Richard Herring interview
"Touring a show that other people have written and raking in cash - nah. I’d rather be paid nothing to do something I love."
Richard Herring talks to Hilary Wardle about his new stand-up show, the Edinburgh Fringe – and why he won’t be returning next year.
HW: Hi Richard – how’s it going? Are you keeping busy?
RH: Yeah, I’m good thanks. I’m just about to start my new tour, but I’m only doing a few shows at first to ease myself in. I’m also doing a bit of research for the podcast, but I’m trying not to overdo it. As I’m getting older I feel like I’ve got to prioritise. There are so many things going on that it’s easy to never stop.
This year, I think I probably took on a bit too much. On my birthday (2 July) this year I realised I hadn’t taken a single day off since 2 February. I was writing, podcasting or performing every single day.
HW: What kinds of things have you been writing?
RH: Well, the main thing during that time period was my play, I Killed Rasputin, which was on at this year’s Fringe. Writing the play was very hard. I could have spent about three years writing it if I could, but that wasn’t really an option. Unfortunately it was a bit of a disaster financially. The big theatre space we used for the performance didn’t suit it very well. We got about 150 people through the door most days, but it started low and built slowly.
HW: Why do you think that was?
RH: Well, it didn’t help that we had a few not-that-good reviews. As I said, the play (a comedy drama about 19th century Russian mystic Rasputin) wasn’t in the best space. The room was too big; people didn’t really know whether to laugh or not.
Also the reviewers came in with prejudices: ‘Oh, here’s a comedian writing a play’, that sort of thing. They didn’t really judge it on its own merits. Unfortunately they reacted to that by suggesting I didn’t really know what I was doing or whether I wanted it to be a comedy or a drama. It’s okay not to like it, but don’t suggest I didn’t know what I was setting out to do!
HW: Do you think that the Edinburgh Fringe isn’t a good place to experiment with new ideas or formats any more?
RH: I know a lot of people say ‘Oh, the Fringe isn’t what it was’. It has changed, but not in a bad way. The big names still do very well and the Free Fringe is great, it’s really brought back the original spirit of the Fringe and it’s helping new comedians get a foot on the ladder. So big names do well, new people do well- if they’re good- but there’s much less room for the people in the middle, like me. I’m the squeezed middle of the Fringe.
HW: So what are you plans for next year’s Fringe. Are you going to go back? The List do refer to you as the ‘King of Edinburgh’, after all.
RH: Well, they did. I’ve never been ‘the guy’ in Edinburgh but I’ve been up there amongst the guys a few times. But after 23 Edinburghs in 27 years you do have to rethink why you’re still doing it. I think I will give it a miss next year. I think it’s become a habit, but I don’t think Edinburgh loves me in the same way as I love it! Also, when you’re going against a thousand other acts it gets a bit tiring. The Fringe is about new acts really, I’ll probably stay at home in London this year rather than spending £3000 on a horrible flat for a month.
HW: Let’s talk a bit more about your new tour: Lord Of The Dance Settee. I know the title is based on a misheard hymn lyric, but what else can you tell us about it?
RH: It’s about movement really, and physical comedy. A lot of the Edinburgh reviewers said that it didn’t have a theme, that it was quite disparate, but there is a theme there: it’s just quite subtle. It’s about looking backwards and moving forwards.
In my case, it’s about looking back over my career. If you’re a fan of mine you’ll recognise some sections of the show where I take various bits from my career and expand on them. The title comes from a bit I did on This Morning With Richard Not Judy with Stewart (Lee). It probably got the biggest laugh of my career, so I look at that and talk about the feeling of being a middle aged comedian: are your greatest moments behind you, or are they yet to come?
HW: Has Lord Of The Dance Settee changed or evolved much since you first did the show at the beginning of this year’s Edinburgh Fringe?
RH: Yes, well first of all it’s evolved from a 60-minute show into a 90-minute show, so that’s obviously a bit of a change! But when you’re doing Edinburgh you usually have to cut out material to get down to a tight 55 minute time slot so it’s not too hard to build it back up to an hour and a half. Every time I do the show it changes.
One of the newest bits is something I tried out in Belfast. The show is about movement and physicality, so I decided to describe various bits of slapstick comedy. I don’t act them out, I just describe them. It got lots of laughs so I decided to keep it in.
I’m constantly trying to perfect it, finding ways to slow down, add in pauses, change words, that sort of thing. It’s part of what makes stand up so appealing. It’s impossible to truly perfect a 90 minute show, but you can’t help but try. You’d get bored of doing the same material otherwise.
HW: Like a lot of people I first encountered you on the fantastic This Morning With Richard Not Judy with Stewart Lee. I’ve spotted hints online of a TMWRNJ special or reunion. Have you got any news?
RH: Ah, well that might have come about because we’re currently releasing a DVD of Richard Not Judy. We’re not doing any new filmed stuff, just a podcast with me, Stew and a couple of other people for the DVD extras.
I can’t foresee me and Stew working together on anything in the future. He’s doing very well. I’m not saying never – it would probably be fun to do it when we’re in our 60s or something – but we’ve not worked together for a long time and I remember it was very hard work. It’s better now we’re friends who occasionally see each other rather than co-workers. Even when we were doing the double act, Stew was always keener on the solo stuff!
HW: So, you’re happy with what you’re doing at the moment then – despite the downer about the play?
RH: Oh definitely. I’m in an incredibly fortunate position. I never know what’s coming next, but that feels exciting and fuels my creativity. A lack of uncertainty makes you a bit bland. Touring a show that other people have written and raking in cash – nah. I’d rather be paid nothing to do something I love rather than put out something I’m embarrassed by. Also, I spent last month not doing anything, which was great. I feel like I’ve finally got the balance of life right.
Richard Herring: Lord Of The Dance Settee is touring the UK until May 2015. For full dates and ticket information visit Richard Herring’s website.