His credentials include TV success as one half of Lee and Herring to performing his own critically acclaimed stand-up tours. ShortList caught up with the consummate comedian…
You’re one of the big names billed at E4 Udderbelly this year — what have you got in store for us?
I think it’s going to be called What Is Love Anyway? Does love actually exist? I remember being confused about the concept when I was a kid. When my parents said they loved me I didn’t know what it meant. Because they’re your parents does that mean they have to love you? Obviously I was a sceptical child.
You often challenge life’s big issues. What’s more important to you — making your audience laugh or think?
A little mixture of both. If they’re not laughing I’ve failed. But I’ve been doing this job for 20 years so I’m not interested in just going on and telling jokes. One of the interesting roles of comedy is challenging preconceptions and beliefs, so if people just come and laugh but don’t think, I’ve failed too.
Some people take offence to your shows such as Christ On A Bike and Hitler’s Moustache. Does that bother you?
I don’t like to upset people. But sometimes you decide that even if people are offended by a joke, it’s still worth doing for the ones who get it. I think most of the audience at my gigs do get me. Otherwise I would be starving to death. Often the criticism is from people who haven’t seen the show. They see the name and assume it must be offensive, or they hear a joke out of context. They’re basically criticising something they’ve made up in their heads.
Do people ever walk out?
That used to happen sometimes nine or 10 years ago, but not so much now. Much of my audience have seen my stuff before, and listen to my weekly podcasts, so they know what to expect.
You’re looked up to by comedians as well as your fans — is there a secret to that all-round respect?
I think other comedians see that I work hard to create interesting comedy, with thought behind it. The comedians others don’t respect as much are ones who appear from nowhere and are suddenly massively successful. I’ve grafted hard for 20 years. Sometimes it was a real struggle, but it made me better.
Were you ever tempted to give up?
Oh, all the time. I’d read a bad review and think, “F*ck it — I’m going to go and work in Africa.” I’m a better comedian now than ever, but I still have moments doing stand-up. But stand-up is what it’s all about — for me it’s about going in front of a live audience and making them laugh.
You’ve spectacularly shot down hecklers before — would you welcome a heckle at E4 Udderbelly, or is it a massive annoyance?
Heckling can definitely add humour — either because they’re genuinely witty, or because the heckler becomes the joke. But when one drunk person shouts nonsense and you can’t get through the show, it can be madly aggravating. If you want to heckle, pick your moment well, then say something actually funny.
See Richard Herring at E4 Udderbelly Festival at Southbank on Wednesday 6 July, 9pm, or across the country until April. See Richardherring.com for dates
Win a fantastic VIP experience with E4 Udderbelly and Magners pasture
Drink and laugh on London’s Southbank
The E4 Udderbelly Festival at Southbank Centre is back for its third year in London. And, as always, there’s a stellar line-up of comedy on the ‘big purple cow stage’ — including Richard Herring, Jason Byrne, rising star Carl Donnelly, Andy Zaltzman, Brendon Burns, the amiable Andrew Maxwell and many more. Or you can just hang out in the Magners Pasture — a free venue — and enjoy Magners Golden Draught, a new and different cider from Magners.
For your chance of winning exclusive entry and cider for yourself and three friends to the Magners VIP Golden bar, plus four VIP Sirloin Seats to a show of your choice for each month of the Udderbelly season, email Udderbelly@shortlist.com*
E4 Udderbelly Festival at Southbank Centre 28 April-17 July 2011 Booking: 0844-545 8282. See Udderbelly.co.uk