"IÂ’m not saying you should be able to walk around flashing your penis but why canÂ’t we talk about these things?" Comedian Richard Herring talks to Emma McAlpine about his new stand-up show.
Richard Herring does quite a lot of things. Chances are, if you like comedy youÂ’ll have come across a lot of his recent stuff, from his star-studded Leicester Square Theatre podcasts featuring guests such as Tim Minchin, Charlie Brooker and Armando Iannucci; to his weekly Metro column, daily blog, and of course, his thoughtful and wickedly funny live stand-up shows, two of which he will have toured this year. Oh, and heÂ’s currently in the middle of writing a sitcom about Rasputin as well. I caught up with him this week to talk about having his show title censored by the Edinburgh Fringe Guide, playing snooker against himself and reuniting with old comedy partner Stewart Lee on stage.
YouÂ’re currently touring an updated version of your 2002 show Talking Cock, a Â‘Vagina Monologues with ballsÂ’. Have you found any interesting differences this time around?
I donÂ’t think attitudes have changed much in ten years, people still have the same concerns about sex and men are still reluctant to talk about it. ItÂ’s a funny show but thereÂ’s a serious part to it as well, about menÂ’s insecurities and the problems we have that we donÂ’t admit to. So thereÂ’s a bit of education and thereÂ’s also stuff to laugh at like where men put their penises for fun, which is pretty much everywhere. Men will have sex with anything from shampoo bottles to toilet rolls with jelly in them. The main difference to 2002Â’s show was that the Fringe Guide censored the title and I think thatÂ’s a backwards step Â– the idea that mentioning genitalia is a bad thing that should be hidden away. IÂ’m not saying you should be able to walk around flashing your penis but why canÂ’t we talk about these things? If people donÂ’t talk about it they get screwed up. As a comedian and a person I find that a worrying development at an arts festival.
Will you perform any more of your old shows in the future?
I donÂ’t think so. Some of those shows were all about being single and angry and now IÂ’m married and in a better place, it would feel odd to do those again. I felt that Christ on a Bike and Talking Cock were two of my best shows and it was a shame that they didnÂ’t get the recognition they deserved at the time. IÂ’ve obviously moved on quite a lot as a performer since then, IÂ’m more confident now, and I think thatÂ’s part of the reason I wanted to go back and do a couple of the early shows. I feel like IÂ’ve gained a lot of new fans in recent years, who didnÂ’t see them and thereÂ’s the fans who did see them that want to see them again, so itÂ’s been nice to revisit them and get them on DVD.
Was that why you also released Fist of Fun (Lee and HerringÂ’s Â‘90s cult comedy show) on DVD?
Yes, the BBC wouldnÂ’t put it out but we were fairly confident that about 5000 people would buy each series. In the last 15 years Â– pretty much every week Â– someone would stop me on the street and ask me when Fist of Fun was coming out on DVD so I knew there was a market for it. Me, Stew and Chris Evans who runs Go Faster Stripe each put up aroundn Â£10,000 to get it out there and luckily it sold enough to make the money back. WeÂ’re putting out series two now. When I look back at Lee and Herring, it was really disappointing that the BBC didnÂ’t get behind us at the time, but had they done and had we become even half of Little Britain, it would probably have blown us apart and I donÂ’t think weÂ’d be creating the comedy both of us are creating now.
You reunited with Stew on stage again this year for your Leicester Square Theatre chat show. How was that?
It was fun. The first time we did it was a Ted Chippington benefit a few years ago and the reaction was amazing, as we hadnÂ’t done anything for eight years or so and people were chanting along to the routines Â– itÂ’s nice to be that affectionately remembered.
It was interesting what you both said about how your comedy has developed Â– Stew always has this bitter, curmudgeonly persona and yours can change from one show to the next.
That might be a negative thing about me in terms of becoming more successful, but IÂ’m quite glad about it. Some comedians develop a persona and make it last for their whole career but I like to surprise people with my shows and certainly my live shows are usually quite different year on year. I am a fan of all kinds of comedy so I think itÂ’s fun to chuck in jokes people might not be expecting and experiment.
Which medium do you find the best for comedy, as you work in quite a few.
I like stand-up best, itÂ’s the most fun and you get an immediate reaction. I think a lot of the things I do are just distractions from doing work. IÂ’ve ended up doing a blog for ten years which was meant to be a way of avoiding work but IÂ’ve just ended up doing a different kind of work! I like the autonomy of being able to do lots of different things though, like the podcast where I play snooker against myself, which maybe only a handful of people might find entertaining but I think is some of my best work! I realise how lucky I am to be able to do all this and eight years ago IÂ’d never have seen this as lucky but as a creative person it's an incredibly great place to be.
Do you think your goals have changed in what you want out of your career?
As a younger man I wanted to be the most famous comedian in the country and while thereÂ’s a tiny element of disappointment that I havenÂ’t had any broad recognition, ultimately I realise that the bad side that comes with that isnÂ’t worth it. IÂ’d hate to be so famous that everyone recognises me. YouÂ’re walking down the street and you canÂ’t observe anything because everyoneÂ’s observing you. You need a bit of failure and a slap in the face to become a really good comedian and you need to do it for a long time. Increasingly now youÂ’re picked up as a young comedian and stuck on TV and youÂ’re not really ready. You havenÂ’t earned your stripes or learnt how to do the job well enough. At least, unless something awful happens, I know that in 20 yearsÂ’ time, IÂ’ll still be able to do this job and be better at doing it than I am now.
Richard Herring: Talking Cock - The Second Coming is at the Purcell Rooms, Southbank Centre, from Wednesday 17th October-Saturday 20th October at 7:45pm.