Art Fist interview

Interview: Richard Herring
by L. K. Jay

Art Fist were lucky enough to speak to Richard Herring, while he was performing in Leeds for his ‘Headmaster’s Son’ tour. L. K. Jay learns why the internet is so important to any artist wanting to make it big.
For the past twenty years, Richard Herring has consistently turned out quality comedy from his ‘Fist of Fun’ sketch show in the 1990s to his radio show, ‘That Was Then, This Is Now’ to his regular pod cast and extensive touring. Richard Herring is probably best known for his comedy partnership with Stewart Lee and later on with Andrew Collins, with whom he does his weekly pod cast. Richard is currently touring the country with his critically acclaimed tour, ‘The Headmaster’s Son’ and he tells Art Fist what it is all about:
“The Headmaster’s Son is a show about me being the Headmaster’s son at school and I just wanted to look back at my childhood and see if I could find any causes as to the way I’ve turned out as an irresponsible and slightly rebellious adult even though I was quite a conformist school boy. So I’m trying to blame my dad really because he was the headmaster. But it is really just a look at adolescence and I read through my teenage diaries and admit the perverted things I used to get up to. People should be able to identify with it regardless of whether their parent was a teacher or not.”
“The audience can see something of themselves in the show, it is very universal. It is about how embarrassing it is being an adolescent. To be looking back at it is what makes it work, me looking back at 41 to me at 16 and so you get a double laugh because the things I read out and talk about are embarrassing and also you see my reaction as I read it out 25 years later. It is about growing up and it is about whether as an older man I’ve sold out and I think everyone identifies with that, as long as you are not 16! Some youngsters have come to see it so I don’t know what they make of it but I think there is enough funny stuff in there for everyone. I think it particularly speaks to anyone who has about 10 or 15 years since they were an adolescent.”

Using the Internet

One thing that is interesting about Richard is that he utilises all of the media available to him and is an extremely versatile performer. From live stand up to television, radio and writing books, Richard has done them all. Via his website, Richard continues to produce comedy and he talks about how the internet has become vital to the modern comedian.
“I’ve written a blog for over six years and I use all the social networking sites such as facebook and myspace; I think it is a great way to engage with people and reminding then who you are and also letting them know when you’ve got gigs. Twitter is good for an immediate response and in those little ways you build up an audience. I think podcasts are maybe the way to go as TV is slightly contracting and dying and doesn’t quite have the same universal appeal. You will not get 20 million people watching a TV programme again, unless it is some kind of state funeral or something or a big sports match but certainly not for a comedy show. But now with the internet you can have something that is quite small scale so I’m quite keen to do more, I’m going to try to do a comedy sketch show on the radio and on the internet, an audio one because it is just a good way of displaying your wears.”
“I do a weekly podcast with Andrew Collins. It gives you complete freedom and we completely improvise the whole thing so we can say stuff that you wouldn’t be able to say on the radio or probably on stage and that is a lot of fun. We are going to take it to Edinburgh for five days and do a live podcast and this is very exciting, I think people are coming to see this because they listen to the podcast; it is free, we do it for nothing and people appreciate it. Then it helps to build your profile amongst comedy fans and then they want to come and see you live.”

Comedy Secrets

After a good twenty years writing and performing comedy, you canÂ’t wondering where all the ideas come from. Richard tells us how he sees his own comedy style and some of his secrets.
“It is getting more confessional, it is more personal, it is about me and I am usually the main victim! But I do try to talk about other things. I guess it is quite edgy, it veers all over the place because this show is quite offensive to certain people but it also has quite a heart-warming ending and has left some people with a tear in their eye. I think a lot of comedy has contradictions, I think I can be very clever but I also do a lot of puerile stuff, it can be cruel but kind; heart-warming yet unpleasant and I think that comedy should be about those juxtapositions. I think this show is very different from my other shows and the podcast is very different again. I can broadcast on Radio 4 without any problem but if you swap these things around, people would get upset! There is no real definite style.”
“It does keep on coming and I am quite lucky. There’s been a couple of times when I’ve run a bit dry but that was why I started the blog as I was a bit worried that I was running out of ideas. The blog is so that I can find at least one thing in my day that was interesting enough to talk about and often there isn’t anything so you really have to think and then you will think of one little incident in the day. I got a massive routine about the fact that I bought nine yoghurts in a supermarket all at once and the checkout girl said “oh, someone likes yoghurt” and then took the piss out of me. If I hadn’t have been writing the blog that might have been just annoying and walked away but I remembered it and wrote it down and made it into a routine. So it is just being on the lookout but not being on the lookout. You are always just pen in hand and nothing is going to happen but it is about being aware. Daren O’brien’s talks about that bit in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy when learning to fly is about distracting yourself it the point you are just about to fall, you’ve always got to be ready but just be distracted. It is just about reading the papers, watching TV, just thinking about your life, what is stupid, what is unusual, what is universal and then trying to express that in your own way.”

Breaking into Comedy

Finally, Richard has some advice to offer any Art Fist readers who would like to become involved in the comedy scene themselves. Of course, being an expert veteran, he makes it sound very easy...
“I think the main advice is to just do it as much as you can. In both writing and performing. If you procrastinate and put it off but with writing you can do it as long as you have a pen and a piece of paper and you can do that anywhere. And with performing, you can always find somewhere to perform, you just need to get up and do it and get better. I’ve been doing these things for about 20 years professionally and for 25 years I’ve been writing comedy and performing and I’m still learning all the time and still getting better all the time so the more you can do the better.”
“Obviously it is harder than that but you can keep putting things off and saying it’s not fair and it is hard getting into these things but actually comedy and writing are sort of two of the easiest things to get into because you can just do them! I mean, you can set up your own comedy club, and if you are young you can just do it at school or college or even at work you can just go and do some comedy and ask people if they want to hang around and watch it in the canteen. It is just a matter of building your way up and the internet is great for that as well. You can try things out on the internet and then send it to your friends on facebook or whatever and see how they react and you will get a response immediately. And try to learn from the responses that people give you; don’t assume you are brilliant straight away, you might be but you are probably not! Even if you are brilliant straight away, you will get even better. It is about grafting; the culture today is so much about instant gratification, instant fame when really, those things are not useful to anyone who is interested in creating a career or anything artistic. You have really got to work at it. “

This article was originally printed in Art Fist, issue 7

Richard HerringÂ’s website: