Richard Herring: Exclusive Interview
Written by: David McIver on October 13, 2013
Richard Herring is a stand-up comedian renowned for his intelligent, ambitious and hilarious stand-up shows and podcasts. In the late 1990s he appeared on Fist of Fun and This Morning With Richard Not Judy alongside his former double-act partner Stewart Lee. These shows have become cult classics among comedy fans. He took the time to answer some questions for Boar Arts ahead of his upcoming performance at the Leamington Spa Comedy Festival on October 17.
How would you summarise what this year’s show is about?
The title does a good job! “We’re All Going To Die!” This can be a panic-inducing and terrifying scream, a blank statement of fact, or realisation, or a calming reassurance. I suppose the show takes us on a journey through those three different reactions. But I am trying to look at why we should celebrate death and find the funny side of it, which largely comes from our confusing reaction to it and our huge variety of guesses as to what comes next.
Have you found it more difficult to write a show about a subject which people usually find depressing?
Initially, I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to make it funny or that it would be too upsetting to make people confront their own mortality. But then the ideas started flowing and as I have found with other serious subjects it is cathartic and helpful to laugh at them.
I don’t have a problem with some of the show making people feel uncomfortable or confronting them with unpleasant truths. People seem to be laughing all the way through and not wailing in despair so I think it’s worked.
I think you differ from a lot of the comedians performing solo shows at the Leamington Comedy Festival in that you consistently write shows with a definite narrative and a strong thematic link running throughout. Why is it important for you to write to a theme?
There’s nothing wrong with just doing jokes, if they are good jokes, but I want to make people think too and ask them questions, or make them consider how they view the world and whether they’re right. If you can get it right then these big subjects are fertile ground for comedy. Most of my shows are linked by a desire to question things and challenge closed systems of thought and even the things I believe. If something is true it will stand up to questioning and mockery.
Leamington is one of the first dates on your upcoming tour. Is touring something you enjoy doing?
I am enjoying it more these days, partly because I have become much more focused on getting my shows to be as good as possible. And though it can be tiring and lonely travelling around the country it’s enormous fun making a room of people laugh and I enjoy trying to perfect every aspect of the show. Even when you’ve got a script more or less sorted there are still places where you can ad-lib new ideas, but I also experiment with the technical side of the performance. I have started to find this process fascinating, but I also appreciate people paying to see me and I want to give them the best possible show.
You are remarkably prolific; do you have any techniques to help you generate so much material?
Deadlines usually work for me, or setting myself goals. The embarrassment of failing in front of an audience helps focus the mind. I have found that writing a blog every day, whether I can think of anything funny to say or not, has been an amazing way to generate material, but also helped train me to find the funny in the mundane. I have done it for every day for eleven years now and though it’s not always brilliantly funny I have found comedy in places that I would not have expected, by forcing myself to write.
How does the experience of performing differ between your podcasts and your touring stand-up show?
Most of the podcasts are almost entirely improvised, whilst the stand-up shows are honed and ultimately scripted. The stand-up shows are what I put most work into, though that doesn’t mean that the podcasts aren’t as good, just that they are created in a different way. I really enjoy both and something like the Leicester Square Theatre podcast is an utter joy to do, mainly because I have no idea what will come out of my guests’ mouths.
In the 90s most of your work was written and performed with other comedians. Do you miss working collaboratively?
I don’t really miss it any more. In the 90s I felt that I was not a solo performer and that I needed to be with others. The transition to solo writer and performer took a while, because I didn’t really want to do stand-up and I found the writing process lonely. But I’ve got used to it now and much prefer the autonomy and lack of compromise. I am much happier now than I was in the 90s and hopefully much better at what I do. I certainly appreciate what I’ve got and how lucky I am to make a good living doing the things that I want to.
Richard Herring tours to Leamington Spa Comedy Festival on Thursday 17 October.