My culture Fix - the times

My culture fix: Richard Herring

The comedian and writer lets us into his cultural life

Richard Herring
Saturday November 14 2020, 12.01am, The Times

My favourite author or book

Kurt Vonnegut. He’s undervalued because he writes sci-fi, but he’s very witty. I really like Margaret Atwood too.

The book I’m currently reading

Just the Funny Parts . . . and a Few Hard Truths About Sneaking into the Hollywood Boys’ Club by Nell Scovell. It’s a brilliant, funny book about being a female writer and how things are changing, but not that quickly. She’s an American scriptwriter who created Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and has written for The Simpsons and Late Night with David Letterman, so she’s had an amazing career.

The book I wish I had written

All of Dan Brown’s books, just for the money. Or The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy — it was the first time I saw a book that could be wild and funny. I remember being blown away by how funny Douglas Adams was. There’s a line early on, “The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don’t,” and that blew my mind.

The book I couldn’t finish

Martin Amis’s Yellow Dog. He’s a very good author, but I really struggled to get into this. And then I left it on the side of the bath and it fell in. I was quite relieved.

The book I’m ashamed I haven’t read

Don Quixote. Everyone tells me how brilliant it is. It’s very difficult to read at the moment, with young kids. I tend to just listen to audiobooks, but even that’s quite hard to do. The idea of reading a book of that size is almost impossible.

My favourite play

A Resounding Tinkle by NF Simpson, a slightly forgotten playwright. It’s an obscure comedy that influenced people like Monty Python. A lot of surreal stuff happens and it was a lot of fun to be in it — I did it in school, then again at university.

My favourite film

This is Spinal Tap. It’s been massively influential on British comedy, and all comedy throughout the last 30 years or so. There are loads of outtakes, because it’s all improvised, and even the outtakes are brilliant.

The box set that I’m currently hooked on

Schitt’s Creek takes a while to get into, but is very rewarding if you stick with it. It takes characters who aren’t particularly likeable, a rich family who’ve fallen on hard luck, and then you gradually get to like them. It’s very moving, and there are some really affectionate love stories. You don’t usually get your attitude to sitcom characters changing, or this cynical look at love. It’s also about pansexuality and it’s lovely to see a gay relationship played like a normal sweet relationship, like it should be.

My favourite TV series

Rick and Morty. I’ve been writing something annoyingly similar for a few years. The amount of stuff they get into each episode is impressive, and it’s allowed to be a bit ruder than regular TV.

The last film that made me cry

Coco, a brilliant children’s film about the afterlife. There’s a bit at the end where there’s a very old grandmother he’s trying to reach through a song that she’s forgotten. I had a very similar experience with my own grandma, who didn’t remember her favourite piece of music.

My favourite piece of music

The Luckiest by Ben Folds, the first song we danced to at my wedding. I’m not massively into music, but it’s a very sweet song and slightly weird — he’s wondering if he would still have loved his wife if he had been born 50 years before.

The lyric I wish I’d written

“I’m flying high on something beautiful and aimless/ It’s got a name but I prefer to call it nameless.” A great simple lyric about love from Terry Hall’s Sense.

The music that cheers me up

The Song for Phil Daoust by Tim Minchin, a response to a one-star review he got in Edinburgh. It’s self-defeating as it’s about his anger, but it’s wonderful to see him break that contract and just wish death on the person. Phil has been haunted by this song, but what goes around comes around. Minchin’s amazing, brilliant musically, also really funny. We used to listen to it on repeat every time we drove — it always made me cry with laughter. We can’t now because my kids understand the words.

The song that saved me

I went on holiday on my own to Thailand before I met my wife in the early 2000s and I was quite depressed. I remember listening to Learn to Live with What You Are, by Ben Folds again: “There’s never gonna be a moment of truth for you”. It switched something in my brain that made me think: “Stop wallowing, you’ve got to learn to live with who you are.” It was an epiphany, sitting in a nice bar overlooking the sea, drinking cocktails on my own.

The instrument I play

I started playing the piano, which I hated. Then trumpet, which I also was not good at. Finally the euphonium, which I was slightly better at. My great-granddad played the euphonium so there was a connection. It belonged to the school, so when I left I stopped playing. Now the mouthpiece is all I’ve got.

The instrument I wish I’d learnt

It would be amazing to magically play the piano, or the guitar. My sister’s a brilliant musician, but I’ve got really stubby little fingers so my teacher said I’ll never be good.

If I could own one piece of art it would be . . .

The Viking chess pieces found on the Isle of Lewis. They’re in the National Museum of Scotland and the British Museum. I’ve got some facsimiles, and a sculptor sent me a “me as a Lewis chessman”, which is good but slightly freaky. Noggin the Nog is a cartoon based on the Lewis Chessmen so maybe there’s some residual memory of them that makes me like them so much.

The place I feel happiest

Ancient Pompeii. I’m really interested in history. The first time I went I was with a friend and we got split up. I ended up sitting in one of the smaller amphitheatres and I felt a connection back through history to performers of the past.

My guiltiest cultural pleasure

I’m slightly obsessed with the worst films of Adam Sandler. Sandler is really talented, and when he puts in the effort he’s amazing, so I’m fascinated about the decisions he makes artistically. It’s weird when he does something like Jack and Jill.

I’m having a fantasy dinner party, I’ll invite these artists and authors . . .

Van Gogh, Picasso, Leonardo da Vinci. I’d get them to draw on a napkin and sell them. Geoffrey Chaucer and Henry Fielding were pretty funny. Ben Jonson, a great playwright. Grayson Perry and his wife, Philippa.

. . . and I’ll put on this music . . .

John Cage’s thing with no sound on repeat.

The play I walked out on

Stones in His Pockets. I usually stay to the bitter end, but I had a girlfriend who was quite judgmental.


William Makepeace Thackeray, who wrote Vanity Fair. I had to study him for my A-levels — he’s also the great-great-great-grandad of my friend [Al Murray], so it’s funny to put him in. I just found it embarrassing.

Terry Hall. I met Hall and told him how great he was — I was the only person who seemed to think that — and you can’t even get his album Home now.

Richard Herring appears in Taskmaster, Thursdays at 9pm on Channel 4. His new book is The Problem with Men: When Is it International Men’s Day? (Sphere)