Nottingham Live interview

– January 6, 2012

Comedian Richard Herring is back in Nottingham at the end of this month with his latest show What Is Love Anyway? – writer and long time fan Steve Oliver spoke to Richard about his show and his future plans.

LIVE: You’re back in Nottingham this month with What Is Love Anyway?, your latest Edinburgh show. How easy is coming up with a new show every year?

After doing Christ On A Bike last year, which was about questioning my relationship with Jesus as an atheist and questioning religion, yet saying it’s alright to believe in whatever you want. I suggested that love was similar to religion in that it is delusional and faith based. The audience didn’t like it and would often go quiet, and a man came up to me after a show and asked if I meant the bit about love. It’s interesting that they can laugh at religion and then go “Oh now you’re having a go at a magical thing that I believe in, that’s not on”. I found that interesting and wanted to do a big subject this year. I came up with a show about love and knew that I wanted to call it What Is Love Anyway?

LIVE: I assume you’re already thinking ahead to this year’s show, given that you’re the King of Edinburgh…

I am.

LIVE:…is it difficult developing your new show while touring the last one?

It’s something you have to do because you make the decision in February/March and get the title in, and your bit in the fringe programme quite early. In 2012 I’ll probably have another go at Talking Cock, which I did years ago as a male version of The Vagina Monologues, as it isn’t on DVD. I really enjoyed doing Christ On A Bike again and reinventing that and having another go.

LIVE:: Does your blog help with coming up with ideas, as you started it as a way to combat writers block?

I wasn’t doing stand up when I started Warming Up, it was just a way of getting me to do something. I was feeling directionless and couldn’t think what I wanted to do so I thought writing a blog would remind people I still existed, and get me writing every day. It worked because I’ve written something everyday for the last nine years. I think it’s helped my stand up as it’s made me more observant. One of the early ones was when I bought nine yoghurts at the supermarket and the cashier said “Oh, someone likes yoghurt”, I didn’t think much about it until I wrote that days blog. It became the title of the show and included a section where I defended myself a bit too much about this accusation that I like yoghurt more than the average man.

With What Is Love Anyway, I wanted to do that subject because I’d done a routine about my dry cleaners having a sign saying ‘We Love Our Customers’ and wondering if they do love me. Also, this thing I’ve been doing about buying my girlfriend a Ferrero Rocher every Valentine’s Day, and I realised that they were potentially good routines. You could write a blog a month, and maybe have twelve stand up routines. It’s like Jerry Seinfeld said he has a calendar and marked off the days with a cross every time he wrote something, and tried not to break the chain. I did that with the blog without realising it.

LIVE: You had a ‘wilderness’ period after the TV shows were cancelled, although you didn’t stop working you did slip off the radar. Year on year you seem to be getting a bigger profile, do you feel like this is a second wave?

Like you said I’ve always been there without going over the hill, which is kind of a good thing really. Nothing I’ve ever done has broken massively, not even the stuff I did with Stewart in the 1990s. We were very much a cult thing, most people wouldn’t have known us if they’d passed us in the street.

Stewart’s part in the double act wasn’t that different, and he was doing solo gigs all the time, whereas I had to find a way to reinvent myself. So I think things are moving in the right direction, I’m 45 this year, you never know what’s going to happen. If I stay at this level for the rest of my career I’ll be ecstatically happy.

I’ve got 50,000 people who listen to my pod cast, if half of them come and see me live then I can sustain a very comfortable living. I’ve arrived through persistence and hard work. TV would have been happy to forget about me, so I made the decision to get out there and do stuff. Going back to stand up was hard but the most significant step in my career, because for the first couple of years I hated it. I felt I worked better with a group or in a double act. Eventually I realised that I can do it, and you only need an audience, not a TV commissioner.

I’ve written a lot of scripts in the past and one or two of them have made it to telly, but a lot of them end up in a drawer which can be frustrating. If I’ve got any regrets from the last ten years, it’s that I haven’t made the leap to scriptwriter in the conscience of people who decide you can write for television.

LIVE: Now that you know the internet works as a medium, would you consider getting some of the scripts out of that drawer to do independently?

It’s possible but I think it could look shoddy, to compete with TV you’d need a good budget. There is an enormous outlay involved. Louis CK did this amazing thing of filming his own DVD, but it cost him around a quarter of a million to film it properly. To do something like that you need millions of fans around the world who are prepared to give you five dollars. I’ve got 200 to 10000 fans who might give me a tenner towards something, but even that’s not enough to make a series.

LIVE: You had to buy your own series from the BBC, you and Stewart Lee have reclaimed Fist Of Fun to sell independently. How did you feel about the BBC dragging their heels on releasing it?

Over the past 15 years people have asked me about it being released so there’s obviously an audience for it. It seems odd given Stewart’s recent success that the BBC didn’t want it. We’ve made a profit already so that kind of proves the BBC wrong. There wasn’t a marketing budget; this was all twitter and word of mouth. We can sell it at gigs and online and we’ll easily sell maybe five thousand copies. It was good to do it on our terms, rather than let the BBC do it and not know who to market it at.

LIVE: I reviewed What Is Love Anyway at Just The Tonic before Edinburgh, how different is the show now? And how helpful is the preview circuit when you read from notes?

I think by the time I got to Nottingham I was off the notes…

LIVE: You were actually, sorry.

…but that show came together quite fast actually. Of all the shows I’ve done this one did cement together quite quickly. If you saw the preview it’ll be familiar but I’ve got more time. The Playhouse is a different kind of environment to Just The Tonic so I can have fun with it. It’s changed a bit but it’s exciting that every night things will occur to me, or things will be chopped. Or I can put something in that I chopped from the preview because the show was too long. It’s nice that in Nottingham there does seem to be an audience for me that will come. It’s one of my bigger shows and the Playhouse is quite a big theatre. Often in big theatres I’m not getting near filling them, so I’m looking forward to coming back to Nottingham.

Interview by Steve Oliver