Westmoreland Gazette interview with Lee and Herring 1996
Lee & Herring Interview (unedited version)
Lee & Herring are disgustingly young. At 28, theyâ€™ve written two series of Leonard Nimrodâ€™s Inexplicable World, contributed to R4â€™s On The Hour (which later become BBC2â€™s The Day Today), and written and starred in four series of Fist of Fun, the latest of which was recently broadcast by BBC2. And now theyâ€™ve topped it all by appearing at the Sands Centre, Carlisle. OTR caught up with them backstage:
Is this a short tour. RH:Itâ€™s a run up to an Autumn tour, to give us an idea of what size audience to expect after our last TV series. SL: Itâ€™s the first tour weâ€™ve done where people might know who we are.
Hecklers throwing them out.
RH: There were a few bits where people recognised stuff from TV. What we were trying to do was take old stuff and do new stuff with it.
SL: You write them at enormous length, perform them at half that length and then they get cut down to two or three minutes on telly. So itâ€™s nice to put all the bits back in and do extended versions of them.
RH: Itâ€™s a learning curve. Because we were a little bit shaky at the start, they were expecting us to be very slick but we started very laid back and relaxed.
Another series between this and autumn tour?
RH: Weâ€™re doing other things, weâ€™re doing a couple of shows at Edinburgh
SL: Rich is talking to Nick Owen
RH: Nick Owen of Good Morning with Ann and Nick, weâ€™re going to do a show with him, because heâ€™s out of work now.
SL: And heâ€™s writing a sitcom about his experiences as a cave guide in Cheddar
RH: Itâ€™s called Sex Amongst the Stalagmites. Weâ€™re busy. So we wonâ€™t be doing another Fist of Fun before the autumn tour.
SL: Weâ€™re going to see the Sex Pistols reunion at Finsbury Park as well.
RH: Yeah, weâ€™re all going to see it.
Kevin: My house is near to Finsbury Park
RH: Weâ€™ve been very busy so thereâ€™s not been much time to write new stuff, I donâ€™t know if thatâ€™s what people are expecting.
That guy at the beginning was straight in, wasnâ€™t he?
RH: yeah, weâ€™re okay at dealing with heckling, no one ever does it any more, especially at theatres.
Do you try out stuff on your own?
SL: Rich does stuff on his won and we write stuff for him and the ridiculous sound of his three voices but then he does a play in Edinburgh every year. And I do my stand up shows. You tend to find that you write something on your own and the other person always makes it better anyway.
RH: Itâ€™s weird weâ€™re finding increasingly weâ€™re starting to write each others stuff, even with the characters we do.
SL: Youâ€™ve more of an idea of what the other personâ€™s like, you know them in a way they donâ€™t even know themselves. Weâ€™d like to say that the things we write for ourselves are based on us but things we write for Kev in no way reflect his personality.
RH: Just the Rod Hull one.
Obvious question, how did you start off?
SL: We met when we were students but weâ€™d both done things at school and then we met on the stand up circuit and then we started doing radio together.
RH: We wrote Lionel Nimrodâ€™s Inexplicable World for R4 and then I think because R4 were a bit bamboozled by what we were doing, so we did it for R1. We were travelling round the country and somehow Kev managed to wheedle his way in and we canâ€™t get rid of him now.
RH: Weâ€™ve told how we met so many times weâ€™ll probably start lying about it.
SL: We met in a brothel in Amsterdam
RH: You canâ€™t say that in a local paper
RH: : No we met at college and weâ€™d done the Comedy Club then started doing the comedy circuit but never did the same place at the same time, because one of us had exams or something, but then we got together because we sort of disliked what everyone else was doing and wanted to try other stuff. And then we met Pete and then Kev, you find you just bump into people. Things like the Rod Hull character come out by accident. Weâ€™d done a couple of jokes about him on the radio and we thought weâ€™d do him as a vox pop in this thing and Kev had a sore throat and just shrieked this thing and we all rolled around the floor, so we got him in every week on the radio show and people started ringing in saying â€œIâ€™m Rod Hull, not himâ€ and it took off from there. The really good things happen by accident, you canâ€™t sit down and say, letâ€™s write a character about a man who thinks heâ€™s Rod Hull but really he isnâ€™t
Kev: I am donâ€™t be stupid.
RH: Two thirds of the way through we relaxed into it. I think we were worried we were a bit under-rehearsed.
Do you ad-lib based o the audience
RH: You need to feel the audience are with you but itâ€™s good fun really, it stops it being boring for us. The nicest points for the audience are when we are making each other laugh. The fact that youâ€™ve let the artifice fall doesnâ€™t seem to matter with our stuff.
Kev: Iâ€™ve watched them a lot on tour and quite often in the middle of a routine theyâ€™ve done a lot on tour they go off at a tangent and you get a whole routine out of it. And usually really good stuff comes out of what happens on the night.
RH: Itâ€™s usually when youâ€™ve relaxed. Itâ€™s hard to do it on the first night of the tour.
SL: By the end of the last tour we were completely off the script. Weâ€™d use the script as a starting point and then work it around.
RH: When weâ€™re rolling I think you canâ€™t really tell what weâ€™ve scripted and what we havenâ€™t. Itâ€™s quite good fun to try a line and watch Stewâ€™s face. Often you do things that make you laugh on the bus while youâ€™re on tour. Thatâ€™s quite pleasurable for us and I think the audience can tell.
The audience tonight, half of them seemed to know you from TV, the other half not.
SL: The acid test of that was every week on telly weâ€™d start with a really contrived topical joke, the sort of thing youâ€™d find on Weekending, and when he was doing that tonight, as a piss take, a bloke in the audience thought it was real, â€œI paid ten pounds for thisâ€.
RH: I think sometimes you get a heckler whoâ€™s really horribly personal and you meet them afterwards and they say how much they like you. Theyâ€™ve seen the relationship on TV and think, well Stew always slags him off so he wonâ€™t be upset by me slagging him off. That slightly bowls you over a bit.
SL: You were crying inside.
RH: I was.
You seem very confident on stage
RH: We werenâ€™t tonight. I donâ€™t ever really get nervous
SL: Iâ€™d get much more nervous about meeting somebody I didnâ€™t know, than having to go up on stage. Tonight was a bit nerve wracking because it was the start of the new tour.
You do a lot of anti-Somerset jokes, despite both coming from there â€” for example, the tour leaflet says: â€˜Warning - electric light will be used to illuminate this show. The management cannot accept responsibility for any Somerset people who are startled by their flashing or who become entraped in their glare.â€™ Do you ever get any resentment from the West Country?
SL: We went to Glastonbury last year , to the festival, and after this Somerset Hellâ€™s Angel, about twenty stone, drunk from cider, saw us and came up to me and went, â€˜You bastard, stop taking the piss out of Somerset,â€™ he started shaking me around and stuff and then he went, â€˜A ha ha had you going there, really frightened you there.â€™
RH: Nice thing about Somerset, which isnâ€™t true of many minority groups, is that theyâ€™ve got a sense of their own funniness and itâ€™s water off a duckâ€™s back. It comes down to what Iâ€™m trying to get at in the sitcom, people in the city think that people in the country are stupid but people in the country know that people in the city are stupid because they live in the city. I quite enjoy the stereotyped thing. Iâ€™d love to do a gig in Somerset.
RH: Weâ€™ve done mainly student venues up to now but we want to do theatres this time round. Itâ€™s going to be interesting.
SL: For the autumn we can do more set pieces for theatre.
RH: Itâ€™s a bit weird this week, I canâ€™t imagine after seven days weâ€™ll be ultra confident and can just leave the script. In the last tour there was 50% of the material which hopefully people didnâ€™t realise wasnâ€™t the script because weâ€™d left it behind.
Are you consciously trying to appeal to a young audience?
SL: Not consciously no, we just do what we think is funny.
RH: It takes longer for older people to see new stuff as good. If the people who like us now grow up with us and carry on liking us itâ€™s going to be interesting
SL: I think Reeves and Mortimer have got lots more references to popular culture than we have, to neighbours and things. But theyâ€™re like stupid sentences that go round in circles.
RH: A lot of 28 year olds like the references they understand which Iâ€™m sure goes over the head of the teenage audience. We try not to do too many pop references. And on tv, the second series was deliberately geared not to look like a youth programme. Our producer at the BBC felt it was alienating older people by looking like a youth programme. I donâ€™t think it was and Iâ€™d hope the contents were enjoyable for anyone.
In the last series you had all those bits flashing up on video.
SL: We didnâ€™t do so many of them this time. One the BBC thought it looked too young and flashy, secondly we couldnâ€™t afford it because the budget was cut and thirdly the first tv series we made the shows with like a ten day gap before transmission but last series we made them it was a day, so we didnâ€™t have time to do a lot of that sort of stuff. Also in the first series, no one had done that before, but by the time we came to do the second lots of people had done it, adverts and so on. In the last series we had time to watch the edit and think weâ€™ll make a comment on that but in this series we were editing the first half as the second went out.
RH: So we didnâ€™t have time to do much of it. Lots of people wrote in and said we can't see the stuff, our videos arenâ€™t good enough, so part of the enjoyment was that it was annoying people and they werenâ€™t really worth reading anyway.
RH: And you wreck your video pause button. On the last listing we put is your video machine broken as a result of videoing these captions, well why not take it to the Lee and Herring Video Repair Shop in Balham High Street where Rich and Stew may be working for the rest of their lives. Itâ€™s nice that people spot it.
SL: In one sketch, the BBC made us bleep out a word, which really annoyed me because in a less well-written drama theyâ€™d have allowed someone to say it. So we put up a caption saying that the F word has been censored here, if you would like a picture of Stew saying it, please write in. We got 208 requests.
RH: And it was up so quick youâ€™d need an excellent video to catch it. If you can give people an extra level, there is a certain amount of clever comedy in it but we donâ€™t push it like John Sessions.
SL: Thereâ€™s loads of arcane bits of poetry in Simon Quinlank but itâ€™s there for people who find it.
RH: Itâ€™s nice to give levels. We always sign autographs and we always write back to the fans.
SL: The thing about touring is itâ€™s probably better financially for us to stay in a room in London and write articles for magazines and things but youâ€™d never develop any new stuff
RH: And itâ€™s fun
SL: When we went off for two months last year we got into the swing of it and had fun
SL: I donâ€™t think weâ€™ll do that in a week
RH: Thatâ€™s why weâ€™re going off to have fun in a minute. Not that weâ€™re not having fun now. Touringâ€™s weird, when you do it and look back at it you think that was fun but when youâ€™re doing it and having to eat pizza every night and chips every meal.
SL: You get so sick of those service station meals. Itâ€™s so hard in this country to get fast food. We went to the states in the autumn and drove for a month and it was so easy to get good food.
RH: I think Stew and me are writers ultimately and weâ€™re happy to perform but I donâ€™t see that as a career decision
SL: Weâ€™ll both get to a point where we canâ€™t do the things weâ€™ve written and itâ€™ll be better to get someone else to do it
RH: We can always write things we can do and itâ€™s fun writing. Itâ€™d be interesting to write films. Itâ€™s like a job to fall back on. We can always do interviews and stuff.
SL: I nearly interviewed Spike Milligan. I went to his house but his wife came out and said heâ€™s gone mad today, he canâ€™t do an interview, so I was shown through the house, out of the back door and had to go home again.
RH: Just say theyâ€™re horrible blokes.
22 May 1996