Interview with the Westmoreland Gazette
Richard Herring - 40 up!
2:55pm Friday 27th June 2008
By Colin Shelbourn Â»
I LAST interviewed the comedian Richard Herring when he was a callow youth of 28, I was only 11 years older and The Westmorland Gazette was a mere stripling at 178. Now Richard is 40, Iâ€™m lying about my age and the Gazette has reached the ripe old age of 190. Why is this relevant? Because on 21 June, Richard Herring was at the Brewery Arts in Kendal to perform his show Oh Good Grief Iâ€™m 40 (or words to that effect).
I caught up with him afterwards to discuss the show and the genesis of his new show, The Headmasterâ€™s Son, which formed the second half of the nightâ€™s performance.
As we sat down to chat, I thought he was looking tired. Just tired, not old - certainly no more than 39. Reading his blog afterwards, I discovered that heâ€™d been performing at Oxford at 3am that morning and had driven straight to Kendal to do tonightâ€™s performance. The glamourous life of the professional comedian.
This was the last performance of the 40 show and the first of The Headmasterâ€™s Son.
Richard mentions in his blog that Kendal marked handing over the baton from the old show to the new. In fact, The Headmasterâ€™s Son routine was quite rough in that it was a mix of read notes and memorised routines and clearly a work in progress. But one with a lot of potential, in which he reads extracts from his teenage diaries and reflects on what he thought then and how he sees the world now.
CS: How is the tour going?
RICHARD HERRING: This tour has generally been good. This is the first time Iâ€™ve done Kendal. Itâ€™s been good, I enjoyed it. The more extreme stuff went well. Sometimes when you do that material itâ€™s risky but they sort of got it.
CS: I thought The Headmasterâ€™s Son was fun, it was a sort of double act with your 15-year-old self.
RICHARD HERRING: Yeah, I think itâ€™s quite nice because itâ€™s all about the two way street between me and my younger self. It is similar to the 40 show in that itâ€™s about looking back and looking forward. Thereâ€™s so much I want to do with it. I think thereâ€™s a book in it as well. Itâ€™s about - failing to to grow up.
CS: Did comedy feature on the horizon at all when you were fifteen?
RICHARD HERRING: Yeah, I actually want to do that in the show. I was really into comedy. I might work in one of the routines I used to do at school, when, I was into doing school revues and cartoons in the school magazine. I did a song called My Penis Can Sing, which I might try and do in the show. There are so many things which are exactly the same, I canâ€™t say school changed me into somebody else, I was into comedy when I was four or five years old.
CS: Did your father being the headmaster influence what you did?
RICHARD HERRING: I donâ€™t think it did. I might want to argue that in the show but I donâ€™t think it did. He might have had a slight influence over me but looking at my diaries he isnâ€™t mentioned that much. I think I might argue that being the headmasterâ€™s son, I didnâ€™t get beaten in by other kids. If I had been as annoying as I was, and not the headmasterâ€™s son I would probably have been beaten up a lot â€¦so I was sort of protected. Which was good for me as a comedian but probably not so good for me as a human being.
CS: Some of the material is quite raw, isnâ€™t it?
RICHARD HERRING: But thatâ€™s whatâ€™s nice about it. I want to do some sweet stuff.
CS: You donâ€™t think that will be a problem, going over it night by night?
RICHARD HERRING: : There are so many stories and there are so many ways of going with it, you can find new stuff each night. Iâ€™m still enjoying new things in the 40 show. With the new show, I need to get to the point where I know what Iâ€™m going to say and I can improvise. Thereâ€™s a lot of material I still want to get in. For instance, I recently was at a wedding and I met my first girlfriend for the first time in sixteen years. And for a second it was really heart-breaking and moving. She was there with her twelve year old kid and for a moment I thought, â€œOh my god that could be my kid.â€ Itâ€™s nice if you can get that sort of thing in without it being too mawkish.
CS: Itâ€™s quite unusual for the man to feel like that.
RICHARD HERRING: Yeah but I always had the idea that one day I would have kids. So itâ€™s a bit weird to find myself at forty and not have kids.
CS: Do you find thereâ€™s any problem with separating out the performance and the memories when they become material for your show?
RICHARD HERRING: I donâ€™t know. You might slightly fictionalise things. But thatâ€™s what life is. Thatâ€™s whatâ€™s interesting about this, You think you remember something and then you go back to the source of incident and you find out youâ€™ve made up the entire thing. Itâ€™s interesting to examine it and you hope it connects with people. But it is obviously a personal story as well. This show is also about looking back at the 1980s. A lot of comedians do that but they do it so broadly - â€œdo you remember so and soâ€ - that itâ€™s a really cheap type of comedy that I hate. Inevitably you end up doing some of that but by talking about very specific things of your own I hope to touch people more. I think we all go through the same things.
CS: You are quite brave about some of the stuff you do. Your blog, Warming Up, is quite personal.
RICHARD HERRING: I donâ€™t think it is, really. I think the stand up is more personal. There was stuff in the 40 show which I was a bit embarrassed about when my parents came to see it. Warming Up, I donâ€™t think I do. Sometimes stuff slips through. Iâ€™m doing a book about it in which I mention some of the things that are going on in the background but thereâ€™s a lot which now I keep out of it.
CS: Is the new show building up to the Edinburgh Fringe? Whatâ€™s the routine with a show like this?
RICHARD HERRING: Iâ€™ll work it up for Edinburgh in four or five weeks, perform it at the Fringe and do a London run at some point and then a tour and bring out a DVD towards the end of the tour. Iâ€™m bringing out a DVD of the 40 show in October. At the moment Iâ€™m doing gigs here and there. The 40 show was supposed to have finished before now but the Brewery wanted me to do that show, not The Headmasterâ€™s Son. It was quite nice to do it again. It isnâ€™t just gags, there so much more to it, so it was nice tonight, there was a sort of looseness to the show. I can get a lot out of it just from the mechanics of the performance, changing the pace of it, changing the tone, changing your demeanour. From one show to the next it can become a different show. Tonight I was really quite skittish and enjoying it.
CS: The audience were quite warm towards you, which must make a difference.
RICHARD HERRING: The last 3 or 4 years Iâ€™ve been touring constantly. The more you do it the more youâ€™re aware youâ€™re more in control of the audienceâ€™s mood than you think. An audience can be quite cold towards you to begin with and if you let that effect you, the gig is dead. But if you work at it, you can warm them up. When I did carlisle.gov.uk" target= "_blank">carlisle.gov.uk" target="_blank">Carlisle last time there was only 30 or 40 people and thatâ€™s really hard. Itâ€™s hard for them to laugh and you can get angry with them that they arenâ€™t laughing hard enough but then, they turned up, theyâ€™re here.
It was a big thing for me to do stand up on my own, I didnâ€™t do it for a number of years after doing the double act [with Stewart Lee]. When I did the first few shows, I had this thing that the audience is the enemy and Iâ€™ve got to prove myself. Now I start with the idea that the audience are all my friends, it goes a lot better.
CS: When I last spoke to you in carlisle.gov.uk" target="_blank">carlisle.gov.uk" target="_blank">Carlisle, 12 years ago, and interviewed you and Stewart, you both had a real enthusiasm for comedy and what you were doing. Is that still the case, does comedy still excite you?
RICHARD HERRING: : I think itâ€™s excites me more, in a way. I think we both went through a period when we got depressed with it, after we got cancelled by TV. It was a shame when we had worked so hard and it didnâ€™t lead anywhere. It also hit Stewart, then he did Jerry Springer The Opera. I did a lot of writing and then I got back into stand up, which was a big step for me after the double act. I found it so rewarding to get out and do the performing on my own, and it was great to realise I could do that and exercise that muscle. And I realised there were benefits to not being on telly and being famous, I could concentrate more on my writing and I enjoy the anonymity of it. It means I can sit on the tube or in the coffee shop and listen in to people and conversations and overhear some funny things.
CS: It must be wierd having the old shows like Lionel Nimrodâ€™s Inexplicable World and Fist of Fun repeated on BBC7 and YouTube.
RICHARD HERRING: Itâ€™s fun to see it and it stands up quite well. Itâ€™s nice that weâ€™ve got a real core of fans who have stuck with us and enjoy the old shows and come along to the new ones.
CS: I remember that you were then into the technology, with hidden messages you could opnly catch if youâ€™d recorded the show on video. And you had your own website very early on.
RICHARD HERRING: I think thereâ€™s a massive potential in the technology. I think thereâ€™s the potential with podcasts to do your own shows, to sidestep the commissioning process and appeal direct to the audience. Itâ€™s nice to do the podcast on my website and know itâ€™s just me talking direct to the audience, like doing the stand up. I think thatâ€™s the way it will go in the future. And I think Iâ€™ve been doing comedy long enough to know more about comedy than some of the people who decide what goes on TV.
CS: The show programme is free and you ask for donations to the charity Scope. Whatâ€™s the connection there?
RICHARD HERRING: I ran the London Marathon for Scope and then got involved in promoting them with one of my gigs. The programmeâ€™s print bill is funded for by people paying to get their name in the programme and so all the money from donations goes to Scope. We raise £10,000 a year for them and it also heightens awareness. I went to one of their schools at Christmas, which was a sort of epiphany for me and that made me think Iâ€™ve got to change some of the things in my life. It was very moving seeing some of these kids performing their own Christmas show. Some of them couldnâ€™t speak, some could only dance slowly, but they were doing the best they could to put on the show. And thatâ€™s what itâ€™s all about as a performer, whether or not youâ€™re the greatest comedian in the world or youâ€™ve got the hardest audience, itâ€™s about giving the best performance you can.
Richardâ€™s website is at www.richardherring.com and his comments on the Kendal gig are on his blog at http://www.richardherring.com/warmingup/warmingup.php?id=2059