Richard Herring has been at the forefront of British comedy since he came to prominence in the 1990s with then partner Stewart Lee in their hugely influential Fist of Fun TV show. Very much a comedy renaissance man, Herring’s output is incredible, not only is he a celebrated stand-up but he’s a podcaster, blogger, newspaper columnist, author and writer. Rich has been coming to the Edinburgh Fringe for over a quarter century and this year he’s got a stand-up show and Richard Herring's Edinburgh Fringe Podcast daily at The Stand.
To most comedy fans, you're incredibly prolific, does this apparent need to keep busy explain why you're once again doing 2 shows a day, when from a career standpoint you clearly don't need to?
I have never done the Fringe as a career move. Or at least I learned early on that it's dumb to think of it in that way. As you'll likely be disappointed. It's all about creating interesting stuff. If that leads somewhere else afterwards then that can be nice. But the Fringe is an end in itself. It helps focus me to have a deadline, but I am aiming to create live shows that are as good as they can be and if I do well then it might help my career. But that's just a bonus.
Do you get more satisfaction from writing/performing a show with a narrative, or is the idea of simply doing an hour of jokes something you've been tempted to try.
I find it more satisfying and interesting to tackle a subject fully and it makes things a bit easier when you have something to focus on, rather than having the whole world to choose from for a joke. I think really there should be more to a fringe show than your best jokes and it's great to take people on a journey.
I am interested in what you think about technology and its effects on comedy, especially live comedy. Would I be correct to assume that you see the benefits of this?
The internet has been good for me. It's a shop window to display my wares and more than that, it's a place that I give stuff away for free. If you're doing funny stuff and people are enjoying it many of them (not all) will want to give you something back or at least check out your live stuff. I have found enough people are willing to pay for something I do to mean that I can give away 70% of my stuff for nothing. They get that if they never pay I will starve and there won't be any more free stuff.
You’re acknowledged as a pioneer in the world of podcasting, do you think that for many people podcasts are a means to an end, whether that be to get a TV series or simply to direct more people towards live stand-up?
If the right TV offer came along I might take it, but it would have to be good to beat the freedom I have right now. Since I started doing my podcasts my live audiences have probably trebled, so it does pay off in the end. And I have charged for my latest podcast (RHLSTP) and made a modest profit. But I will just plough that back into making more experimental stuff. I see the Fringe and the podcasts as ends in themselves and would be happy if I could do them for the rest of my life. My main focus is my stand-up. All the rest of the stuff is really a way of trying to encourage people to see that.
On the subject of podcasts, you very own RHLSP was worldwide news for the Stephen Fry revelations. Whilst the bulk of that interview was very funny, you showed yourself to be an interviewer than can handle serious subjects. Have you ever thought about doing some ‘non-comedy’, maybe politics or social issues?
I don't have ambitions to do serious stuff or anything that veers too far away from comedy. I am a rare thing, a comedian who wants to be a comedian and thinks that comedy is best. I've never wanted to be a musician or a serious actor. Not to say that seriousness can't be a part of what I do. Just that I will nearly always want to put a laugh in there.
Your solo show We’re All Going To Die is about death, has the recent passing of your grandmother affected the show?
There is some stuff about her in the show at the moment, but I always wanted this to be a look at death from someone who is not in mourning or dying themselves (at least not imminently). It helped me to realise that life is about the time you're alive and not how you're perceived afterwards. I'm sad that if I have children they will never know her, but that's just the way life is. And she has informed me both genetically and morally which is what lives on.
Many express the concern that increase in fees to acts bumps up the ticket prices, excludes many people, and has the potential at some point to implode; do you agree?
The acts, aside from the ones selling 400+ tickets a night, don't make much money. In fact most of them lose thousands. What's pushing up the prices is the cost of accommodation, advertising, billboards etc, all things within the control of the people of this city. I think the ticket costs are getting too high and that there will come a tipping point where too many people are losing money and not getting anything in return and the Fringe may contract. I've brought my ticket prices down and have spent my advertising budget on a free DVD for everyone who comes to my stand-up show. You have to take chances and work these things out. I have lost money at most Fringes and even with a good run for the last 5 years have got nowhere near directly recouping it. BUT it's led to other work and to me getting better at what I do. You have to see the long-term picture. I hope the Fringe will get more affordable and I hope that acts will not have to lose so much money, but everyone has to change their focus a little if that's going to happen.
Richard Herring’s Edinburgh Fringe Podcast is at The Stand Comedy Club, 2-26 Aug (not 12), 2.10pm and is available for download daily on itunes.
Richard Herring ‘We’re All Going To Die’ is at Pleasance Courtyard, 3-25 Aug, 8pm