Richard Herring wanked off by Stewart Lee (possibly) and bullied by Arthur Smith
Friday, July 29 2011
This year marks Richard Herring's 24th (ahem 20th) Edinburgh, and he has a new show in What Is Love Anyway? For now, brace yourself for some dark tales of Edinburghs gone by, as he recalls his first and worst Fringe nights
The first time
"I first went up to the Fringe in 1987. I had just turned 20 and came up with 50 or so students as part of the Oxford Theatre Group. We stayed in the Masonic Lodge on Johnstone Terrace, sleeping on the floor, our individual spaces marked out with upturned furniture.
"There was no bath or shower on the premises and we had to go to the Fringe club or the swimming baths to wash. We had fun exploring the building and finding the odd artefacts in the temple and what looked like a Tardis hidden in the basement.
"There was much laughter and nonsense and some tears one night as I cried myself to sleep over some argument or other, the future Olivier Award-winning director Stewart Lee attempted to cheer me up by using the hand of a 100-year-old ventriloquist dummy to briefly masturbate me. I might have dreamed that, but I don't think so.
"The friends I made that year are still my best friends 24 years on, people like Tim Richardson, Ewan Bailey and Tony Brennan. It was intense but wonderful. I was in a kids' show and a lunchtime sketch show. Hardly anyone came to see the latter, and it's sobering to think that the kids who came to the former are now in their 30s.
"But the experience began a love affair with the city and the Fringe that has kept me coming back. I have now lived in this city for almost two years of my life. We were such young idiots back then, but it was fucking marvellous overall. Though now I can only get sexually aroused by ventriloquist dummies, so it's swings and roundabouts."
The worst time
"The worst gig I did at the Fringe came in my second year up there.
"I was in the 1988 Oxford Revue and we became the focal point of the anger and resentment of seemingly every stand-up comedian in the town, who berated us for being posh and privileged. In fact everyone in the show, except the pianist, had gone to comprehensive school, but we represented what they perceived as the unfair success of Oxbridge comedy over the years.
"Given they were all for fighting stereotypes and not judging people by their sex, sexuality or race, it seemed a bit much that they were happy to judge us by a stereotype that we didn't conform to or benefit from. They were essentially bullying 20-year-old children, but I can understand why. Even if it was horrible to be the focal point of the hatred.
"I really wanted to be a comedian and it felt awful to be dismissed immediately by seemingly everyone in the business. We were booked in to play Late n Live, which was a bit of a bear pit for any act, but it was a chance for the comedy community to focus their antipathy more acutely and the audience was packed with stand-ups ready to destroy us for our poshness.
"Ironically we were only doing the gig because we all desperately needed the £10 cash we'd be paid for doing it. We foolishly tried to do sketches without using microphones so no one could hear us anyway. We were barracked mercilessly. I could see Arthur Smith shouting and mocking us. He was (and still is) one of my comedy heroes.
"It was a nightmare. There were five people in the cast, but three of them, terrified by the barrage of sound ran away and hid behind the curtain. I struggled onwards to fill our time. It was awful but we'd been booked in later in the week, and needed the money enough to return to give it another go.
"We created more stand-up friendly material, but in my anger I created a deliberately offensive routine about me bullying my mentally ill brother. I was trying to satirise the audience, but I was just being a prick. But that gig did go a little better all the same.
"The experiences I went through that year very nearly made me give up comedy and I didn't return to the Fringe until four years later. I sometimes wonder if I keep coming back to prove myself to this town and to exorcise those demons."
Richard Herring has another thought-provoking Edinburgh show up his sleeve this year, this time on the subject of Love. What Is Love Anyway? is on at 8.50pm at Udderbelly's Pasture.