Interview: Richard Herring, former Cheddar schoolboy turned comedian

Richard Herring @ Stand Up for Slapstick 2014 (c) Adam Johnson/Slapstick

Richard Herring @ Stand Up for Slapstick 2014 (c) Adam Johnson/Slapstick - Credit: Photo (c) Adam Johnson/Slapstick

Richard Herring talks to Catherine Courtenay about family inspiration, his love of Bristol and being boring

Richard Herring @ Stand Up for Slapstick 2014 (c) Adam Johnson/Slapstick

Richard Herring @ Stand Up for Slapstick 2014 (c) Adam Johnson/Slapstick - Credit: Photo (c) Adam Johnson/Slapstick

Hanging around Cheddar Gorge as a teenager with no money can be fun, reveals comedian Richard Herring.

The 51-year-old says the Somerset village, with its famous landmark feature, was an idyllic place to grow up, partly because the rural setting encouraged creativity and imagination.

“Looking back, I may have been ‘trapped’, but when there’s not much going on you make your own entertainment.”

Having said that, he admits: “Growing up in Somerset I didn’t think it would be possible to be a writer or a comedian.

“I wouldn’t have believed many of the things that happened to me in in my life.”

Richard, now a successful writer, broadcaster, podcaster and stand-up comedian, is talking ahead of the Bristol Slapstick festival for which he’s a guest curator, hosting a series of events.

Growing up in Cheddar, he says, provided plentiful comic material and he was lucky to find himself with a group of friends who all shared his love of comedy. Then there was his school, Kings of Wessex, where the pals’ comedic talent was allowed to develop. They would put on shows, and organise the odd, more risqué ‘underground’ event in the evenings.

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“Kings of Wessex was, and still is, a brilliant school; they were very encouraging. We were quite rebellious; it must have been very difficult for my dad…”

Richard’s father was the head teacher. So...slightly tricky when comedic lines were pushed to the limit of school censors?

“We were these rambunctious kids, clever kids, getting into trouble all the time and the fine line he had to tread... It was lucky we had some good deputy heads.”

Richard, whose family moved to Somerset when he was eight, had always wanted to be a comedian and writer. It’s an ambition that goes right back to when the Yorkshire-born tacker entertained his family and made them laugh with puppet shows.

He went on to Oxford University to study history, but mainly, he says, to continue to develop his comedy. He met Stewart Lee and the two formed a successful double act, Lee and Herring, which set off both their careers.

The duo later split, and continued to work on solo projects.

An Edinburgh Festival regular, Richard is also the mastermind behind a hugely successful series of podcasts where he interviews other famous comedians.

He’s written a blog every day for 18 years – 18 years! An achievement which has led to the work being archived by the British Library.

He also managed to raise £150,000 last year for the charity Refuge by taking to social media on International Women’s Day and replying to every single tweet which pointedly asked when International Men’s Day was. (It’s on November 19 just in case you’re interested)

For the Slapstick festival he’ll be interviewing The Goodies, Tim Vine, the makers of The Inbetweeners and he’ll be introducing some Laurel and Hardy shorts. He’s full of admiration for the festival organisers, including director Chris Daniels and also Peter Lord of Aardman Animation.

“If I can have a curry with Graham Garden [of The Goodies] and Peter Lord, I’d be very happy,” he muses on his forthcoming visit.

“I like the people of Bristol so much and it’s one of the absolute best places to perform,” he says, revelling in the opportunity to return. “Most cities are similar and I have lots of nice audiences but it’s special in Bristol, there’s a lovely community spirit there.”

In his teenage days a visit to Bristol was a big event. “I was a boring child and scared of going to cities, quite nervous and cowardly; it was a massive deal going away.”

But comedians can often be a bit retiring, a touch shy, he says, the comedy acts as a ‘release valve’.

“I’m not like I am on stage in real life. I get it out on stage and wouldn’t want to be that person 24/7 - it would be exhausting.”

He says that even after 30 years of performing, he’s still learning, which is perhaps why, and unusually for a comedian, he enjoys meeting and interviewing other comedians. He’s also learning a lot from his young children; being with them brings the opportunity to break from his work obsession, but he still can’t help study them - he’s fascinated with how they develop. They will no doubt provide more material but having children, he says, “is something in life with some meaning; something to work for - and not to work for.”

Family has always played a key part in his career. His BBC Radio 4 sitcom Relativity is loosely based on his family. “Dad does so many funny things. He always says I should pay him for the material he gives me,” he says.

Richard’s parents still live in Cheddar and he goes back to visit; although he adds that he’s not as yet been asked to do a talk at his old school.

“I came for an awards ceremony once - I think; but perhaps I’m too rude and they don’t want to be associated with me.

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