Interview: Richard Herring

By Adam Clery on March 9, 2012 in NARC., Stage

It’s fair to say that Richard Herring, now ticking along nicely at the same age Steve Irwin fatally make an unwise comment about a stingray’s mother, has had one of more colourful careers in comedy. He’s had a double-act with Stewart Lee, upset the church, made people think long and hard about the male member, wrote most of Time Gentleman Please, played snooker with himself, and attempted to reclaim the Hitler ‘tache. Now he’s on tour debating the very nature of love…

“A lot of people just seem to believe in it without ever really questioning what it actually is and what it means to you. I’d been with my girlfriend for three years when I started writing all this and I had all these ideas of commitment and marriage and what they all actually mean floating around in my head and it was something I wanted to explore.

I’ve met people who’ve broken up immediately after seeing the show, and I’ve also met people who decided to get engaged because of it as well. All I’m trying to do with this is make people think about it a little more so I suppose in that sense it’s working.”

“Your girlfriend?” I said with an eyebrow raised to a height visible on radar. “How did she react when you told her you wanted to do a show that picks relationships to pieces?”

“Pretty well actually. I mean, she went out with me when I had a Hitler moustache, so this wasn’t really that big a deal considering.”

A fair point, in fact it was the attempt to reclaim of the furher’s face fuzz that brought Richard Herring to a broader audience. After many years of being the preserve of the comedic elite, he was all of a sudden on programmes like Have I Got News For You having to explain what on earth was going on with his top lip.

“It wasn’t that bad actually, people in the street largely either avoided or ignored me. Hardly anybody actually challenged me on it at all, which really surprised me, I presume people must just have thought I was either very, very hard or slightly mentally ill to pull it off. I had one white van man shout “well done mate, you’re a man after my own heart” which was probably the most horrible thing that’s ever happened to me.

It was worth it though. I mean, it was only a moustache, if you really don’t like fascism then surely you wouldn’t judge somebody just for their facial hair. I got a lot more abuse for the whole Ricky Gervais thing in truth. It’s quite strange really but I’ve had a Hitler moustache and questioned the entire nature of religion, and the most controversial thing I’ve actually done is point out that maybe we should think about disabled people’s feelings a bit more.”

Ah yes, for those of you who missed “mong-gate”, a rather vicious and thought-provoking debate erupted on Twitter after star of The Office and walking, gurning gallery of smug Ricky Gervais attempted to justify his liberal usage of the disabilist slur by implying its meaning had changed over the years. Richard effectively became the poster boy those calling bullshit on the whole thing and Gervais fans were, for lack of a better phrase, vocal in their objection.

“Very rarely do I go to bed thinking I’ve done something genuinely worthwhile, but judging by the stream of bile I was getting from Ricky Gervais fans I knew I’d done something right. I’ve got no problem with him as a person, he’s an alright comedian and we share some fans, but the whole “reclaiming the word ‘mong’ thing” I just felt was totally out of line. I work with a lot of disabled people and they find terms like that incredibly offensive, they just don’t find it as easy to stand or speak up for themselves. Literally.

There are some brilliant disabled and non-disabled comedians who are doing some fantastic work on the subject. It’s not that the subject’s out of bounds, no subject is out of bounds to comedy, but it’s the way that you approach it and what point you’re trying to make. When comedy just becomes a high-status figure punching down, that’s wrong.”

While we’re on the subject of “punching down”, I managed to prize the following tale out of Richard which, sadly, didn’t make it in to the magazine. It concerns an few post-show drinks in the fair city of Liverpool and cropped up when I asked him how he felt about comedy being considered the new rock’n'roll.

“Well, that depends on the comedian I suppose. I’m 44, so the only excesses I’ve got all fall around my waistline, sadly. I’ve got no tour manager, no support act, so I couldn’t really get wasted even if I wanted to. I’d have to go back into the auditorium with the expressed purpose of finding someone who’d want to go and have a drink with me, which is the very height of weird, so it’s usually just back to the hotel for a glass of wine… actually, it’s usually just a cup of tea. Sorry, that’s not the sort of hedonistic paradise you were hoping for, is it?

I used to though. I used to be single, I used to go out and get wasted and go back to hotels at all hours completely psyched out. In truth this is much more preferable.

Well, when I was 40 I was in Liverpool and ended up in the most middle-class fight imaginable with some university lecturer.

Yeah, I was just having a drink with a few people after the show and this guy turned up who sort of half-knew the people I was with. He was really drunk and he started chipping into our conversations, which we obviously didn’t mind, but then he started being slightly aggressive to these girls and started trying to kick people in the head so we asked him to leave.

Anyway, he’s ridiculously drunk by this point and ends up waiting for us outside. One thing leads to another and we just end up having the most pathetic scrap outside a taxi rank. It was so bad in fact, it was just humiliating. I’d have retained more self-respect if I’d just let him beat me up. When we eventually finished, I think someone had vaguely hit the others face, I got in the taxi and the driver said he’d thought about intervening but he was laughing too much.

That’s the thing with being a comedian though. 2 months later I used that as the opening to a book I wrote because, self-deprication being the basis of most of my work, ending up in an embarrassing, mid-life-crisis fight with a teacher after sleazing over some girls is ideal. I suppose that means I owe him one.”


Richard Herring is appearing at The Stand Comedy Club in Newcastle on March 13th.