Spoonfed interview about COAB August 2010

Edinburgh Interview: Richard Herring

04 August, 2010

Emma McAlpine chats to long-distance Fringe runner Richard Herring about performing his first and favourite solo show again, why live comedy is so important to him and how his attitude to the Festival has changed over the years...

As an Edinburgh Fringe veteran, having performed a total of 27 shows, including eight solo pieces; you wouldn’t begrudge Richard Herring for being a little blasé about the month-long arts festival. Yet, when I speak to him over the phone, he is surprisingly excited and just as enthusiastic about his latest show as you might expect a newcomer to be. This is partly due to the fact that he will be dusting off an old favourite from 2001 - Christ on a Bike - his solo debut and the show he is most proud of.

“I’m really looking forward to doing it again. It did alright the first time round in Edinburgh but it was very much a word of mouth thing, only about 20 or 30 people were in each night and it never got released on DVD. I think since then I’ve picked up a lot more followers of the shows and it seems to be the one that people who had seen it were asking about the most. It’s essentially the same but I’ve been updating it and changing a few bits here and there to give it more punch. I’m also a much better performer than I was then so I wanted to give it a fairer crack of the whip.”

I ask him if he is worried about whether it will have stood the test of time, after all, nowadays material about debunking Christianity and the bible is fairly commonplace on the stand-up circuit. “It’s true that ten years ago, not many people were doing shows like this”, he answers. “But while it is critical of religion, it is also very personal and it’s about how I’m as stupid as these people as well, so I think it’s still quite fresh!”

The show clearly means a lot to Herring, who first performed it in the summer of 2001 and was about to take it to New York for an off-Broadway run, when 911 happened and it was suddenly no longer an appropriate subject. Christ on a Bike may not have got the numbers that one of his shows would attract now, but it was a hit with the critics and marked a big change in Herring’s comedy career. While he enjoyed considerable success with comedy partner Stewart Lee during the '90s, he had struggled with solo circuit gigs, abandoning them completely in 1992.

“I had a bit of a weird time when I first did stand-up and I’d had a few things to overcome performing on my own, so it was an amazing feeling during the routine when people were rocking with laughter and tears were running down their faces and I knew I hadn’t got to the really funny bit yet.”

Talking to Herring, it is obvious how important his live performances are to him. Since his Lee and Herring days on BBC2, he has been involved with only a few TV projects including Time Gentleman Please (Sky One) which he co-wrote with Al Murray in 2000 and a comedy drama called You Can Choose Your Friends, screened on ITV1 in 2007. While he admits he was “initially bitter” about not getting much TV work, he is now exactly where he wants to be creatively.

“They make you jump through so many hoops in television. I’ve had quite a few good scripts which didn’t make it through and I know that the majority were as good, if not largely better, than what was on TV. The BBC especially has got scared about doing anything edgy that might offend people and I realised it would be easier to do it on my own. If you’re doing Little Britain for example, you start worrying about upsetting your fans and a big business develops around it. I’m at the stage now where I can make a living from my live work, which I’d much prefer. People come who want to see me and I get to do exactly what I want.”

As someone who must now hold one of the highest records for Fringe performances, he is proud of the fact that he defied journalists and returned year after year despite having a popular TV show in the '90s. “You’ll see people who get their break and then never come back again and they were just doing it to become famous, which is a shame. For me, it’s all about the Fringe.”

Whilst there will no doubt always be an element of childlike playfulness to his routines, Herring has grown up and so has his style – particularly during the last few years - which have seen him produce smart, thoughtful works, as skilfully written as they are delivered. He reflects on how his attitude has changed since he started performing at the Fringe: “When I was in my early 20's it was all about getting drunk and talking to women. I was more concerned about having fun than doing the show. Now, it’s about the show and finding out who I am a bit more as a performer.”

Richard Herring’s Christ on a Bike: The Second Coming will be at the Assembly Ballroom from 5th-30th August at 21:45pm and his one-off show As It Occurs To Me will be at the Assembly Ballroom on the 17th August at 2pm. For more details visit www.richardherring.com