Evening Standard Interview
Richard Herring on the art of stand-up
20 Jun 2011
From stand-up to screenwriting, Richard Herring is one of the country's busiest and most prolific comedians. In an exclusive interview he talks blogs, books and becoming an adult...
Were you always aware that you wanted to be a comedian?
I think I was. My granddad was very funny and I really loved making people laugh. I used to do puppet shows and I really liked seeing people's reactions.
So what led to a degree reading history at Oxford?
It was partly because all my comedy heroes, like Rowan Atkinson, had gone down that route. I did history because that was what I was best at. It didn't cost £9,000 a year to go then either. By the time I got to uni sketch comedy was much more fashionable than stand-up.
Were you in the Oxford Revue?
Yes. We went to Edinburgh and were just pummelled, nearly enough to make me stop altogether. We did a gig and loads of established stand-up comedians came to heckle us.
You also met your former comedy partner Stewart Lee at uni. Did you know there was chemistry as soon as you met?
We had the same sense of humour so we thought we would get together and write. It was a very good grounding. I think Stewart realised earlier that stand-up was the way forward. It is over ten years since we have done anything massive together though.
Why did you decide to stop working together?
We worked together for ten years professionally and 13 including uni. In 1999 we had done a TV series together but it didn't get recommissioned so we went our separate ways. We have actually just bought the rights to the two first BBC series we did together. We got fed up with people asking when it was going to be available on DVD. The BBC didn't really know what to do with us as it was quite a cult thing but there is a market out there for it.
Were you nervous about performing on your own initially?
Yes, I did stand-up for a couple of years on my own and I really didn't like it. Stuart and I were only about 22 when we came to London and didn't have much to say then. It is only in the last six or seven years that I started doing stand-up in the clubs. It was a big thing to overcome but actually it is the thing that reinvents me and gives me new impetus in my job. Stand-up is a really pure art form. You can have an idea and do it in the same night. There is no one to tell you not to do it.
Where do your ideas for material come from?
You have to be quite aware that if you are really looking for something funny it is probably not going to happen. I write a blog everyday. I have done that for about nine years. It's a good way to keep ideas flowing.
Is this why you started writing your blog?
I work really hard but I also waste a lot of time so I thought at least if I write a blog and write one funny thing a day, that's something. I wrote a book a few years ago about turning 40 and it was very useful for that. There were a lot of things I would never have remembered if it wasn't for the blog.
Tell us a little about your book, How Not To Grow Up...
Well I have actually got a girlfriend now but it is about being an unmarried man in my 40s and acting like a 19-year-old. I realised when my dad was 40 he had been married for 20 years and had three kids. He was a granddad a 46. I had a bit of a meltdown and was living a second adolescence, I suppose. Then about half way through that year I met my current girlfriend and everything changed. So the book is about this year of change and it is about whether being childish is a good or a bad thing.
Do you prefer writing or performing?
I prefer performing because it is easier. At the moment I am supposed to be writing a new comedy drama for the BBC but it is really hard to write and sit down at a desk and work out what to do. But once it is complete it is so rewarding.
You are also a panel show favourite...
I do a lot of stuff for free like the blog or podcasting. But doing a day's work on something like Have I Got News For You will make you a reasonable amount of money which means I can carry on doing things I enjoy doing that don't pay. A couple of those panel shows a month should be enough to live off, that's the weird thing about it.
Do you think the British comedy scene is in a good place?
Yes, the comedy scene is so fantastic at the moment. I think Josh Widdicombe will be very big. There is so much competition now. Years ago the idea of making lots of money out of comedy would have been ridiculous but people consider it a profession now. You have to remember that even someone like Michael McIntyre worked for years without making much money. He is very good at what he does. It is not what I do but it s a skill to be that sharp.
Do you still love what you do?
I have got a lovely life. The people who like me come and see me and I make a nice living. Being on TV isn't so important. You have got to be able to do what you want to do.
*Richard Herring will be previewing What Is Love Anyway at Chapel Islington on June 21 and Garage Highbury and Islington on June 22