Interview: Richard Herring
Posted On Friday, January 11, 2013 By jack.
Richard, youÂ’ll be judging a competition at DaveÂ’s Leicester Comedy Festival pretty soon, can you tell us a little about the competition?
Yeah, for the competition anyone can upload anything thatÂ’s funny. It can be any video but it has to be 30-60 seconds long- I suppose thatÂ’s the skill. It can include sketches, animation, stand-up, a joke- whatever you think is amusing, and then theyÂ’ll be judged by a panel including myself and some other comedy people, and I think some writers and critics. The one that we say is the best will win ÂŁ5,000 and some top comedy advice from the creators of The Inbetweeners. So, thatÂ’s quite a good first prize, and the second prize is ÂŁ2,500 so itÂ’s a good opportunity. I personally love the internet as a medium for getting comedy across and I think this a nice way for someone new to try and get their work noticed and also win a bit of money, which will hopefully help them push onwards and make that into a career, if thatÂ’s what theyÂ’re interested in.
You mention that you now use the Internet a lot. Do you think that the old Radio 4 route into comedy, coupled with the laborious commissioning process is less relevant than it used to be?
Well, I think the Internet has made it less relevant because in the old days, when I started that was the only way to get anywhere- to get commissioned, usually by the BBC. That was a difficult process and it was difficult to break through. In fact for Lionel Nimrod, our producer had to threaten to resign when they said they werenÂ’t going to make that show. It was difficult to breakthrough but we were lucky enough to do quite well with that but even now as a fairly established comedian, it seems to me even now easier put something together myself. Something like As It Occurs To Me was an idea that IÂ’d vaguely pitched to the radio stations and then I kind of thought, Â‘itÂ’ll take months to get anywhere, and then they wonÂ’t let me say what I want to say because itÂ’s on the radio, and itÂ’ll have to be half an hour longÂ’, so why not just go out and make these things yourself?
ThatÂ’s not to say that radio and TV will become irrelevant, but I think it means that itÂ’s more democratic. You donÂ’t need to know the right people, you donÂ’t have to have the good fortune to be one of the acts that radio and TV people like, you just get out there an put something up and itÂ’s a way to discover if you actually are funny. In the past, if you werenÂ’t funny, you could pretend that it was all down to the unfairness of the system. Now you can put up books, audio, video or whatever, and itÂ’ll be judge on how many people listen to it. Also, another good thing about the internet is that the whole world and tune into it, so your more likely to find the like-minded souls that might like it. You might be doing something thatÂ’s too niche for TV and 10,000 people might like it and thatÂ’s enough to give you a good kick-start, or start making some money out of it, if thatÂ’s important to you.
Do you think peopleÂ’s ultimate goal is still to get on the tele?
I think it probably is but I also think that it doesnÂ’t need to be. IÂ’d also like to see more comedians just being concerned about good stuff and not really worrying about whether theyÂ’re on TV or not. I think itÂ’s less relevant but itÂ’s obviously helpful in getting people to come and see you live. For someone like Stewart Lee, it has obviously injected a new life into his stand-up audience, but then again is it necessary? HeÂ’s now slightly struggling over whether heÂ’s getting the right sort of people coming to see his stuff, so you donÂ’t necessarily need to do it. I havenÂ’t really been on TV in any major form for 15 years, and through using the internet IÂ’ve managed to build up my audience to a very healthy number which means I can tour and make some money, and IÂ’ve worked quite hard to get there. TV isnÂ’t necessarily the be all and end all. I also think that being famous is not as good as you might think. I think when I was younger, I was aiming to be the best comedian, and the most well known comedian and wanted everyone to love me, but actually, now IÂ’m older, I think itÂ’s pretty cool that I can sit in coffee shops, enjoy a coffee and listen in on other peopleÂ’s conversations without them saying Â“isnÂ’t that Richard Herring over there?Â”. You realise that there are more important things and I think, for me, comedy is the most important thing and if I do get some kind of TV exposure- great. If not, itÂ’s not the end of the world and IÂ’m not going to try and avoid it but I also think, as long as the internetÂ’s there I can carry on doing everything I want to do, however stupid and self-indulgent it might be.
How do you reckon you would have used the internet if you and Stew were starting out now as opposed to 25 years ago?
I donÂ’t know, itÂ’d be interesting to see. Stew would probably have been as resistant then as a young man as he is now as an older man. What I really like about it is that it feels a bit punk rock, I like the home made nature and the fact that you can do whatever you want to do. We were sort of doing internet shows on the radio before the internet. It wouldÂ’ve suited us quite well, we were very interactive and we had email for our first TV show probably before anyone else did. In all likelihood, we could easily have done a show like Fist of Fun on the internet- it wouldnÂ’t have looked quite the same but there was a sort of WayneÂ’s World feel to it, and that was a kind of internet show before the internet. IÂ’m quite surprised it hasnÂ’t happened more with digital TV and that there arenÂ’t more lo-fi, really cheap digital comedy shows going on.
There was a period when they tried to do that on things like UK play, wasnÂ’t there?
Yeah, they did, but you can do really cheap shows that are properly funny, and thatÂ’s the thing IÂ’m hoping to show with the internet- that those shows donÂ’t cost me anything and you could film them and it wouldnÂ’t cost much more. TheyÂ’re still entertaining and you donÂ’t have to spend lots of money on sketches and a studio if you keep it lo-fi, and I think thatÂ’s why something like this competition is quite interesting because itÂ’s not about producing something heavily produced that looks amazing. If you do that- great, but itÂ’s more about making someone laugh in a minute. I guess thatÂ’s what you have to do as a stand-up as well. You have to be funny straight away, and to me that seems like quite a terrifying prospect, but I suppose thatÂ’s what you need to do as a comedian. The biggest reaction I ever got from a live audience was a sketch I did as a student where someone said, Â“introducing Harold Pucks: the man who can only live in a vacuumÂ”, and then I would run on, and halfway across the stage, suddenly realise that I wasnÂ’t in a vacuum and just die in quite an elaborate fashion, diving across the stage. It was one of those jokes in which I just hit the floor and there would be an amazing laugh, and that was a sketch that took, at most, 45 seconds. So, youÂ’re looking for something like that, I guess. Something thatÂ’s stupid, surprising or silly that can get a big laugh, maybe with a slight set-up. So, yeah, I think it would have suited us, but IÂ’m also actually very glad itÂ’s here now. ItÂ’s fallen very nicely for me and I was slightly wondering where I should be going and sitting, waiting for people to get in touch with me and realising that that wasnÂ’t really happening, so it was nice to take the autonomy and just get on with it. ThatÂ’sÂ’ what IÂ’ve been doing for the last seven or eight years. 90% of what I do is generated by myself, whether itÂ’s an Edinburgh tour or a podcast. No-one comes to me and says Â“write thisÂ” and itÂ’s nice to have that power and that control over what youÂ’re doing, which I think the internet gives you.
Do you think that, with so much stuff out there, itÂ’s easier for stuff to get lost, or do you think that the best things shines through? YouÂ’re established now, but IÂ’m guessing that if someone started with a podcast of them playing themselves at snooker, it probably wouldnÂ’t get listened to.
Well, to be honest, it doesnÂ’t get listened to by many people anyway. I suppose I was and I wasnÂ’t [established]. With all the stuff we did on TV, it got an audience but it was very cultish, and when I toured on my own I was getting hardly anyone coming to see me in the early 2000Â’s- genuinely down to around 30 people, and even when we toured as Lee and Herring, we didnÂ’t really get people in, so we werenÂ’t massively established. It helped that some people knew who we were, but the great thing about the internet is that you can do one thing, and if you do it very well, and itÂ’s get retweeted and emailed and itÂ’s on Facebook, it can reach an enormous audience very quickly. If somethingÂ’s good, I think it will, unless you have absolutely no friends or no one to show it to, spiral out of control. I think thatÂ’s a good way of determining whether what youÂ’re doing is going to work or not. For the more eclectic stuff that IÂ’m doing, it would be hard to get those things up and running, but also, thereÂ’s nothing wrong with spending 10 or 15 years doing something without anyone realising that itÂ’s good. In fact itÂ’s quite a good thing because the problem with the internet is that there is this chance of an immediate result, and actually as a comedian, you want to be grafting away, and I think thatÂ’s why IÂ’m hopefully in a position where IÂ’m producing pretty good stuff. If you take the last eight years, IÂ’ve worked pretty constantly on stand-up and on podcast stuff, and really had to work at it and itÂ’s still very much below the radar. ItÂ’s getting bigger and bigger, but only very gradually, and thatÂ’s not necessarily a bad thing. Also, if you film something and it exists, you can always direct people towards that. If you look at the Isabel Fay Haters video that I was a part of, thatÂ’s a real calling card for her and itÂ’s led onto her getting a deal and stuff, so I think itÂ’s choosing your moment right and not getting ahead of yourself. The young comedianÂ’s curse is that they want everyone to know how brilliant they are straight away, and they might be pretty good, but theyÂ’re not going to be as good as they are in ten yearsÂ’ time. If you work for ten years, youÂ’ll get better as a comedian and youÂ’ll look back at the things you were doing ten years ago going Â“this isnÂ’t all that good!Â” ItÂ’s all relative really.
Finally, will we see any more AIOTM?
Never say never, but it was such hard work, and I think it might be difficult to get the team together again; they seem to be going on to all kinds of success elsewhere, so I donÂ’t think weÂ’ll do any more of those, but you never know. We might do a special or something, but I found it genuinely mentally disturbing to have to do it so fast, so IÂ’m kind of thinking that there might be some way of doing a slightly more scripted, less-than weekly, video stand-up/sketch show that IÂ’d put on the internet and IÂ’m interested in exploring what the internet can offer me, so weÂ’ll see whatÂ’s possible. WeÂ’re definitely doing some more Leicester Square Theatre Podcasts and we might try and film them and ask people to pay for the videoed versions if they want to, but only a token amount. I also thinking of doing something along the lines of Stewart LeeÂ’s stand-up show, but not on TV as it wouldnÂ’t be massively expensive to put something together that would look pretty good, and obviously the content is more important than the way you do it. Who knows?
You can find all of the details of DaveÂ’s Leicester Comedy Festival here- http://www.comedy-festival.co.uk