INTERVIEWS: RICHARD HERRING
We've just been reading Richard Herring's book How Not To Grow Up and think it's fab, so figured we should interview him. As is traditional, we turned this over to our messageboard members for their questions. Thankfully Richard didn't get too annoyed by this and actually answered them. Hooray.
Richard Herring's book is available via Amazon. We bought ours via our phone and read it as an ebook as we're tragically trapped in 2009.
Do you think that if you hadn't achieved the success early on in your career that you would ever have given up on comedy?
When we first came to London in 1989 I gave myself 5 years and said if I hadn't got anywhere in that time I would give up and get a proper job. We were fortunate (and in some ways unfortunate) to get successful within that time frame. I may have given up if nothing had happened at all, but in some ways I wish it had taken us another five years to get on to TV. It all happened too fast and was over too soon and I think I would have coped with it and appreciated it more if it had taken a little longer. The hardest part was learning to cope with a post Lee and Herring, post Time Gentleman Please existence and work out what to do next.
Which comedian doing an advert has made your heart sink the most (if any)?
All of them do up to an extent. It's a shame to see people that one respects doing stuff so brazenly for money, though I don't think the younger generation of comedians feel the same about ads as mine (or maybe the one before in reality). Everyone has to make their own choices. I was sad to see Mark Watson doing those cider ads, but it's up to him. Unlike Bill Hicks I don't think this takes anyone off the artistic role call forever. Sometimes you have to do something wrong or unsettling or that challenges yourself to become better as an artist. And it's up to everyone to make their own moral landscape.
If you could get back on TV or save 6Music, which would you choose?
I am not as keen to get back on TV as the podcast Richard Herring might have you believe and would only do so if the right project came along. If I had the power to make that decision then I would happily give up TV forever to save 6Music because I think it is important and unique enough and they would have to give me a job for a life due to my sacrifice for them. Hopefully we can manage both though.
If Facebook sites or moaning emails don't work, do you have any ideas what else can we do to save Radio 6 Music?
I am been impressed with the perspicacity of the protesters. They didn't just make a fuss at the start and then roll over. They are committed to saving the station and I hope that commitment will bear fruit. So never give in, never surrender. I hope you will all keep trying to save it. 55% of me thinks we can do it.
Who was the best comedian you have seen that never made it?
Depends on your definition of "made it". I think too many people think being on TV is the be all and end all of being a comedian, but it isn't. Being a comedian is an end in itself and most great comedians at least succeed at that. And "making it" in the terms I think you mean would probably ruin them. Loads of comedians are better than some of the people who make it on to TV. And some would have done a better job. Simon Munnery should have been our generation's Spike Milligan figure, I am amazed Boothby Graffoe didn't become a mainstream sensation, Ted Chippington probably had more influence on today's comedy scene than anyone given real credit for doing so. But all of these people have done fantastically well in their own orbits and might well reach the acclaim they deserve before they die!
Do you ever worry about running out of ideas?
I used to really worry about it, in my 20s. What if I were to wake up and not be able to think of another joke? Or show idea. Now I think that I have enough going on in my head to keep me going for as long as my brain functions correctly. I am more worried about getting too old and tired and infirm to do what I do. But at the moment I know that I can produce comedy out of both big ideas but ,more importantly, tiny incidents and I am fairly confident there is a job somewhere in this industry for me for life. I think it's important to love comedy and to evolve as it does and not get stuck in your ways, like some more elderly comedians do, wishing things were like they once were. Barry Cryer is an inspiration to me. He has stayed working in comedy and loving it for 50 years and still keeps up with new stand ups, but has found a niche where his own stuff will work. And he's a gentleman.
If I gave you Â£5 to spend on fast food how would you spend it?
I would get something at Nandos. I have pretty successfully given up eating at places like Chicken Cottage and Macdonalds. And Nandos is the best (though can you give me Â£10 so I can get a full meal please)
How often do you change your sheets?
Once a week.
Your looks have improved with age, what is your secret?
I think we played up the idea of me being unattractive in Fist of Fun and those years were when I was chubby without being muscly, but I was still OK looking (better than I realised I think). I am lucky to be a man where a bit of a creased up, weather-beaten face can be attractive and I think having facial hair has really helped make me look better to those kind of people who like that sort of thing. And I've kept my hair which helps too. Really though I am just less insecure and happier in myself. Most of personal attractiveness is down to what you think about yourself. I like myself more now.
Daddy or chips?
If I had to choose between the existence of my father and some deep-fried potato I would choose my father. If I am being given a choice of what I should eat for dinner, then probably chips. Overall though I prefer my daddy to chips. And I really like chips.
And what is your favourite type of biscuit or cake?
Jaffa cakes neatly bridge the two foodstuffs and they are very nice. Plus I used to enjoy picking them apart as a child so have happy, nostalgic associations. But I don't like biscuits or cake as much as I like sweets and chocolate.
Did you have nickname at school?
My dad TK Herring was then headmaster so I was sometimes called TK Junior. Occasionally there were some fish-based remarks, but less often than you might think.
You're going to die in ten minutes. You have a fiver and you're in a Tesco Express. What do you do?
Why are you people only giving me Â£5. I think I would be overcome with the fear of the absence of my being and too full of dread at my own mortality to purchase anything. Plus I would really be limited to things that were ready to eat. I might have an Innocent Smoothie or two. And maybe a bar of Green and Black's Butterscotch chocolate as it wouldn't really matter about my diet anymore.
Are there any more episodes of Fist of Fun in the pipeline?
(plaintive whimper) Noooooo!
What's in your pockets?
I am sitting on my sofa with my laptop on my lap wearing a T-shirt and underpants. I have no pockets. In my jeans on the floor there is some loose change, my house keys, my wallet and usually my mobile phone.
Which of your fists is the most fun?
My right fist is stronger and I am right-handed. So let's go for that one. It depends how much fun you think having a fist up your arse is. You might prefer the weaker one.
In no more than 1000 words... What happens in your book?
I come to terms with who I am.
Would you rather have an intimate encounter with a mermaid whose top half is woman and bottom half fish, or vice versa?
I think I'd prefer the top half of a woman, because you could still imagine you were in a woman, but the other way round you would still feel like you were fucking a fish. Or top half a woman and I'd go for her giving me oral.
How's your cock these days?
(Eduard Khil's Haircut)
In decline but still magnificent.
What is your favourite article of clothing that you own and why?
I like my blue and black stripy jumper because I feel like a cross between Johnny Rotten and Dennis the Menace in it. With a little bit of Kurt Kobain.
How many times does your book reference Peter Pan and/or pixie dust?
I think Peter Pan gets one mention (maybe 2) and pixie dust gets none. I don't know what pixie dust is.
About the toothbrush 'tache; what were the best and worst responses to the muzzie from members of the general public?
Worst was a white van man congratulating me and calling me a man after his own heart. The best was that no-one felt the need to punch my head in at any point. In fact it was good that so many people either ignored me or didn't care. We live in a good country and people let you get on with stuff mostly, however much of a cock you are being.
Would you consider catching Aids just so the newspapers could have a funny headline?
I would not consider doing that I am afraid. I could just help someone. Or some herrings. And that would do just as well.
You crash on a desert island in the ocean. Nobody else is there and it's a very small island with no vegetation or anything like that. At what point do you start drinking your piss? Right away, when it's fairly diluted, or do you risk wasting the first batch in the hope rescue is imminent, possibly opening the door to a stronger cocktail later on?
It's a good question, but I think I would have weed out all my wee before I had realised that that was an option and it would be too late.
Would you catch a falling cat or seize the opportunity for a volley?
I think I'd let it fall to earth itself. Cats seem pretty good at coping with that stuff on their own. I have no desire to hurt any cat.
Who would win in a fight, Patrick Stewart, or James Corden?
I would be rooting for Patrick.
Is it acceptable to court controversy as an alternative to being funny?
I think it's always important to be funny, especially if you are tackling a controversial subject. I think most comedians think more about this than most people seem to give them credit for. Sometimes needless controversy is very funny though. It's a judgement call that everyone has to make for themselves.
How much custard and why?
(Floris the Loris)
None really. I don't like it too much. Ice cream preferably.
What question does nobody ever ask you that you wish they did, and what is the answer?
I suppose I am never asked a lot more questions than I am asked. I am asked a very small selection of questions and there are probably an infinite number of questions I could be asked, which in the grand scheme of things means I have never been asked anything. I would like to be asked a question that I hadn't even considered in any way before and so I can't tell you the answer, though it would be fun to give it.
Or alternatively, what can you get away with wearing the longest - the same undercrackers or the same socks?
I try to go for one day. Sometimes in emergencies I might take them into the second day. I would wash them in a sink if I had no option but to wear them on day 3.
If prunes are dehydrated plums, where does prune juice come from?
That is a question I have never considered before. It's exactly what I just wished for. I find I am floundering and cannot answer it, which is a disappointment.
What's the best heckle you've ever heard?
"The sleeves on your jacket are slightly frayed" - they were.
And what's the stupidest question anyone's ever asked you?
"Is it true that you and Stewart Lee are no longer talking?" asked by a man in a bar who had interrupted me, not noticing that at that exact moment I was talking to Stewart Lee. And would still have been talking to him. If I hadn't been interrupted.
Are you doing a new Edinburgh show this year? If so, what's the theme, when will you be touring with it and are you doing any previews?
I am reworking my 2001 show Christ on a Bike and calling it the Second Coming. But it will need quite a lot of rewriting so most of it will be new. I am touring in the new year (and doing a London run starting in December 2010) and yes there are some previews - look at my gig guide at www.richardherring.com or the dedicated COAB page. I have had very little time to work on it so far, so the early previews will be ropey.
Also, are you releasing a DVD or CD of Hitler Moustache, I saw it in Sheffield in February and want to watch it again and again until my eyeballs dry out?
Hitler Moustache is coming out in October. It will be in the shops this time, but buy it from gofasterstripe if you can because they will do good things with your money - and that's the only place you can get a special bonus disc with loads of cool extras (though there will be some extras on the shop version too)
We find Hitler 'taches offensive so we've censored it.
Are you circumcised? Or is your boy still wearing his hat?
I am uncircumcised. Though it's more like a jumper than a hat. If your foreskin is sitting atop your penis with no other connection to your shaft then there is something wrong with you, or you have been circumcised by someone with a sense of humour.
Given that evolution, by its nature, produces flaws in the 'design' of organisms, and that, by winning a competition (in which the only skill required was to text 'PLAYGOD' to a premium rate number) you were given the opportunity to perfect the human form, how many extra limbs do you think you'd give people? What other improvements would you make?
At least two more arms and one more cock would be very useful. And a cupholder.
My wife would like to know: "Whether he still sometimes does Pliny and Histor voices to himself for a laugh," and "What does he think of Frankie Boyle?"
I don't ever do Histor and Pliny (though Histor is sitting in the chair behind me now) though I sometimes say "I am wanking as I write this" or "28 years old" still. I like Frankie Boyle's stand up and think he's an interesting fellow and a good comedian, though not sure about his recent Down's Syndrome material or that fact that he thinks comedians over 40 are past it.
After bravely wearing that Hitler moustache... how about upping the ante and living as Katie Price for a year?
It's your idea. You should do it. I come up with my own stuff.
You often talk about the art of comedy itself. How much of other people's comedy do you watch/listen to in a week? Do you go out of your way to study what other comedians are doing, even if they're rubbish?
I see a lot of comedians in Edinburgh and the circuit. At the moment I am working so hard and doing so many gigs that I don't tend to go and see comedy on my days off, but I do like watching comedy on TV. 30 Rock is my favourite at the moment and that's a great thing to study. You can learn as much from good comedians as bad ones, but I learn the most from being on stage myself and trying stuff out and in a way observing myself and seeing how making tiny changes in speed, volume, language etc can make jokes better. I was always a comedy fan though, so love to check out good new stuff on the internet or in clubs and I am still able to laugh at other people when they are good. Which some comics aren't able to do.
How do you like your eggs?
(Christian's Bolt and Ski)
Your Ideal Audience? Anywhere, any era.
I think my ideal audience has to be 21st Century UK because that is where I am and not sure my stuff would work in ancient Rome as well. And they might introduce lions.
When are you making a new series of Time Gentlemen Please?
Wish we were, as we had lots more ideas for it and I think it's a great show. I am very proud of the writing job I did on those series and I think I could do even better now. But instead I will try and come up with something new and hope some TV executive will allow me to make it
Would you rather eat a cake that looks and tastes exactly like dog shit or eat a dog shit that looks and tastes exactly like cake?
I would rather eat dog shit that tasted of cake than cake that tasted of dog shit. If it also looked like cake then it would not be a problem at all. If it contained all the germs of dog shit then I would have to think again.
What's your opinion on the chances of the Lib-Con coalition government lasting more than a year?
Pretty high. It will be interesting to see if it gets beyond 2 years. I hope not.
What is the "proper job" your folks secretly hope you'll still get?
I think my family are happy with what I am doing. They are all teachers and so would I be if I wasn't doing this. But they have been incredibly supportive and I am very glad of that.
Seeing as you have two successful ones on the go do you have any further plans to play with the medium of the podcast?
(Christian's Bolt and Ski)
I am interested in moving into making my own sitcoms/comedy dramas for the internet, because it's proving difficult to get mine on TV and I know my ideas are good enough and my writing superior to much of the stuff that gets commissioned. So would be great to retain the autonomy to make stuff and put it out myself, though I don't know how I would finance this.
Are stand-up comedians just like the prophets of yore?
Nope, because most of them don't actually believe they are gods. They are like the Holy Fools of yore who were able to tell kings exactly what they thought because they were a bit crazy.
Have you ever pulled a pint in your life? (please rant about Time Gentleman Please)
I have. I worked in pubs when I was a student. Not that the Pub Landlord would have found that acceptable.
What is your opinion on the plight of poor villages in South Africa, ignored and left destitute while multi-million pound stadiums are built by corrupt construction cartels?
I think the imbalance between Western civilisation and the Third World will be viewed in the future in the same way as we view the gap between rich and poor in the 19th Century and of people owning slaves. In many ways it is exactly the same thing. It is wrong and I hope the world will move to a point where that is accepted and we try and do something about it.
Is slapstick dead?
No, but audiences are more sophisticated than they were in the heyday of slapstick, so it needs to be very good to work. It's a little comedic weapon that can be used to good effect every now and again.
During one of your 'F*ck Me I'm 40' shows at Edinburgh a couple of years ago, myself and two friends were in the front row and placed a pair of Tunnock's Tea Cakes on a t-shirt on stage. You moved the Tunnock's Tea Cakes during the show as the t-shirt was a prop. Were you more concerned about losing momentum? Or do you not like Tunnock's Tea Cakes? In short. Do you like Tunnock's Tea Cakes (I'm more of a Caramel Wafer man myself)
I only vaguely remember this. In Edinburgh there is a one hour time slot and if you run over you get fined. I had a show that was already a bit too long and I would rather give the people what they paid for rather than be forced to jettison something crucial to the structure to talk about something that would not be that interesting. I probably just thought it was a gift and saved it for later. Not massively into cakes as I have said before, why weren't you listening?
Does reading make one old? If so, can I safely read your book without losing my immaturity?
No, reading keeps you young. As does anything which helps you engage with the world. Staying young is about staying interested.
On a less serious note, would you please distil Castigliano's theorem down to ten words or less.
I am unable to do that as I don't know about it and I can't be bothered to look it up, because I am old and don't want to engage with the world.
A friend of mine is convinced that he had the same driving instructor as you because of that sketch you did about 15 years ago, "What...can't you even DRIVE?!" and we live near Cheddar. I don't have a question for you, I just want to point out that he mentions this every time we see you on TV or your name is said...Every. Sodding. Time. If he tells me one more time I'll probably kill him.
I learned to drive in South London. So it's probably not the same person.
Give me try at an open spot at one of your London gigs? If I go to comedy death it's only for 5 mins. Here's my clip.
I only run one gig and the open spot section of that goes to established newer comics who I have seen live. You will get gigs by going out and doing gigs and if you get good enough and I see you I might book you. As you can imagine I get asked to look at lots of stuff on the internet, read scripts, book comics whatever, so I have a policy of looking at none of it, because otherwise I wouldn't have time to do my own stuff. Good luck. Success in stand up is all about gigging as much as you can. Don't try to cut corners. It won't help you in the long run.
When can we expect a new series of This Morning With Richard Not Judy?
Never I am afraid. Stewart seems keen to work with me again when we're in our 60s, but hopefully we will have thought of a new format by then.
If you had to bum an animal, what kind of animal would it be and why?
The okapi. I wrote about it in Warming Up once and I am sure you can find the entry on the search engine on my site.
Can I have a free book?
Shoplift one by all means. Or go to a library.
The missus and I had our first baby last week, and we would quite like her to grow up. What books would you recommend for this? I've not read yours, but I assume it's an ode to killing children. We're not into that.
(Wet chinned bag-shanker)
Congratulations. Don't let her read my book for a while. But encourage her to read and she will grow up just fine.
I applauded your attempts to 'reclaim' the Hitler moustache by growing one yourself. Have you considered doing the same for the Peter Sutcliffe beard, 'fro and sideburns combo?
(2 Can Chunder)
It gets a mention in the show, although according to that I am growing a Beppe from Eastenders beard first. Plenty of men seem to have the Sutcliffe beard already so don't need to reclaim it.
Are there any comedians you particularly admire on the circuit nowadays? Which up-and-coming talents should I look out for?
Loads. Depends where you are drawing your line. Tim Key and Tom Basden are great and I think will be the big stars of the future. Terry Saunders is worth a look. Sarah Millican is about to hit the big time. Loads of people whose names I can't remember. There's a lot of good people these days.
I too feel like the Hitler 'tash should be given back to the people... but as a ginger I can't rock the Hitsashâ¢ as I'd look like I've sneezed fire. Question is: do you feel like you've succeeded in changing public opinion on the Adolf face adornment?
I have made a small first step, but never really thought I would be able to take the moustache back from Hitler. Hopefully I've made the 20 or 30,000 people who have seen the show think about politics and fascism and liberalism in an interesting way. Which is more important. A lot of people told me they were going to vote from now on, having never or rarely done so before. So that is something.
I'm putting the kettle on... What can I get you?
I like ginger tea and I also like liquorice tea
Did you really spend 3 days learning all those names from the Book of Genesis? Do you still remember them all?
(2 Can Chunder)
It did take some time and I do remember sections of it and a good chunk of the acronym. But I am about to re learn it all as I am doing that show again. Even after doing the show dozens of times I would still make mistakes. It's a very hard feat of memory (especially going backwards) and thus things did go wrong.
Which historical figure would you go and give a good seeing to and why?
Helen of Troy was pretty fit by all accounts.
Tell us a joke then?
Buy my DVDs and you can see them all.
Legs, tits or arse?
I like a woman with all of these things.
You're looking good. Have you lost weight?
(2 Can Chunder)
It's up and down. Two years ago I was properly fit and almost thin. I am currently at least a stone and a half heavier than I was then. So it depends when you last saw me.
What did you think of Chris Morris' film, Four Lions?
I didn't think it was brilliant. It was neither funny enough or serious enough to justify the controversial subject matter. Still better than most British films of course, but I was hoping for great things and it left me feeling underwhelmed, with no greater understanding of the subject and I thought the main characters were too stupid and the stupid stuff they did not funny enough.
Some ink has leached into my brand-new vinyl floor from a Tesco carrier bag. Now I have "100% biodegradeable" stamped onto my kitchen decks in mirror writing. How do I remove the offending stain?
Do it at regular intervals on the floor and make it a feature.
If you could invite 5 famous people, living or dead, to a massive drug-fuelled orgy. Who would you choose and why?
I don't really like taking drugs, but I do enjoy sex. I would choose Janet Ellis from the 1980s, Jenny Agutter from the 70s, Jenny Agutter from the 80s, Lily Cole and Rasputin
Do you think nationalism and the idea of nationhood can ever be a good thing? Or will it always spawn people like the BNP and Hitler?
I think we can be proud of the good things our countries do and understand why we are fortunate to live where we live without meaning we have to hate people from elsewhere. What makes me happy to live in London is its multiculturalism. And I am proud of many of the great things that the UK has achieved and the positive ways they have shaped the world, whilst understanding we've made some massive errors too. I think we tend to be too negative in this country or only point out our mistakes, but the UK has done some incredible things and we have some amazing people living amongst us.
There is a video of you on youtube with some pissed bloke heckling you. I have always been curious when you replied to him "I had to tell you the date earlier." What was the context of that remark?
He came backstage after one of the burlesque girls had been on, trying to follow her into her dressing room to get her autograph. I believe he was a gay man, so it wasn't as pathetic as this might seem. Or maybe it was more pathetic. He was, however, completely off his face. He asked me the date so he could write it in the book next to the autograph he had got or was trying to get.
What's the best heckle you've ever had? And how did you respond?
The one about the sleeves I mentions. I replied "Yes you're right, I have"
Are there any fellow comedians you find to be terminally unfunny? To the point where you feel amazed they've made it beyond their first gig?
There are comedians I don't find funny, but I can usually see why other people might or at least admire their ability to pull off what they do. Having said that I am astonished that Paddy McGuinness has managed to carve out a career for himself. Absolutely astonished.
What disgusts you most about modern society?
Selfishness and impoliteness.
So, Mr Herring, why should we give you the job? What do you think you could contribute to this company?
Fist Of Fun - what happened to the girl on the show titles?
You are a pervert. She's in her 20s now. Last I heard she was at college, but she probably isn't now. We don't really stay in touch, though I sometimes see her mum.
What's the eighth-least funny joke you've ever told?
That is for you to decide. Please work through all my material giving each joke a mark out of 10,000 and let me know
What was it like working with the late Rod Hull?
(Lip Up Fatty)
It was an honour to meet him as we'd genuinely loved him as kids and he was delighted to be asked to do something in his own right without the bird. He was very professional and came up with some good ideas. Afterwards he got a bit drunk and over-excited and proved he might be something of a handful with the ladies. But brilliant and he genuinely loved doing the show so it was a win/win.
As a fan with extremely poor vision (and therefore a huge fan of your shows, but sadly cannot read your book) where do you get off on charging for your Audio Book chapter by chapter? I assume you personally had little to do with this setup, but have you sold enough of your soul into the deal that you have no say over such things? What are your feelings on this trend and shaking down of your near-blind and blind fans? We already pay more than the seeing lot for an Audiobook. What's the deal?
The publishers wanted to give this a go and it was either this or nothing. It's not something I stand to make any money out of. I thought it would be better to have something rather than nothing. They are only extracts and I presumed most people would buy one or two rather than all of them. I would love to do the whole book, but it's really dependent on it doing well enough to justify the time and expense. Sorry that there isn't a full version as yet, but we'll see what happens in the future. You can either wait til then or try some little selections. Or stick with the vast amount of audio stuff that I give out for nothing every single week. Whilst I understand your disappointment I think it's a little churlish to accuse me of either selling out or neglecting my poor/poor-sighted fans when there is hundreds of hours of stuff out there for you to enjoy for nothing. But sorry if you feel ripped off. Would you have preferred no extracts at all? Because that was the other option.
You had an unlimited budget, the choice of any actors/comedians/musicians etc. in the world. What would be your ideal film, TV show or whatever you'd like to make?
I would love to be allowed to have a proper go at some of my comedy drama/sitcom ideas.
Also if you had to adapt one Jane Austin book into a pornographic film, which one and why?
They're too similar to choose one. As for my reason - why not?
I once saw Rob Newman on telly saying he'd been heckled in his own living room by someone walking past his house. Where's the oddest/worst place you've been heckled?
The British library - also by the oldest person ever. See Warming Up in May this year I think.
You once sent me a refresher bar in the post, what's the best confectionary that you've received by Royal Mail?
When I was doing Camp America in 1986 my parents sent me a big box of Cadbury's chocolate which was awesome.
Are you still mates with Simon Munnery? Were you ever mates with Simon Munnery?
Yes and yes. His first double act was with Steve Cheeke who I was at school with and who is mentioned in Headmaster's Son. So I met Simon in Cheddar in about 1986 and worked with him in 1991 in the Dum Show. And yes we bump into each other every now and again and it's always a delight.
What DOES your mother think?
She seems remarkably open-minded and said my book was "exactly what she expected", which surprised me and offended me a bit too. How dare she expect me to do the awful things that I have done?
Thanks to Richard Herring for answering the questions, the b3tans for supplying the questions and Rob Manuel sorting out this page. Images via 2 Can Chunder, Boff, Martin P, kinks, Cartroo, Thor_sonofodin, Sunburnt Tiger, HappyToast, Snappyuk, Watney Heckbulb uhnnnnnnnn and maiden. Need more Herring? Go and read Warming Up.