'I won't compromise for TV'
Thursday, October 13, 2011
He may be one of the UK's funniest comics, but Bristol audiences have seen a very different side to Richard Herring.
Comedy fans at the Tobacco Factory have twice witnessed the likeable stand-up get the emotional wobbles. And each time we wobbled along with him.
When he performed his acclaimed 2008 show Headmaster's Son at the Tobacco Factory with his dad in the audience, the comic became rather choked as he praised him for the work he had done.
Then back in July, at the denouement of his Edinburgh preview of What Is Love, Anyway? Richard spoke about his mum playing a tape of Debussy's Clair de Lune to his 99- year-old gran with Alzheimers in an attempt to make a connection with her.
The material elicited some of the biggest laughs of the evening, but also left both the comic and his audience rather moved.
"I was choked," Richard admits. "That was the first time Clair de Lune was playing as I talked about it.
"It's an interesting routine, actually. At first, people are a bit uncertain about whether they are allowed to laugh at stuff about Alzheimers, but then they relax and laugh a lot.
"Then you can see them going from laughing to crying and back to laughing again in the space of a few minutes. That is quite a difficult but rewarding journey to take, and it seems to go down well."
Taking its title from Welsh synth wizard Howard Jones' 1983 hit, What Is Love, Anyway? the show explores the poorly defined concept of love; is it just a chemical reaction? A metaphysical nicety? Or a magical force which guides us to "the one", who is usually waiting for us at the bar or by the bins outside a nightclub?
From sorting out religion in Christ on a Bike, to sharing his supermarket checkout interrogation in Someone Likes Yoghurt, Richard's shows are funny, innovative and unfailingly thought-provoking.
And What Is Love, Anyway? is arguably his best show to date.
"It seems to be the one that audiences are enjoying the most, I suppose," he muses. "It's a bit less cynical than the other ones, and a bit less nasty in places. But then I'm also asking some interesting questions. It's a more autobiographical show than the last couple, and it's nice to give people a little bit of you, I think."
The Edinburgh preview of the show went down a storm at the Tobacco Factory and now, after garnering rave reviews at the Fringe, he returns to the city with two nights at The Comedy Box.
"I'm going to do a more intimate set at The Comedy Box this month and then hopefully return to the Tobacco Factory at the end of the tour.
"It's been a while since I did The Comedy Box, so I'm looking forward to playing there again, and the Tobacco Factory is a great venue for comedy, too. So it's a double dose of Bristol which is always a good thing. It's always one of my favourite places to play; having grown up in Cheddar, Bristol always feels like a hometown gig.
"The great thing for me about where I am in my career, is that when I go on tour I can play and sell out all sorts of venues, from the small, intimate comedy clubs, like The Comedy Box, to a 700-seater theatre. It keeps it really interesting as a performer."
At a time when there's no escaping the comedy bandwagon, Richard has sidestepped the endless panel, chat and stand-up shows that choke our TV schedules. Comedy and content are clearly more important to him than any amount of money and fame.
"I do a podcast with Andrew Collins, and that seems to give me enough exposure for people to want to come and see the tour," he tells me.
"I take six months to create a show, do it at Edinburgh, take it on tour and then do a DVD of it, and that gives me enough of a wage to have the next six months to do what I please with.
"Occasionally I'll take a TV job because it pays well, but I can usually pick and choose and I'll go for ones that I like and think I can do well out of.
"I don't want to have to compromise for TV or radio, so almost all the work I do now is self-generated. So I do the podcasts, the stand-up shows, and the books, all of which I create myself.
"I've never been one of those people whose ambition is to have millions and millions of pounds. I think the people who like comedy, or like the kind of comedy that I do, respect that I'm trying to do interesting stuff and I'm not trying to rip them off; I put a huge amount to time, energy and effort into everything I do."
Of course, the comic first made his name alongside Stewart Lee on the seminal TV shows Fist of Fun and This Morning With Richard Not Judy.
And it looks like TV could be back on the cards on Richard's terms, of course.
"I'm writing a new piece for the BBC," he reveals. "It's about people working at a fictional gorge in Somerset I don't know where I get my crazy ideas from!" he laughs.
"I grew up in Somerset and used to work in Cheddar Gorge during my holidays and I wanted to write something about people living in the countryside without it being the usual, ridiculous stereotypes.
"The BBC liked the first draft, so I'm now working on the second. I think it's got a good chance of making it and hopefully we'll film it in Cheddar and bring some interest and money to the area."
Richard Herring appears at The Comedy Box on Tuesday, November 1, and Wednesday, November 2, at 8.30pm (doors at 7.45pm). Tickets cost £15. Tel 0117 902 0344