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Interview: Richard Herring, comedian

By DAVE POLLOCK
Published: 2/8/2011

Richard Herring: What Is Love Anyway? is at Underbelly’s Pasture, Wednesday until 28 August. Richard Herring’s Edinburgh Fringe Podcast is at The Stand Comedy Club, Wednesday until 29 August www.richardherring.com

This will be your 20th year at the Edinburgh Fringe, is that right?

It’s the 20th one I’ve done and the 24th anniversary of coming to Edinburgh, yeah. I first came up in 1987 doing student shows, then the first year I came up professionally was 1992. I missed three years after university and two after 1992, so that’s 20 in total.

What are your earliest memories of the Fringe?

The first time was with the Oxford Theatre Group, about 50 or 60 other students, doing a lunchtime sketch show and a children’s show.
We stayed in a Masonic lodge on Johnston Terrace for two months, all sleeping on the floor downstairs, no beds, no bathroom, one toilet between 50 people. We had all these amusing attempts at publicity that didn’t really pay off. I remember wheeling one of my friends up and down the Royal Mile in a cage. We also tried to pretend we were a group protesting against our own show, which worked quite well because no-one came. It was very emotional. I remember crying myself to sleep some nights, but something about the Fringe and the city has kept me coming back.

How has it changed since then?

It¬ís much bigger and more commercial, and now it¬ís dedicated to getting people discovered and on to TV. I saw Helen Lederer doing her own leafleting in 1987 ¬Ė no-one had teams of people helping them then.
It was much more, not amateur exactly, but not as professional in terms of having a PR machine behind you. In the early days of being professional I could lose a couple of thousand pounds a year, whereas now a new young comedian coming up is almost guaranteed to lose £10,000 even if they’ve sold every ticket. Someone’s making a lot of money and I don’t know who. It’s not the acts, I can tell you that.

So what should a Fringe first-timer do in August?

You’ve just got to make the most of it, keep your ear to the ground and find out what the good shows are, and remember that things feel more special if you discover them yourself. The exciting thing about Edinburgh is taking a punt on something you don’t know anything about and finding new talent. You could have seen Ricky Gervais or Alan Carr or Jimmy Carr in past years, or Stewart Lee as a 19-year-old. You could have been one of the ten people who saw him back then.

Who are you looking forward to seeing this year?

Josh Widdicombe has got a very individual take on observational stuff, with a lot more edge to it than what you might see on TV. Nick Helm and Lou Sanders are great young comedians, and I¬ím really enjoying Sarah Millican¬ís work at the moment ¬Ė she seems to have a really great grasp of comedy but also a bit of a common touch as well. With my Stand show I¬íll be bringing in a different comedian every day, both new people and bigger names.

One of your shows is called What Is Love Anyway? ¬Ė what¬ís it about?

At the end of Christ On A Bike last year I suggested that love is maybe a bit imaginary, just like religion. That they’re made up but they help us get through life. That made the audience a bit unsettled, so I thought it would be interesting to try to work out what love is all about, with a lot of scope for me to talk about my own personal experience of it. I maintain that as long as I’m taking the piss out of myself then I have a licence to criticise other people as well.

It’s a sweeter show than the last couple I’ve done, but I still want to take a big subject and explore it, not necessarily to come up with any answers, but just to make people think about themselves and about the subject.

What about your Stand show?

It’ll be a different show every day, based on my podcast but in a much more improvised format where I’ll talk about the news and what’s going on in Edinburgh, and I’ll have a guest or two each day. It’s a fun way to take the Fringe apart but hopefully be entertaining in a spontaneous way. And, of course, it’s good to support the Stand, which is a real local venue with probably some of the best shows you’ll see. Tommy (Sheppard, the owner) has really got his finger on the pulse, you could spend a day there and see a lot of great shows by people you didn’t necessarily know the names of. If you can’t make it along or you aren’t in Edinburgh the podcast will be put out on iTunes and you’ll be able to listen to what went on.

Do you think you might make it to Edinburgh for the next 20 years?

I hope so, but I don¬ít know. Life changes. Up to this point I¬ím not married and don¬ít have kids, which makes it easier for me. This¬íll be my eighth year in a row and I like to think I¬íll get a run of ten shows, a different one every year. I don¬ít think many people have achieved that. I did a show called Oh F***, I¬ím Forty when I was 40 ¬Ė it would be nice to do one when I was 50 and when I was 60 as well. The show¬ís a massive part of my year though ¬Ė I¬íll preview for two months, I¬íll play Edinburgh for a month then I¬íll tour for three months, so that¬ís like six months of my year and more than 50 per cent of my income. It¬ís actually quite hard for me to not do the Fringe, otherwise I¬íd have to think of another way of earning some money.