Richard Herring: Interview
Richard Herring is a name synonymous with contemporary British comedy.
From his involvement in seminal TV shows such as Spitting Image and On the Hour to his (somewhat spurious) claim to have created the character of Alan Partridge, Herring has spread his jocose sauce across a myriad of comedic landscapes.
Whilst his greatest success came with the double act he shared with Stewart Lee, Herring has carved out a cult career as a tireless stand-up performer and podcast pioneer. The ‘Podfather’ (as he has come to be known) created and presents RHL STP (Richard Herring’s Leicester Square Theatre Podcast) which sees Herring interviewing some of the biggest names in comedy and TV. The growth and success of the show means its self-referenced cultish status is busting at the seams.
However, it is Herring’s stand-up routines that really showcase his talents. His latest show, ‘The Best’ is a sort of greatest hits medley of his finest work and promises to remind us of his importance to the annals British comedy.
We discuss the editing process, Trump and being devastated by the heckles of a 13 year old boy.
Q. Please tell us a bit about your new ‘Best of’ show.
A. I’ve got about 20 hours of material that I’ve accrued over the course of my stand-up career so there was a lot of working that down. I just thought that there was a lot of good stuff to revisit and explore further.
Because I’m not massively exposed on TV, I’ve become a bit of a cult figure, the people who do know me, really like the stuff that I do but they say their friends have never heard of me. So this is a good way of saying to them ‘bring your friends to this show, if they don’t like then they’ll never have to bother with me again!’
Q. In terms of choosing what to go in, did you trust your own judgement about what were the funniest bits from each show or did you seek advice?
A. I mainly chose what I got excited about doing again. It did prove quite difficult selecting stuff for a ‘best of’ show because a lot of the good stuff I wanted to do was so ingrained in the contextual fabric of the show it belonged to - pulling it from the context rendered it kind of meaningless.
I try to make it a more fluid show by just randomly incorporating bits I remember in the moment – like a severe memory test to see if I can do it but mostly it’s crafted from what I’ve pulled together in the editing process. I did think of giving the audience something like a menu of options such as alternative adventures but then realised that could deteriorate into something very mess, very quickly!
The ultimate aim of the show is to make people laugh continuously for 90 minutes – which, in theory, should be possible if I’m doing my best stuff!
Q. If Richard Herring was introducing Richard Herring to the RHL STP stage what obscure project would you say he is best known for?
A. I think I would go for the voice of a spider on a BBC school’s TV show except that the taping went wrong and they didn’t ask me back to re-record it. That would have to be my least impressive credit – although the competition for that particular accolade is fiercely competitive!
Q. Your BBC radio 4 sitcom ‘Relativity’ will soon be upon us. Can you tell us a bit about it?
A. It’s based on an idea I did ten years ago for ITV. It’s loosely based on my experiences with my family and family life – but a bit more serious and realistic than the show ‘My Family’. It’s on BBC radio so it’s not going to be extremely hard hitting but I would characterise it as a comedy drama.
It’s about family relationships and things going wrong. There’s quite a few slapstick moments which I like the idea of doing on the radio – lots of visual comedy that you can’t actually see so that was interesting getting across in the script.
We did the first re-read through of it last week and that went really well. I can’t say who is in it yet but we have some really amazing actors who I’m really excited to be working with. All will be revealed.
Q. Your show ‘Happy Now’ was loosely based on you settling down with child, the anxieties of parenthood and warding off the existential crises of your own contentedness. How’s that all working out for you now?
A. It’s very nice to have an anchor in the world and have someone to work for. I mean I left it very late. Doing these shows and looking back on the times when I was doing them reminded me of the roller-coaster I’ve been on in terms of work and relationships – did I want to do this? Did I want to pursue that? But now I have a family I find myself more content with the idea of having someone in the world to protect – even if it is utterly terrifying.
Doing ‘Happy Now’ was more about the angst and existential questions that come with having children – the delight and the terror of it all. It makes me understand my priorities and it’s focused my work.
Q. What’s the worst heckle you’ve ever had and what do you consider your best response to a heckle?
A. They’re nearly all terrible. The worst one was this drunken guy not really understanding what was going on and trying to ruin the show - I had to deal with him for about twenty minutes. I highly recommend you watch the YouTube clip.
The best one (and worst one for me) was when me and Stewart Lee were a double act and we used to have this thing were I would pick on this 13 yr old kid in the audience. I would just tell him all the ways I was better than him – like I’ve got more money than him and that I have pubic hair and he doesn’t.
Basically, I was lording it over him in anyway imaginable. Then we’d invite him to heckle back and I would feign being crushed and devastated and complain to Stew that this kid had been rude to me. But then one kid replied back saying the sleeves of my jacket were slightly frayed – they actually were and it would take the sharp eyes of a 13 yr old to see that. Somehow that was such a penetrating comment and said so much about me and my lifestyle at the time – the real me – that it actually had a real and profound effect on me!
Q. Bit of a serious question – with Trump, Brexit and Boris Johnson as Home Secretary, do you think we have moved beyond the power of satire?
A. Trump is terrifying because he actually gets genuinely upset when you do a joke about him – and lets you know through Twitter he’s upset! As much as politicians are a weird species, I think it’s unsettling if they micro-manage their image to that extent. If you are in a position of such power then you need to allow yourself to be criticised or made fun of – have a sense of certainty about yourself.
Satire is difficult under such circumstances but comedy is important in times when people are fearful about what’s happening – it’s helps our understanding of things to ridicule them. It’s difficult to go and watch a theatre piece which reminds you of things like war and nuclear devastation but it’s kind of helpful to look at those things and laugh a little at the grotesque absurdity of them!
You have to find your own individual response to things. Things like ‘The Thick of it’ would find it hard to incorporate Trump because he’s so oily and slippery that any satiric comment would just slide of him. Having a mad person in charge of the most powerful country in the world is something we’ll all have to adapt to.
Q. Finally, A Coney’s Loft emergency question. Are you familiar with the film Shallow Hal? Ok, you are forced to pick one of the following two magic spells. Option 1. You are transformed into an Adonis and will look perfect and timeless for your whole life. However, only you and your wife and children can see this. To the rest of the world you’re a hideously deformed wretch. Option 2. To your wife and children, you look as though you have put on 5 stone in weight, you are bald and your face is all warty. However, to everyone else in the world (yourself included) you are the manifestation of physical beauty. Pick one.
A. I’d have to go for option 1. I wouldn’t like my wife to see me as being too hideous. I mean she has put up with what’s she already got so it seems profoundly unfair to make it worse. I am benefitting from the blindfold of love and long may it continue.