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Comedy, Dance and Theatre

Richard Herring (photo by photobat)
Richard Herring

Interview: Richard Herring

By Helen Otter
The Cheddar comedian and writer, best known for shows such as Lee and Herring, Fist of Fun and This Morning With Richard Not Judy, chatted to BBC Somerset's Helen Otter ahead of his Menage A Un gig at Moles in Bath on 8 April 2007.

Is doing gigs in the West Country any more special because you're from the area?

It is always a nice feeling to return to the West Country and it's helpful to have a bit of local knowledge sometimes.

I love the vibe in Bristol and Bath, which may be because I grew up near these places, but I actually think they are more friendly and chilled out (and better) than other parts of the country. Maybe I am biased.

You grew up in Cheddar - do you have fond memories of the place and do you come back to visit very often?

My parents and sister still live in Cheddar, so I do go back quite regularly.

I have many, many fond memories of the place. I spent my formative years there. It was an idyllic childhood in many ways.

Where's your favourite place in Somerset and why?

Richard Herring
Richard in his Someone Likes Yoghurt show

I have to say Cheddar because otherwise all my friends would kill me. But I probably like Cheddar Gorge best, because I spent a lot of nights up there drinking cider with my mates and then worked in the caves when I was a bit older.

I like it still. It's not as modern or trendy as some tourist attractions, but it is charming in so many ways and you can't beat the caves.

You'll be performing your Menage A Un show in Bath - what's it about and why should people come and see it?

It is a standup show themed loosely around loneliness, onlyness and onanism.

It is quite full-on in places and people shouldn't come if they are easily offended, or like more traditional comedy.

But if you are prepared to be a little challenged and want something a bit different, then why not give me a try?

You must have performed the show quite a few times now - do you get anything different from it each time you do it?

Yes, I always get something new about it.

Usually I will change stuff a bit to keep myself amused and to look for new areas to explore in a routine, but as each audience is different I also learn a bit about the different ways the same thing can be performed.

I hope I will always keep learning and improving and finding new hidden rooms inside familiar routines.

One of the last gigs you did in the West was The Brewhouse theatre in Taunton in 2006. If you remember, you were interviewed by BBC Somerset Sound's Jess Rudkin before the show, in which you then used one of her jokes about how Bridgwater still smells even though the Cellophane factory has now closed.

In your 8 September 2006 Warming Up blog entry, you talk about visiting your old school in Cheddar and how you told "your" joke about smelly Bridgwater at the start of the evening. Are you ever going to credit Jess for the joke officially, or give her cash for it?

No, I am not.

I have always done jokes about Bridgwater, and I admit Jess did give me a slightly new spin with her news that the factory had closed.

But it's a cruel world and I feel that journalists as a whole owe me, so it is good to have stolen something from them for a change.

All journalists are evil. Including you.

What's the most embarrassing thing that's ever happened to you on stage?

So many humiliations. Usually totally my fault. This one is the most recent:

Warming Up: 18/08/06 >
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It's part of the job to fail.

Who's making you laugh at the moment?

The American Office is brilliant, and I have only just discovered it. Larry David is a god.

Stewart Lee and Richard Herring
Stewart Lee and Richard Herring

Josie Long and Russell Howard are two brilliant new standups. Will Smith (UK) is also brilliant.

Tony Bignell who is acting in the ITV drama I have written is also making me laugh a lot, usually unintentionally.

Do you ever have nightmares about waking up one day and suddenly not being funny anymore?

Not nightmares about it. I sometimes worry about it in waking hours. I used to worry about it more, but after having done this job for 18 years and still having new ideas all the time I think I will be ok.

There are patches when one isn't as creative or funny, and sometimes, if you are taking risks, you will do something that isn't as funny as usual, but I am confident that I can keep it going for a while yet.

Though I am fascinated by comedians who start funny and then sell out or get less funny. And I am sure some people think that has already happened to me.

You've written lots of comedy shows - for TV, radio and live gigs etc. Which piece of work are you most fond of and why?

I think I liked my solo show Christ on a Bike best.

It was my first-ever show where I performed by myself, and the Abraham begat Isaac routine I did is, I think, the funniest thing I have ever done.

I have certainly never quite experienced an audience reaction like it before or since.

What do you think the boundaries of comedy are - ie what would you not make a joke about?

I would joke about anything that I wanted to joke about. I think it's more about intent than anything else.

In Menage A Un, I joke about child-killers and the end of the world. These are serious subjects that aren't funny in themselves, but I think we can use humour to investigate our reactions to the issues.

Part of the job of comedy is to challenge people and help them to laugh in the face of tragedies and unpleasantness.

It's up to the comic to decide what he should and shouldn't say.

What's your show at the 2007 Edinburgh Festival going to be about?

Richard Herring

It's called Oh F**k, I'm 40! which pretty much explains the concept. I turn 40 in July and want to do a show about how that makes me feel.

I haven't written anything yet. I am doing the photo for the poster on Monday.

This is always how it works. Title first, then poster, then Fringe programme blurb, then leaflet blurb, then in about July I'll try and think of something to say.

You've written a new TV series called You Can Choose Your Friends, which you're filming at the moment. What's it about, who's in it, how's the filming going, when can we see it?

It's a comedy drama about three generations of a fairly normal middle-class family who are all attending the 45th wedding anniversary of the grandparents. It's about relationships between family members and partners.

It stars Anton Rodgers, Julia Mackenzie, Claire Skinner, Gordon Kennedy, Robert Daws, Rebecca Front, Sarah-Jane Potts, Tony Bignell, Eleanor Wyld, Ruby Bentall, Richard Dean and myself.

We finish filming tomorrow [9 March] and it's all gone really well. It's on ITV1 at 9pm on 7 June 2007. Hopefully people will like it!

Quick-fire round of questioning to find out a bit more about the real Richard Herring:

Where's your favourite place in the world?

Pompeii. I love history, and it's amazing to step back into the past.

What's your favourite type of music?

I have eclectic tastes which range from '60s to punk and encompass both Paul Simon and Ice T.

I very much like Regina Spektor and Ben Folds at the moment.

What's your favourite book?

I like loads of books - favourite authors include Kurt Vonnegut, Jonathan Ames, Stephen Jay Gould and Douglas Coupland.

What really annoys you?

The sound of polystyrene being rubbed against something else.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be and why?

I would love to get rid of my chubby tummy. For a little while at least. But I am quite fond of it too.

Do you like to eat herring? Either way, you may like to know that there are actually 15 species of herring, that herring has been known as a staple food source since 3000 BC, and that herring is a good source of vitamin D.

I can't think of the last time I ate herring. And I didn't know about any of your facts.

Once, a man at a supermarket approached me saying "herring, herring, herring" and then reached towards me, then behind me and picked a jar of pickled herrings off the shelf.

It was a slightly unsettling experience.

Richard Herring >
Comedy Cavern >
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last updated: 02/05/07
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