray where the people he's sending up become fans. It's not really up to you as a performer, I know there are some people who worry about the wrong people coming to the shows but if that ever happens with me, which is rare, they just get bored – I advise them to leave and they soon do.
As It Occurs To Me's pretty risky, innovative stuff – do you think the future of comedy lies on the uncensored world of the Internet?
I hope so. It's brilliant; it's such an easy way for comedians to become masters of their own destiny. You can literally have an idea and record it in an hour and put it online, it's got a punk rock feeling to it. I think in the long run the Internet will usurp TV, or the two will meld into one thing. It does make it a level playing field, anyone who has access to a computer can now record their work, and it means you've got complete freedom, there's no one to tell you what you can do, no focus groups, no censors. There are 50,000 people downloading As It Occurs To Me every week, so if they all come to see me live, and a lot of them do, that has a big impact on a tour. It's all about the work more than anything else though. With Christ On A Bike as it is now, a fair way into the tour, having been worked on and having little bits added throughout, I'd definitely say it's the best stand up I've done. None of the 'important people' are going to see it at this stage, so it's purely about the work, and making it as good as it can be. If I was younger and more technically proficient it'd be an amazingly exciting time, I could make sitcom ideas I've had and put them online, with proper production.
You and Andrew Collins have been taking the podcast world by storm – how does it compare to working with your old mucker Stewart Lee?
It's very different with Andrew than it was with Stew, we used to sit and write for hours but with Andrew we just meet up and have a chat. Me and Stew used to get on each other's nerves a lot, we've got quite different personalities, although now that we're older I'm sure we'd argue a lot less. But with Andrew it's just fun, it is quite odd to meet up with one person that regularly, apart from my girlfriend he's the most constant presence in my life, and we do have moments where he genuinely gets annoyed at me. We're pushing boundaries, I mean if someone had said to me a few years back I'd be doing an hour of improv in front of an audience with a music journalist I wouldn't have believed them. I saw Reginald D Hunter doing a show a while back where he seemed to make up a load of stories, it was an amazing show, and thinking that I'd love to do that – and now we are. I always used to rely on the crutch of a script but now there's no preparation and we just get up and do it. I don't think Andrew understands how scary that is, he's a bit like Rain Man – at times he'll do five minutes straight without getting a laugh, which would kill most comics, and then he'll get his big laugh and he's fine. I loved the times when I was working with Stew, and I laughed more than I probably ever have, but I think in some ways we're both bigger now than we were when we were together with our TV show, the people who watched the show have stuck with us and we've got better at stand up.
You've been doing a lot of online and live stuff, plus writing, of late – any plans to do more TV work, any sitcoms up your sleeve?
I'm very busy, there's another series of As It Occurs To Me coming up, as well as a new Edinburgh show I'm writing called What Is Love Anyway, so that has to be ready to go up there. Then there's a Radio 4 show and a comedy/drama script I'm writing for the BBC. And a podcast. That is if I'm still alive in six months' time…
For details and ticket information about Richard Herring's Christ On A Bike Tour see http://www.richardherring.com/