Emporium of Mitrth
The thing that immediately strikes you about Richard Herring is how… normal he is. Despite what his TV persona would have you believe, Richard Herring is charming, amiable and his feet appear to be safely planted on the ground. All signs clearly suggest that the animal ‘Loving’, murderous, obsessive milk drinker we all know and giggle at is not only fictional, but is also am image Richard would very much like to put behind him. Could that be why he’s running so much?
Between Marathon and rowing training, it’s a wonder Richard Herring manages to fit in writing, let alone interviews with us, so just how much is he cramming into his schedule? “Not a massive amount! I’m trying to come up with a new Edinburgh show but I’m not really working particularly hard at that!”
My ears prick up at talk of Edinburgh, hoping to hear great plans…” I don’t know what it’s going to be, it might be about getting fit but I’m not sure, I’m trying to think of what I’m going to do next really, I’ve usually had something I’ve usually had a big build up traffic jam of stuff I’ve got to do and I’ve just moved on to the next thing but nothing’s really grabbed me in the last six months so I’ve just been having some time off.”
Aah, Humble, I forgot humble, for Richard’s idea of time off it seems, is a far cry from my own sitting on the couch in my slippers routine, on the day I spoke to Richard, he was in the middle of training for the Other Boat race and the London Marathon (both of which he’s since completed triumphantly) and had very recently written and recorded a pilot for Radio 2 entitled “That was then, This is Now”. On this note, I ask if there’s news of its commission? “No, we should find out quite quickly. There’s a few radio things, I quite like working on the radio, ‘cause you’re in more control and it kind of happens, you know, I’m not massively keen to get back on TV. Obviously the boat race thing is going to be televised. I suggest that The Other Boat Race will still serve to keep his profile up, eliciting a chuckle from Richard “Well I don’t know about that… it’s on BBC3 so it’s fairly safe! I think the race is going to be on bbc1, I thought I’ve got nothing to lose really from doing it, I did it because I’m going to get Steve Redgrave as a personal trainer really!”
By now, the curiosity has gotten the better of me, I can’t help wondering about his motives for taking part in a race with Jonathan Aitken as his leader and I come out with it, what was he thinking when he decided to go for it? “I was quite reluctant to do it, I was very nervous, because I don’t want to go on about, the oxford thing is something that, as a comedian you almost want to keep secret. It’s sort of so… unfashionable to have gone to Oxford [When we were] in our twenties as the whole alternative scene was so anti Oxbridge, I don’t think it matters so much now. But also I think you get older and you sort of think, well I should be quite proud of going to oxford really, it wasn’t like I paid to go there, it’s not like my family are rich. I didn’t go to public school you know so in a way it’s quite a good thing to talk about. People have the perception that oxford is elitist and they won’t try to go if they’re from ‘normal’ backgrounds”
I point out that people work hard to get into Oxford, so to me it’s quite strange to hear people be embarrassed about going there! “Well you know it’s sort of embarrassing in a way but you know if I hadn’t gone I wouldn’t have met stew and I probably wouldn’t have done comedy. You know, I’m glad I went, the only regret I have really is that I didn’t really do any work! I wish I’d taken advantage of that…”
Richard’s post-Oxford history with and without his comedy compadrè Stewart Lee is well documented, so at what point did Richard realise his dream? “Well it’s what I really wanted to do from probably the age of about 10. I didn’t really, realistically think it would happen. It’s that kind of thing where you say “I want to be a comedian” and your careers advisor says “Yes, I think you should work in a shop!” I sort of partly went to oxford because I was very much thinking I would do comedy at oxford and then hopefully go to Edinburgh… but I didn’t think it would happen. It actually happened quite quickly, we were amongst some of the best people there very quickly so that made me think well maybe we can do this! You’ve done well at oxford which is like a closed world essentially and it gives you three years to experiment and stuff. Then we came to London and I sort of said “ill give it five years and see where I am and if it works I’ll carry on doing it and if not I’ll do something else”… I don’t know what I’d have done!
We worked very hard but it took off really quickly really, I mean we didn’t make any money for years and years but we were working and we got into radio pretty quickly and Stew did very well on the solo circuit almost immediately. So, you know it was what I wanted to do but realistically didn’t think it would happen… I still can’t quite believe it!”
I begin to wonder if the rest of the Herring family had to endure Richard’s “comedy” from an early age? “I don’t know, I was always into performing, I wasn’t confident enough to say, I said I’d like to do that but… I can remember I had a granddad who used to tell me jokes and I used to love funny people in the family and there were comedians I liked. One of my earliest memories is doing a little puppet show with finger puppets and my mum and grandma. I just remember I was behind the sofa doing that and them laughing, like, really laughing and really liking it I must have been just over four cause I was living in Loughborough so four or five. I just always liked people who make me laugh [and] liked making people laugh. At school I was… annoying for a long time trying to be amusing. It was annoying cause we were the clever kids in the class and we messed about a lot so we not only did we get do well but we ruined it for everyone else so they couldn’t. They couldn’t learn cause we were messing about!” From this, I start to suspect that this amiable exterior is merely a ruse for disguising his truly dark purpose, so quickly, I move onto something safer… Penises.
Talking Cock has been a rip-roaring success, being adapted into a book and even translated into other languages, and there’s still more to come… “It’s been on in six [other countries] already it’s been on in Belgium, Norway Finland Italy Germany and France and there’s at least 4 or 5 more, I think there’s 14 altogether… someone from Bulgaria e-mailed me yesterday – does Bulgaria still exist!?”
I assure Richard that Bulgaria does indeed still exist, but I’m not sure how a show about Cocks would go down there, come to think of it, how does it translate? “They’re very different. One of them bears almost no relation to my show. The Finnish version is the closest to my show... it seemed to work I mean, I don’t know, I can’t understand Finnish! But the audience seem to be laughing, it’s been going very well there the Finnish one is in a little provincial theatre in one little town in Finland in a place called Copsure.
I’ve just been to France, they’ve got a big actor doing it in France, it’s in a big theatre. they’ve made it their own Its probably the best one,, it’s certainly the one that’s got the best chance of succeeding. He’s got his own take on it, he has the character of a teacher but that kinda worked. It was him but because he was talking about a subject he wanted an artifice around it. He tried some of the trickier comedic bits that everyone else has cut and I’m not sure they all quite worked, some of its tailored to me some bits that I have to really work at getting some of the bits I really like to work. Little bits that aren’t jokes as such.”
I ask if there’s room for it to morph into Vagina Monologues territory, getting a number of actors to perform sections? “It could do, I don’t know. The nice thing about tie is it’s not really my concern… In a way I’m performing in six countries a night without having to get out of bed! I found it quite amusing and a bit surreal. Something I hadn’t really thought of was that I’d make some money out of it. But of course if it goes really goes well there’s a chance it might be financially good for me which is something I hadn’t really considered till I got there.”
Now that’s more like my idea of time off! At this point I figure I should go for broke, I’ve managed to broach the subject of penises without self destructing so I feel I’m ready for anything…. Like asking if Lee and Herring re-union is on the cards. From the Look Richard gives me I think I may have taken if a bit too far, until he simply utters “No” and breaks into a smile. Clearly, the man was toying with me all along! By the time I’ve managed to restore my smile it’s clear that it’s not without some regret that the answer is in the negative. “Stew doesn’t really seem to want to perform anymore, he might have changed his mind about that but we’re both working on different things at the moment. If he came and said do you want to do a show tomorrow I could do it but he couldn’t. He’s into his directing at the moment with his Jerry Springer thing and he’s going to get so much work out of that with writing.
In a way it’s kind of sad, we were getting to a really interesting place but we worked together like 15 years and that’s a long time... unless something amazing comes up. If someone offered us a radio show it would be like “why do that?” it’d need to be something good and to be honest I can’t see Stew wanting to do it and I mean I’d be sort of open-ish to it but it’s nice to move on and .. that character I was in Lee and Herring, I wouldn’t like to do that for the rest of my life”
So, do people often have difficulty differentiating Rich from his TV Persona I wonder? “Yeah… well they do a bit and it is the real me in a slight way, it’s an exaggeration of a 18 -19 year old me… except that I’m not interested in animals and murder… but I think actually people kind of assume that in that Stew wrote all of the clever stuff and I wrote the stupid stuff because of what our characters were in it whereas we wrote most of it together and often we wrote each others bits and it’s good to be able to not be a complete idiot… which is what that character was. More than anything I worry that people think “oh you’re just an idiot with a rubbish sense of humour… and well, I’m not, well, I’m a bit of an idiot, with a bit of a rubbish sense of humour!”
So, given that Rich no longer wants to race the small screen, does that mean there are more radio plans afoot? “I might try... I’m meant to be writing a sit com for frank skinner, for TV and they’re very keen to do it and I’m meant to be writing little treatments for each episode but I haven’t done it. ITV were looking or a sitcom for him about 2 years ago and everyone was really keen to do it, in the end apart from frank and now he’s written his own thing. I’m going to do it on the radio so it will get made, but it’s so written for frank it’s quite hard to think of anyone else to play his part.
It might happen, I quite like it, it’s very simple it’s based on one of my plays it’s the three from “it’s not the end of the world” it’s two brothers and one of their girlfriends and it’s basically the likely lads really.”
I get a bit worried that maybe we shouldn’t be telling people that this is the case but Richard seems quite happy with it, and even to back up his claim… “It’s like the likely lads but basically it’s about that thing that men have between either wanting to be irresponsible and sleep around or have, and you envy each other if you’re sensible and want to settle down and want to be the other.”
It’s with the benefit of hindsight that I realise this decision means ITV comedy is left to rot further with the much maligned “Shane” when we could have had the next likely lads on our hands. But for now, I thank Richard before he runs off into the busy London morning, on his way to prepare himself for another of his Herculean feats.
Best Heckle: I don’t get that many heckles and most of them are rubbish. One day when we were doing Lee and Herring one bloke shouted out “the cuffs of your jacket are slightly frayed” and they were it was quite a good heckle. He was just a boy. I don’t know if it was the part of the show where I would pick on a boy in the audience and then get him to say something back at me and usually the boy would just shout you’re fat or something and I’d pretend I’d been really damages and go “Stew he’s picking on me”
TV: mainly the American stuff I really like six feet under, I like sopranos and the west wing that’s quite good. And the Simpsons has gone off a bit but it’s still good. I really liked peep show as well.
FILM: I saw Elephant the other night at the cinema…. That was quite depressing it’s bleak, horrible don’t go on a date to see that, especially not a first date or they’ll think you’re weird for suggesting it.
COMEDY: Andy Zaltsman, James Backman, Dan [Tetsell] and Danny [Robbins] who did Live Ghost Hunt are great which is why I wanted to work with them for TWTTIN and people like Daniel Kitson and Ross Noble and John Oliver. But I don’t tend to see much comedy anymore. I don’t particularly like going to see comedy now because it’s what I do. It’s weird cause that’s what I used to love doing when I was a kid, going to watch comedy and I used to listen to comedy records rather than music records.
For more info on Richard and the intimate details of his life, go to www.richardherring.com
Though Richard has now completed the Marathon, you can still sponsor him here: www.justgiving.com/herringmarathon
Interview by Lauren, Spring 2004