Interview with ideastap.com
Q&A: Richard Herring on Edinburgh
Richard Herring is a comedian, writer, award-winning podcaster and veteran of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. This year – his 20th fringe – he will be performing his new show What is Love, Anyway? at the E4 Cowbarn. He shares his wisdom about the Edinburgh experience…
You covered politics and religion in your last two shows. Why choose love as your next target?
It actually follows on from last year’s show [Christ on a Bike] where I concluded that religion was similar to love: a delusion we all believe in. I thought I’d take that idea and examine it a bit more, particularly because in the last three-and-a-half years I’ve been in the most serious relationship I’ve ever had. So there’s a personal attachment to the subject. You come up with the title and poster before anything else. But love’s a safe one. Love can go in a lot of different ways.
You’ve warned your podcast fans it’s going to be “more thoughtful, less spunk-filled”. Are you torn between these two yous?
I think the romantic has always been there in my stand-up. The podcasts have been getting more childish so I was interested in making a show that was a bit more considered. Expect some jokes about spunk but a lot more autobiography and some sweeter stories.
For me, the key is to keep on experimenting. I like to skirt between tragedy and comedy within the same routine. A few years back I was a bit more frustrated and my shows had more anger. I was still working out where I was going.
Now you’re the busiest you’ve ever been. So why go through the effort and expense of Edinburgh?
It’s a writing deadline. And I want to be a part of it. Some people are cynical and head up to get a commission. I’m beyond that. It’s not about making money. It’s about going up and trying to do something good. As a comedian, I want to carry on pushing myself. Very few of my Edinburgh shows have had interest from TV. Mainly it’s about entertaining the audience and getting better at what you do. A month of performing the same show and you can’t help but improve.
In 20 years, what has been your worst Edinburgh experience?
We had a really horrible time as students. We went up when stand-up was the predominant form; revue and sketch comedy were seen as archaic. So we got a real kicking, enough to make me question whether I wanted to do comedy at all. You could get psychological and say I keep going back to prove myself after that unpleasant beginning! But so many great things came out of it. Nearly all my lifelong best friends came from that first Edinburgh.
Including Stewart Lee. Do the BBC Lee and Herring years seem like a lifetime ago?
We had a bit of a charmed ride, Stew and I, getting onto TV in five years. I don’t think I appreciated it at the time. Now you look at Little Britain and think, could that have been us? Luckily we got derailed and I think it was good for us, in terms of creativity and happiness and getting to the right place in our careers. As old men, we can see that now.
We’re still friends. I’m meeting up with Stew to record the commentaries for the Fist of Fun DVD next week. That’s a show that was critically ignored. We’re trying to get it out mainly to stop the five people a week who ask when Fist of Fun will be available on DVD.
You’ve blogged about not being a celebrity. Did you ever want to be famous?
Growing up, my favourite comedians were people like Rik Mayall, Michael Palin and John Cleese. I think I thought that would be amazing: to be one of the funniest people of your generation. And the idea of girls being interested in you! But I’m glad it never happened that way.
I get stopped in the street by people who like me; it’s all very nice and respectful. I can carry on being an independent observer of the world without the world turning around and observing me. Fame is an odd thing to shoot for. It brings financial security and people doing what you want. But that’s not necessarily good for your creativity.
Is there a secret formula to a successful Edinburgh show?
There are no hard and fast rules. What counts is being honest and rigorous. Hitler Moustache was just a silly idea I had in January, but I caught a zeitgeisty thing. You’ve got to make the most of your ideas and explore lots of different angles. I was still adding bits to the last show even after it was recorded for DVD. It’s like Hitchcock says: “A work of art is never finished, just abandoned.”
Richard is performing What is Love, Anyway? from 3 to 28 August at the E4 Cowbarn and Richard Herring’s Edinbugh Fringe Podcast from 5 to 29 August at Stand 2. Visit edfringe.com for more information. To read his daily blog, visit his website.