A Day In The Life Of…Richard Herring
I don’t really have a typical day when I am working: it very much depends on what I am up to at that particular time. Let’s take today. I didn’t have any deadlines pressing (apart from writing an article about what my typical day is) and I woke up at 9, made breakfast and have spent most of the intervening time watching TV. I saw a couple of episodes of Studio 60, trying to decide why it nearly, but doesn’t quite work. It already seems dated and maybe a little mawkish, but is nowhere near as effective as 30 Rock which came out at the same time. I still enjoy Studio 60 as I do with anything Aaron Sorkin writes, but maybe because it’s about the world I work in it doesn’t quite ring true. I think the main mistake they made was to ever show anything from the comedy show that everyone is busy working on. Mainly because the comedy in it is much too weak and somewhat undermines the effectiveness of the supposed genius of the writers and cast. In 30 Rock the sketches in the show within the show are deliberately awful and the people working on the show are less worthy and more venal. I guess this is why it works.
I like to think that by watching other people’s programmes I am both working and learning about my craft, and I certainly do think a lot about the creative process of everything I see, but if I am honest I am probably just wasting time. Which is a big part of my job. At this exact moment I am watching Space Balls which I have never seen before and which is even more crap than I imagined it would be. I am a big fan of Mel Brooks’ early stuff, but this is awful. Why? My guess (and I may be wrong, I haven’t looked at the timings) is that he was trying to emulate the success of Airplane. I will often do two things at once, but sometimes I have to lock myself away and concentrate (though the internet is always there to distract me).
Anyway, after this I am going to go for a swim and then try and make some notes for the next series of Richard Herring’s Objective, to show the people at the BBC what each episode will involve. It’s largely pointless as I won’t really decide what is in each episode until I sit down and write them, but it will make them feel better.
No gig tonight, so this is basically a day off.
I have also already written my blog, Warming Up, as I have done so for every day since November 25th 2002. That’s pretty much eight years of my life documented. Or at least, one incident a day for 8 years of my life. I started it in the hope that it would get me out of a bit of a writer’s block I was in back then. I felt I was wasting a lot of time and that a lot of vague ideas I was having were being forgotten. I called it Warming Up because I thought that if I got my brain running with an attempt to make something that had happened to me amusing that I would then be geared up to get on with my actual work. It didn’t turn out that way. Often it’s all I get done. But it actually creates enough ideas to fuel stand up, articles and sometimes complete shows. It was also incredibly useful when I came to write How Not To Grow Up, my last book. I had documented loads of tiny events and thoughts about turning 40 that I would otherwise have forgotten. I think the whole exercise has made me a better writer and also informed my live work, making it a lot more inward looking and about the minutiae of life. Also, I suppose, it keeps people coming back to my website and lets them know what I am up to. As it’s turned out it’s a document of the life of a middle-ranking comedian and of my slow journey from being slightly lost in the wilderness, to reaching a point where things are taking off a little bit. But the fact that that has taken 8 years is rather telling.
It probably says a lot about me that I have managed to keep up the blog through holidays, depression and also times when I am working ridiculously hard. I am a ridiculous idiot. But that’s pretty much what the blog reveals anyway. How long will it go on? There have been times I wanted to stop, but now it would seem a shame not to push onwards to the decade.
But Warming Up is probably the only thing about my job that always stays the same. If I am on tour I will spend at least three months of the year driving up and down the country and gigging nearly every night. I have done this completely alone for the last four or five tours, though next year I will be getting a driver, which will make the experience a bit less stressful and lonely. I have got used to life on the road, but it’s tougher than you might imagine. Doing the show is actually the easiest part of the day, a fun little oasis where I make a room (hopefully) full of people laugh with material I can be pretty confident will work. But the driving and the sitting in hotel rooms waiting for the adrenaline to wear off can be tough. And by the end of a 90 date tour it’s rare that I am not glad that it is over.
It’s hard to get any writing done on tour, but when I am home I do try to work through the day, even if I have got a gig in the evening. But a lot of the time I sit around playing patience on my iPhone or watching TV or drinking coffee in cafes without getting much done. I think this procrastination is all part of the process. The subconscious plays a large part in the writing of comedy and things are clicking together in my mind even when I am not physically doing anything – though deadlines do tend to make me jump to action which is why I like doing the Edinburgh Fringe and my podcasts. The fear of humiliating myself on stage with nothing to say is enough to get things moving. If I am working on a script or a book I have to be a bit more disciplined, but even though I produce quite a large amount of work I feel I waste a lot of time. But on the other hand I often go for weeks without having a day off, which is one of the curses of having a job that I love.
I have been very busy this year and occasionally feel I have spread myself too thin, but the obsession, dedication and 3000 games of Yahtzee on my iPhone seem to be paying off. I am very happy with the way things are going. I would like to be doing more work on TV scripts and get another comedy drama or sitcom on the go, but I love doing the podcasts and the stand up and both seem to be going well enough for me to make a decent living, even without anything else. Six months of my year is taken up with the current live show – previewing it, doing Edinburgh, touring and then doing the DVD – but that creates enough income to get me through the other six months even if I wasn’t doing other stuff. Though it has taken me six tours to get to that stage.
A few years ago I felt a bit bitter that I wasn’t more successful, but now I think I am in practically the perfect position. I make a good living doing a job I like and have the autonomy to do whatever I like. If I was more successful I would probably be compromised and be unable to do AIOTM or the more controversial stand up shows and if I was less successful I wouldn’t get the audiences I am lucky enough to have. But I am glad that reaching this point has been a gradual process, because I do appreciate how lucky I am to have an audience of 500 people (on the occasions that that happens) having played so often to 20 or 30.
My ultimate goal is to keep working until I die (which hopefully won’t be too soon) and after 20 years I can be fairly confident that I will still be able to do what I am doing in another 20.
And imagine how many games of Yahtzee I can have totted up by then.