Article from the Ham and High
Tales of Herring-do
18 March 2005
LAST Friday while his colleagues were dying on their feet in front of millions for Comic Relief, Richard Herring was entertaining punters at the Amused Moose comedy club in Chalk Farm.
Herring has worked with some of British comedy's best known names, including Al Murray and Armando Iannucci - both of whom were among those grinning gamely through the pain of Red Nose Day 2005.
So why doesn't Herring appear to be part of the comedy establishment whose arms were twisted by organiser Richard Curtis to do a turn in the name of charidee?
After all, he has the track record. There's the partnership with Stewart Lee which produced the cult TV shows Fist of Fun and This Morning With Richard Not Judy - or TMWRNJ as it's known on obsessive fans' websites.
And there's the critically acclaimed one-man shows; Talking Cock, the bloke's version of the Vagina Monologues and the Twelve Labours of Hercules Terrace, Herring's one-man battle cry against mid-life stagnation.
While these endeavours have a loyal and deserved following, they have hardly helped Herring become part of today's Britcom aristocracy.
"Most people will know that I am in TMWRNJ or Fist Of Fun but they won't necessarily know who I am," says Herring.
"Within the comedy industry everyone knows who I am but most people in the street don't know my name - I don't get recognised very much.
"I have always been more interested in doing what's good and luckily I haven't had to do anything because I need the money.
"And I never want to do an advert."
Maybe that's the answer - maybe a period spent as the face of some market leading beer would make Herring as much of a household name as Jack Dee or Peter Kay.
But he is unlikely to take the adland shilling. Instead, Herring is hoping to propel himself into the national consciousness by returning to stand-up, a form of comedy that he abandoned some 15 years ago.
On Sunday and on April 15 he's back at the Amused Moose in The Enterprise pub, Haverstock Hill, and on April 9 he plays the Red Rose club in Seven Sisters Road.
The gigs are part of an Edinburgh Festival build-up that will see Herring return to the Fringe as a stand-up rather than as a purveyor of one-man comedy shows.
Herring first came to Edinburgh in 1987 with Oxford University comedy group The Seven Raymonds.
He returned the next year with the Oxford Review - his audition piece was the self-penned ditty My Penis Can Sing - and his subsequent first experiences of solo stand-up were miserable.
So it's a brave step, at the age of 37, to return to the belly of the beast that spat him out so cruelly in his early 20s.
But it can't have helped that he chose to play the second gig of his comeback tour in a comedy club in Zagreb, Croatia.
"It has been a big psychological leap but so far the shows have been really good," says Herring.
"The first time round I really didn't enjoy stand-up. It was a case of self-esteem - I didn't think I was good at it.
"And I didn't enjoy it because I was young, only about 20 or 22 when I started and I didn't have anything interesting to say.
"Now I'm just trying to work in as much new material as I can but it's not the end of the world if I bomb.
"There have been a couple of dodgy gigs, such as the one in Croatia where I realised, 'Oh God, they don't speak English', but generally this is a great way to make a living."
Herring comes across as a comic who wants to challenge himself as much as he wants to challenge his audiences.
Talking Cock, for example, is a hilarious look at man's relationship with his "spam javelin" that started life as a one-man show and has now been turned into a book.
But there is a serious side to the project in which Herring throws down a gauntlet to his audience and on the website devoted to the show he invites fans to submit poems inspired by their penises.
Inevitably, there is a lot of sniggering sixth-form toilet humour but a recent posting is a credibly shocking look at circumcision that starts:
"They lost their rights by violating mine: contempt for parents lost these days I feel and hatred for those circum-paedophiles."
Heavy stuff. And while Herring's stand-up show may not provoke such a visceral reaction, it will not necessarily be a straightforward gagfest.
"There is a part where I talk about buying yoghurt for 15 minutes," admits Herring.
"Most people go with it, but of course it depends on what clubs I'm doing - it may not work if I'm dealing with hecklers and drunks.
"But it's quite fascinating how the routine creates different pockets of the audience where in places there can be a sea of laughter and in other pockets people are looking at me as if I'm mad.
"In a similar way it's always interesting when I've been doing a one-man show for the 200th time and do a joke that has never taken off.
"Then suddenly I change it and it works. As a comedian you've got to keep a constant change going. You can never rest on your laurels, you can't afford to. You have to keep on creating, keep on testing and taking risks."
The inspiration for the yoghurt routine - go and see the show to find out more - came from Herring's Internet diary, Warming Up, published daily on www.richardherring.com.
Herring started the weblog two-and-a-half years ago in an attempt to haul himself out of a bad case of writer's block.
He undertook to write about each day in an attempt to develop his own prose style and hasn't missed a date since.
At the time of writing, the latest entry contained a lengthy musing on the impossibility of the often repeated London Underground request that customers must keep all their possessions with them at all times.
The log is a useful insight into the source of Herring's material and, once you now about it, can become quietly addictive.
But the unedited entries are not simply the froth of whimsical outpourings of a daily diary - there are dark moments, particularly when Herring finds himself in the cauldron that is the Edinburgh Festival.
"Doing Edinburgh makes everything more heightened, your emotions are so heightened that everything takes on a ridiculous significance so I did become slightly depressed.
"In general I am a very positive person but you have to find the funny things in life and sometimes those can be the dark things," says the author of Christ on a Bike!.
Herring believes that promoters are happy to give him stand-up gigs on the strength of his one-man shows, which have been international hits.
And he seems genuinely happy that those shows have given him the freedom to hit the comedy circuit again.
He says: "Suddenly Stewart (Lee) and I find that we are among the elder statesmen of comedy and people who used to watch us on the telly are now in a position to write about us or give us work. Fortunately we haven't done anything too embarrassingly bad."
o For more details on Richard Herring's forthcoming gigs, visit www.richardherring.com