Brickbats and Bouquets review and interview

Richard Herring: Happy Now?


Quay Theatre, Lowry, Salford

Any fears that Richard Herring's newfound domesticity might have blunted his comic edge are soon allayed as he strides out on stage and takes command of the packed and very enthusiastic audience at the Quay Theatre. This new show is distilled from the various things that have happened to him since Lord of the Dance Settee and it's clearly been a tumultuous time. I don't know quite how he does it, but Happy Now? takes a look at a whole series of common experiences and gives them that distinctive edge. His description of his new daughter arriving screaming from his wife's vagina is quite frankly hilarious and his contemplation of how it would be if you were introduced to somebody at a party in similar circumstances is even funnier. Laugh? I nearly wet myself.

Yes, of course there's a vein of sentimentality here, it would be odd if there wasn't but he continually undercuts that to remind us that comedy can be mined from the most unexpected places. A routine where he's left in charge of his baby daughter and begins to imagine the worst things that could possibly happen to her is a great example of this – we're laughing uncontrollably whilst telling yourself you shouldn't really be finding this funny at all.

His interpretation of the popular nursery rhyme about five little monkeys jumping on a bed was a high spot for me, as he imagines the simian-doctor repeatedly visiting the scene of yet another monkey mortality and asking, ‘you remember what I told you yesterday? About no more monkeys jumping on the bed?'

It's gratifying to see so many people turning out for one of the hardest working and original comedians currently treading the boards. Happy Now? Is midway through a nationwide tour. He's at the Epstein theatre in Liverpool tonight (20th Feb) and there's a whole host of venues to follow through March and April, one of which must surely be somewhere near you. If you can get hold of a ticket, (and hurry, most venues are close to sold out) do so.

You will laugh long and you will laugh hard. In these troubled times that's something to be cherished.

5 stars

Richard Herring – Interview

Richard Herring is clearly in a good mood. He's well into his nationwide tour of Happy Now? and in a couple of hours is due to play the sold out Quay theatre at Salford's Lowry. With all that going on, he's nevertheless agreed to put aside twenty minutes or so to talk to us. The setting is his less than salubrious dressing room, somewhere behind the stage and as we set up our little recorder he's pleasant and relaxed.

We begin with a jokey question, one that will be familiar to followers of his RHLSTP podcasts: where does he get all his crazy ideas?

‘I don't really know,' he admits. ‘I suppose a lot comes from my own experience, true stories that I've ‘found the funny' in. It comes from the state of mind where I question things too much. It's pedantry, really. Not good for life but good for comedy.'

So does he see himself more as a raconteur than as a man who tells jokes?

‘The show is certainly becoming more story-based. It's probably because of the blog.'

As his followers will know, Herring writes a daily blog and never misses, even when his life is at its most frantic. It makes for interesting and informative reading about the day-to-day experiences of one of the country's finest comics. I ask him if there's a compulsive-obsessive side to his personality. There's surely no other comedian who goes to such lengths to document every aspect of his life.

‘Yes, definitely. You've got to be careful when you talk about these things, because there are people with much more serious compulsive-obsessive disorders but there is an element of that in me. There have been times when I've thought about giving up the blog, when I've not been enjoying it so much but somehow I can never bring myself to do it, and it is such a fertile place for finding new material. Mind you, I'm getting better. The other day I broke the Ferraro Rocher thing…'

This is a reference to the fact that every Valentine's day for the past nine years, Herring has brought the infamous chocolates for his wife, beginning with one and doubling the amount purchased each year, with the intention of building a huge pyramid of the things. This year he uncharacteristically forgot. Not that it mattered too much. ‘She doesn't even like Ferraro Rocher that much,' he admits. ‘She said she'd prefer a new bag.'

It's been a year of huge changes for Richard. He's become a parent, and for the first time in years he didn't go to the Edinburgh Festival but what, we wonder has been the biggest change for him personally?

‘Well, certainly becoming a father has been the biggest change – and this show is all about whether I have finally found contentment and peace, which I think I have, to an extent. I think I've found contentment now, that I'm happy with my place in comedy and where I am. Ten years ago, I'd have been wanting more fame, but I've realised that where I am now is more rewarding, more creative and importantly, more anonymous. I can go to the park with my child and not be pestered by the paps, unlike say David Mitchell and Victoria Coren, who seem to be endlessly bothered by them.'

Any regrets about not doing Edinburgh?

‘No. I actually enjoyed not going, not losing money, not having all the pressure of doing it. I realised that I'd actually been quite unhappy doing it for much of the time. Last year really wasn't a happy experience.'

He's referring to the double whammy of the 2014 fringe where he had two shows – Lord of the Dance Settee and a semi-serious play, I Killed Rasputin. We saw and enjoyed them both, but clearly not enough people did. Herring had anticipated losing twenty thousand pounds (everyone loses money at Edinburgh) but in the event, he actually lost considerably more. Little wonder that he decided that a series of gigs in London's Leicester Square Theatre – where he recreated all twelve of his Edinburgh shows over one month, was a more viable alternative and one that would allow him to stay closer to home.

People say that the best humour comes from anxiety. Can real comedy come from a place of contentment?

‘I think comedy is essentially laughter in the face of horrible things, which is why I will do comedy about the worst parts of life. It's a way of confronting those things and thereby overcoming them. But parenthood comes with its own particular set of anxieties and I exploit those to the full in the new show.'

Our last query comes courtesy of our twelve year old niece, Esme, who has provided us with an ‘emergency question' . So we ask it.

‘If you had to choose, would you rather be a unicorn or a vampire?'

Herring laughs. ‘That's a very good question, ‘ he says. ‘I would definitely be a vampire. It's sexier. A unicorn is a kind of sexless thing.' He grins. ‘I know vampires are not very nice, but I'd say they have a more exciting life.'

Philip Caveney and Susan Singfield