Bristol Evening Press interview

The second coming

Richard Herring has turned his back on Hitler and embraced Jesus Christ.

But the Cheddar-born funnyman hasn't been regaling me with the tale of his conversion from Nazi to born again Christian.

"Last year, my Edinburgh show was about Hitler. This year, it's about Jesus. My target audience is clearly Pope Benedict," laughs the likeable comic.

Richard's show Hitler Moustache was a huge hit at the 2009 festival. At the sell-out gigs, he mused over why an innocent square inch of facial hair has taken the blame for Nazism.

This year he's revisiting and substantially reworking his first and favourite solo work, Christ On A Bike. Now 10 years older than the Messiah when he died, has Richard achieved as much with his life as JC himself?

"Christ On A Bike – The Second Coming is about my relationship with Jesus, having grown up as a Christian and then becoming an atheist," explains Richard, who was part of the prodigious Nineties double act Lee & Herring with Stewart Lee, creating the cult television shows Fist of Fun and This Morning With Richard Not Judy.

"Back in 2001, my mum said that if I was so sure Jesus isn't God, why do I spend so much time reading and talking about him? That got me thinking. So this show is about me trying to work out who Jesus really was and also to look at why I'm so obsessed with him even though I'm not religious."

Combining child-like guile with rigorous academic research, Richard attempts to discover the true historical Jesus, find out why he is all things to all men, discovers a mistake on the very first page of the New Testament and tries to ascertain if Jesus ever really did walk like a lady and wear a bra.

"I also look at whether my obsession is about fear of being wrong and how as a kid I had this meta-nihilistic thing going on where I thought I might actually be Jesus."

Along the way, Richard tells me he'll ask all the great theological questions, like why did Jesus always call Simon "Peter"? Was it the same as the way Trigger always called Rodney "Dave"? Whatever happened to the gold, frankincense and myrrh? Wouldn't they have made a humble biblical family like the Christ's wealthy beyond their wildest dreams? And how many weeks would you have to take Holy Communion before you had consumed an entire Jesus?

Richard, who honed his stand-up skills on the Bristol comedy circuit, first performed Christ On A Bike at Edinburgh in 2001 and is still a landmark set in his illustrious career.

"It was nerve-wracking because I had always been part of a double act before," admits Richard, who has written for Al Murray's Time Gentlemen Please and Little Britain. "It was a big, big step for me. Thankfully, it went really well and built by word of mouth.

"It's the one show that people are still asking me about even now and it feels like the right time to revisit it.

"I also thought it would be nice to give myself a bit of a break from writing a brand new show, but actually I think it's going to be just as difficult. Still, it's nice to have a concept there and the bones of a successful show in place because normally at this time of year you get the fear that you're doing something that might not work."

In addition to his stand-up set, Richard will be performing an unscripted, unplanned, unedited and unabashed hour of topical guff with pal Andrew Collins (BBC 6 Music, Banter, Not Going Out) at the festival, which will be available to download as a podcast within hours of each show.

It will be an extension of the weekly podcasts the pair produce throughout the year, which have garnered a loyal fanbase, with each freely downloadable instalment heard by about 20,000 listeners.

"I've always been an early adopter of new technology," says Richard. "I've been doing a daily blog for seven-and-a-half years and I really enjoy doing the podcasts – it's a really interesting way to try out new comedy.

"Unlike television, there are no boundaries or time constrictions with doing something on the internet and I think it has been a big factor in getting new people interested in my comedy. It's the same way the music industry works now, where people listen to stuff for free on the internet and if they like it they'll go and see the band play live."

While Richard crops up on our screens occasionally, we're in agreement that other than the odd gem like Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle, comedy on television has become cheap and sanitised, turning still-green fledgling comics into overnight celebrities.

"I don't think TV is taking any chances. Panel shows are inexpensive and easy to do, which is why there are so many of them. I think that me and Stew were lucky that we got on telly when we did because back then they would just let us get on with it. Now TV execs are trying to put together shows with people who don't necessarily work well together.

"I think the people on telly should be the ones writing the shows and the material as well. Not just put behind a desk and told what to do.

"It shouldn't be so easy to get on TV, but I think that the people making the choices about who to put on there don't really know that much about comedy. They're more interested about making stars out of young blood."

In an era in which comics veer towards TV in favour of working the live stand-up circuit, Richard is adamant that live work is where comics and comedy really grows and thrives.

"Doing live work makes you better. It's as simple as that. I'm such a better comedian now than I was when I was doing Lee and Herring, for example.

"I've worked really hard at being a stand-up in the past six or seven years and I've improved.

"It would be easy to just be the captain of a panel show rather than going out and doing the work. If you can earn £1,000 doing a TV show why would you go out and do a live gig for £25? But it means you lose the craft.

"I won't just do something for the money.

"Different things motivate different people and it is comedy that interests me and getting better at it."

Richard Herring plays the Bristol Brouhaha Festival at the Tobacco Factory on Friday, July 23. Tickets cost £10 – call 0117 902 0344.