Metro 60 second interview

Richard Herring: Ricky Gervais' 'mong' comments just weren't funny

Comedian Richard Herring talks to Metro about his latest DVD Christ On A Bike, why he'd never want to play the O2 Arena and what he thinks of his Twitter row with Ricky Gervais fans.

What inspired the show?

Back in 2001, when I originally wrote this, I was arguing with my parents, who are religious, and my mum said: ‘If you’re convinced Jesus didn’t exist, why are you always reading and talking about him?’ So it’s looking at the reasons why I, as an atheist, was obsessed with Jesus.

What are your favourite pieces of Jesus-related trivia?

There are bits in the Bible put in to fulfil prophecies and other little bits are probably true. JesusÂ’s enemies called him a glutton and a winebibber, so itÂ’s nice to find out he liked to eat and drink and to get little glimpses of whoever the actual person was.

Religion is a well-worn subject matter for comedy – were you concerned about that?

IÂ’ve done a show about penises and most comedians have ten minutes of cock jokes. The challenge is finding original things to say. IÂ’m doing a show about love at the moment. ItÂ’s not like a subject is finished and everyone has to stop talking about it.

Has your Twitter feud with Ricky Gervais blown over?

It wasn’t a feud with him. I wrote a blog saying maybe using disablist language is the same as using racist language and maybe we shouldn’t because it’s hurtful to disabled people. To find out that saying we should be considerate to disabled people is the most controversial thing I’ve said in my career is interesting. It seems fairly reasonable. A comedian has a responsibility to themselves to consider the consequences of what they’re doing. If it’s funny enough, you can get away with virtually anything in comedy. You should consider the effects of throwing disablist language around. Being on the sharp end of his followers calling me a ‘mong’ for a week, I can see that whatever Ricky thinks the word ‘mong’ has become, the 500,000 people following him don’t agree or don’t understand the subtleties he’s coming up with.

So do you think the word shouldnÂ’t be used?

I’ve worked with the disability charity Scope for eight years and met disabled people and know how much this stuff affects them. I don’t think it’s for a non-disabled multi-millionaire to say the word has been reclaimed. That word hasn’t changed meaning – it’s always meant the same thing. People get defensive and say: ‘I don’t use it in that way’ but that’s where it derives from. Ricky’s done amazing stuff about our attitudes to disability in his TV work. With this, the worst thing about it was it wasn’t funny. There are comedians who use disablist language as a punchline and I think, since disabled people don’t have equality in our society, it’s something worth standing up for.

ItÂ’s an unfortunate coincidence you say on your DVD Ricky Gervais hasnÂ’t made a funny film in his career, then?

Yes, it is. Originally, that bit was about Steve Carell. I changed the person every time. ItÂ’s not massively aimed at Ricky. Steve Carell is one of the funniest people on the planet but IÂ’d struggle to think of a good film heÂ’s done. ItÂ’s just a joke.

How has the comedy world changed since you started?

It swings from one way to another. People want gritty jokes, then they donÂ’t, and it goes back the other way. ItÂ’s a bigger business now. The stadium tours are the big difference but not much else has changed. People go into it thinking they can make money from it, whereas I went into it wanting to be a comedian. ItÂ’s hard to get to that stadium level, only a handful of guys get there, and the ones who do it are very good at it.

Would you want to do arena shows yourself?

I make a nice living doing what I do. I currently perform to around 200 to 400 people. However, 1,000 might be nice – that’s still a manageably intimate amount. Comedy, for me, is as much about me enjoying it as everyone else. The only comedian I’ve seen work at the O2 was Tim Minchin and he had a massive orchestra with him. I don’t see why people would go to see comedy where they sit half a mile away from the stage and watch it on a screen – why spend that money? I’m at a level I’m very happy to be at. I have enough people wanting to come to see me that I can make a living but I can go around without people recognising me.

What are the benefits of doing smaller shows?

It’s good as a writer. I can listen to people’s conversation without them thinking: ‘Is that Richard Herring listening to us?’ Ten years ago, I’d have said I wanted to be the most successful, famous comedian of my generation but it’s a trade-off. This is my tenth solo tour and I’ve built that up from 100 people seeing me. It’s a slow build but the word-of-mouth thing is much more satisfying than doing a comedy set for TV, which might be very different to my live stuff.

Christ On A Bike is out now on

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