Laughter Lines: Why Richard Herring Is Happy Now - Q&A
After years of drifting aimlessly and alone, comedian Richard Herring is now settled down with a wife and a tiny baby. Is he finally Happy Now? Or does responsibility for the lives of others come with its own terrors? In his new stand up show, Richard examines whether we can ever hope to be or are meant to be truly content
Happy Now? is Richard’s twelfth stand-up tour in twelve years. The show premiered in September 2015 when he completed the mammoth task of performing each of his previous eleven consecutive stand-up shows over eleven evenings, before debuting Happy Now? on the final night. Andy Howells recently put questions to Richard about the show.
Prior to the launch of Happy Now? You revisited all eleven of your previous shows. What was it like revisiting older material and did you have to change much?
It was a very interesting experience to go back over all the stuff from the last 15 years and see the changes in myself as a person and a comedian. I tried to stay as true to the original spirit as possible and only changed stuff if the reference was too obscure/topical. I had to cut some stuff for time and there were certainly a few jokes that I wouldn’t write now, but ultimately I was impressed with how strong the shows were and how much of it stood up. The journey I had taken through depression, anger to becoming more settled and grown-up (though still resolutely childish at times) helped inform my new show and get a grasp of who I was and who I am now. It was enormous fun and the audiences seemed to get it too. So hooray!
Can you tell us about your latest show
It’s about whether finally being more settled and becoming a dad has made me happy at last or whether it’s just created its own new raft of problems. I talk about some of the less mentioned horrors of child birth and the dark thoughts that plague you when you’re responsible for a new human being, but also about the nature of happiness itself and whether it is its own punishment. But there’s also plenty of silly stuff about having sex with robots and deconstructing nursery rhymes.
Do you find your family life is constantly inspiring you with material for your show?
All life is inspiring for material. My daughter isn’t any more interesting than any other one year old child, but becoming a father, and later in life, is a rich source of new comedy and philosophy. I write a daily blog so my comedy has very much become about my own life, so yes being a parent is just was fecund an experience as being single and having drunken misadventures.
What do you enjoy most about been a parent?
When my strong and independent daughter occasionally needs me to be there for her and holds on to me a little tighter. It’s all good though (even the bad bits). It’s terrific making her laugh and a real honour to get to watch a new person develop and grow (and do your best to nudge her in the right direction). As I say in the show it’s unusual to experience a love that grows every day, as usually love depletes gradually until there is nothing left. So it’s mind-blowing.
What is the funniest experience you’ve ever had at a live gig?
Well hopefully it would be all the funny stuff that I say! Most of the stuff that people think will be funny, like heckles, are usually just annoying and disruptive. If you put Richard Herring + heckler into youtube you will find a good example of the frustration a drunk heckler engenders. It’s entertaining and funny in a way, but it’s mainly just annoying. I have fallen off stage at the end of the gig, which looks funny, but hurt. It’s best when something one-off happens that only exists on the night when there is a collusion between performer and audience but by their very nature these do not work written down.
Who are your comedy heroes and why?
Rik Mayall was one of my main influences growing up. I wrote an episode of Man Down that he would have featured heavily in and felt thrilled to be putting words into the mouth of my comedy hero. So his death hit me hard both as a fan and a human being, but also for the selfish reason that he’d never say my jokes. Monty Python and Pete and Dud were also huge influences on me. But so are new comedians like Sara Pascoe and Nick Helm who work hard and show you that you have to be at the top of your game to be able to compete.
If you hadn’t become a comedian what would you have been?
Almost certainly a slightly unhappy teacher. All my family are teachers and it’s a more noble profession than the one that I chose. But I am glad that I got to do this instead, though some of the desire to educate and inform remains amongst my work.
You are, of course, fondly remembered for your comedy partnership with Stewart Lee. Are you still in contact and do you ever go and see each other’s shows?
We are still in touch but thankfully don’t see each other as much as we did in the 90s when we lived in each other’s pockets, which is difficult however much you like someone. I don’t watch his shows because people are always comparing us (seemingly forgetting that we wrote together for 15 years and are bound to have similarities). He came to see Lord of the Dance Settee, but he didn’t really say much about it afterwards (though there were a couple of jokes about him in there). We are doing our own thing nowadays and whilst the shadow of the other remains in both acts, it’s for the best that we go our own way.
Do you foresee a time where Lee and Herring may perform together again?
I wouldn’t want to go back. I loved the stuff we did in the 90s, but don’t want to revisit it as old men. And you have to divide the money and I can’t see Stewart being happy doing that!
You are also filming Happy Now? for DVD in Cardiff – will there be any DVD exclusives?
It’s always fun recording the DVD, even though it’s largely just the show that I would do on any other night. We have a few fun things we put in and extras that other shows won’t have. Once due to an error in editing Chris Evans (not that one) who runs the Cardiff based independent production company Go Faster Stripe, cut to me laughing in the audience. This had actually been from a show with Tony Law recorded on the same night, but he put it in my DVD, without spotting me, which meant that I was apparently laughing at my own show. Since they we’ve put a shot of me laughing in the audience in nearly all of my DVDS, to the confusion and delight of our viewers/
Looking ahead what are you planning for the rest of the year?
I am hoping to be making a video series of my internet show "As It Occurs To Me” but we have to raise the money via kickstarter, so it all depends on whether enough people want to see it. I have also written a sitcom pilot for Channel 4 about alternate universes called Everything Happens For No Reason and I am going to be doing more interviews with top and new comedians in my Leicester Square Theatre Podcast. And in the autumn I will start a new tour of the best of my 12 previous shows called Richard Herring: The Best
- Richard Herring plays St David’s Hall on April 12. Visit stdavidshallcardiff.co.uk for ticket details.
- A version of this Q&A appeared in The South Wales Argus entertainment supplement The Guide on April 8.