Love, Sex and Nazis: An Interview with Richard Herring
27 July, 2011
One of the greatest stand-ups performing at the Fringe this August, Richard Herring talks to Rupert Uzzell about this year's love-themed Edinburgh show.
Love and relationships have been discussed to death by stand-up comedians over the years, but if anyone can come up with a fresh angle on the topic, it’ll be Richard Herring. He’s analysing the subject in his new Edinburgh show, What Is Love, Anyway? Here, I talk to him about his relationship history, his views on love and sex, and his thoughts on achieving mainstream success.
Your new Edinburgh show is about love. Would you say you’ve had many difficult experiences with love throughout your life?
I have had my ups and downs. Getting to 44, being unmarried and having no kids means I may have had more failed loves than the average person. But I haven't been through anything more terrible than the stuff that we all go through. One of the great things about love is our willingness to give it another go. Hope triumphs over experience. I am a fan of this!
You’re in a relationship currently. Has that made it difficult being honest about any cynical attitudes you may have?
I have always been reasonably romantic and hopeful. I think too much about stuff and like to know the reasons stuff happens. But science sort of makes love more romantic in some ways and I think random chance is more remarkable and beautiful than fate. So whilst I start with the intention of destroying love and say some mean things about it, ultimately love will only destroy me. My girlfriend is remarkably cool about my cynicism and appears to still love me in spite of it.
In terms of talking about your personal life onstage, what boundaries, if any, do you have?
I try to ensure that wherever possible I don't delve into the private lives of others and ask people’s permission for saying stuff. Not all the time, but usually. I think that as a creative person it is important to focus on myself and my own faults and idiosyncrasies and to examine my own motivations. Talking about the stupid things I have done is a way to make my audience feel better about their own stupidities.
You’ve talked a lot about sex in your stand-up. Do you see sex as an expression of love, or as an act for its own self-gratifying sake?
We only fall in love with people we want to have sex with. That kind of love and sex are wrapped together. But there are different types of love and different types of sex and it can be either of those things.
You once made a joke about realising in middle age that the promiscuous attitude of your youth was the correct attitude. Do you actually feel that way, or is it a hope of yours to settle down?
It is a funny comment which resonates with audiences because it has some truth to it. Our attitudes to love and sex fluctuate and what seems important when we are young seems less so later. We all struggle to some extent between promiscuity and monogamy and between our selfish natures and the artifices of society. But ultimately a single life gets a bit empty and sad and finding the right person and settling down becomes more appealing. But who knows what the 50 year old me will have to say about that!
Your shows over the years have all had these clever overarching themes to them. Are there any other big areas of life you are looking to cover in future?
I tend to write about whatever is interesting me most at the time so I don't look too far ahead. Death and ageing are things I am interested in. Mediocrity and failure also. Next year though I think I am going to revive Talking Cock. That's my favourite subject it seems.
When sporting the Hitler moustache for your 2009 show, did you get any unwanted enthusiastic reactions from people?
Only once. A white van man said to me, "Fair play mate – you're a man after my own heart!" It was chilling how serious he was about that.
If you had achieved the sort of mainstream success many would say you have deserved, do you think that you'd still be producing these great new shows every year, or would it (as it does with many artists) have made you complacent?
I hope I would be, but I do consider myself accidentally lucky to have had downs as well as ups. If Lee and Herring had been more successful then I think both Stew and me might not have created the work we have done in the last decade. Success is a double-edged sword and yes, maybe if I was a mainstream act, shows like Hitler Moustache and Christ on a Bike might have seemed too risqué and I might have been advised not to do them. By complete chance I seem to have found myself in the perfect position where I can make a decent living from what I do, whilst not compromising my work. If I get more successful than I am I might miss this sweet spot I am in at the moment, though it would be nice to get to the point where 500 people in every town wanted to see me – this is the case for some places, but not all.
Also I appreciate the struggle of getting stuff made. If people just commission whatever you do then it must be harder to make the effort. But I still have to graft and fight to get things made, and so hopefully am creating better stuff as a result.
Richard Herring: What Is Love, Anyway? is on at Edinburgh's E4 Cow Barn, Udderbelly’s Pasture, at 8:50pm, August 3rd-28th
You’ve complained in the past about the difficulty of getting your scripts produced on television. Is this why you’ve ended up presenting shows like Heads Up with Richard Herring? Do you enjoy that sort of work or is it frustrating?
I do lots of different things in my job, but have hardly done anything just for the money. I do, however, need to eat. I would love to get more scripts produced, but hope I will continue with other aspects of the profession as well. I'd like to do more presenting and acting and luckily I do get to pick and choose jobs. I did HUWRH as all the cool kids call it due to a genuine interest in poker and I thought it was quite funny to do a show of such limited appeal that so few people would see- it was actually quite funny.