Richard Herring Wants You To Save Comedy!

by Paul Foxcroft

As headlines go, some are direct quotes and some reek of conjecture and hyperbole. Richard Herring may want you to do any number of things, I can’t know. What I do know is presented below, but I’ve learned from other media that the title of something is given a little leeway in order to entice people into reading further. The opposite of this awful, awful opening paragraph.

Richard Herring is “one of the leading hidden masters of modern British comedy” according to the British Theatre Guide.  Richard is one of the judges at Dave’s Leicester Comedy Festival (which runs February 8th-24th 2013). In fact, he’s the only named judge, which seems to imply that he’s in charge.

According to the press release that Dave has issued me (indirectly) with these statements are facts:

Over half of us can only remember one or two “traditional” jokes.
60% of us receive three viral emails a week.
The tradition of the pub joke is dying.

There’s more, but you get the gist and who has the time?

I put an aggregate of these presented “facts” to Richard after I bumbled through an introduction and found a pen. “I don’t know whether we can completely trust these findings” Herring says, “I think what’s definitely true is that comedy is ever changing and the media used in comedy are ever changing. Probably what’s more true is that people don’t go down the pub so much as they used to, and if they do, they possibly choose different ways of entertaining each other. To be honest, I wouldn’t be that disappointed to see traditional pub jokes dying out… because they’re mainly quite rubbish aren’t they?”

The press release claims that dads are the biggest jokers, in that they’re most likely to tell and propagate jokes, a position I was all too ready to object to with fervor. Until we check my phone and observe the history of texts between me and my father, islands of queries about my well being swimming in a sea of off-colour humour. Pow! Anecdotal evidence. Take that doubt! “Dads are allowed to do rubbish jokes” this is Richard talking again, hence the inverted commas “It is a stereotype, but one that probably holds pretty good, that most people’s dads just do gags.”

It’s worth noting that Richard winces slightly when he says the word “gag”. “Gags are a sort of cheat aren’t they, you’ve got some pre-prepared material for a chat and you’re cheating at being funny rather than just hoping you’re being spontaneously amusing*.”

“A gag is not as good as a joke. A gag is a throwaway bit of nonsense- that has its place. I’ve certainly come up with a few gags myself. I’ve probably made some people gag.” a cheeky grin spreads over his face, “There’s one, for example.”

“Good comedy is about something bigger and a joke is just a building unit in comedy. But actually the better things to come out of comedy are character, situation and improvisation, and just dealing with what’s going on rather than having something that’s just ready to go. There’s something about telling a traditional joke that’s like ‘here I am with my little rolodex’. It doesn’t lead anywhere, the other person’s probably heard it and has to pretend to enjoy it. I can’t think of the last time somebody told me a joke that I laughed heartily at.”

The development of comedy, certainly of stand up comedy, has taken it away from this rolodex approach and lead us to a more organic, thematic trend. “At all times, there’s always all types of comedy going on.” Herring says in response to an incredibly badly delivered question on my part “The Internet does provide a really good new medium for comedians to try stuff out, I think the autonomy that you get is similar to what you get in stand-up.  In stand-up, no one tells you what to do, apart from the audience’s reaction. With the Internet, you’re able to put out whatever you want to do and no one’s telling you what to do. I hope there’ll be a sea change in the way that comedy is produced, that it won’t be so reliant on a radio station or TV station saying ‘Here you go, you can become a star, get on TV’. You can now create your own entertainment channel and if people like it and you do good stuff, then people come to you that way.”

“Back when I started, Simon Munnery, Stewart Lee and I were doing Club Zarathustra, this kind of challenging, weird, operatic and strange comedy. Now there’s ACMS (the Alternative Comedy Memorial Society), which is doing a similarish job of deliberately doing challenging stuff. I hope something like that can break through into more of the mainstream, though it will never be mainstream. I suppose Stewart [Lee] being on TV now is helping create an avenue for more interesting, more unusual acts to get wider recognition.”

“I think what’s interesting is the way that the Internet allows everything to have a go and being famous isn’t necessarily a good thing, you can make a very nice living keeping under the radar. Basically if ten or twenty thousand people like you worldwide and they’re all prepared to buy a DVD or something every now and then, you can make a very nice living from that fanbase.”

I establish that we have exactly “some time” left and get to the rub, the reason why I’m here. Dave’s Leicester Comedy Festival will mine the Internet for comedy’s next big thing. I put my theory, that Richard Herring is the judge-king, to him.

“I think I’m the best one. When it comes down to it, I think they’ll just say ‘What do you think Richard? It doesn’t matter what the others say‘. The others will go ‘We want this.’ and I’ll go “‘No they’re wrong, it’s this.‘”

I was right. At this point, I said more stuff you don’t care about and Richard responded.

“I’d like to see something I’m not expecting.  I like all kinds of comedy, I like broad comedy, jokes if they’re surprising and new, I like clever stuff. The clips have to be 30 to 60 seconds long, so there isn’t any time to expand. It’s got to be something pretty sudden, it’ll have to be someone with an amazing punchline or an amazing hit rate of jokes in 60 seconds for that to work.”

“What’s amazing now is that we all have access to a video camera on our phones, or on someone else’s phone if ours hasn’t got one. I’m not looking for anything highly produced, but really, I want something that’ll make me laugh, that’ll get a proper guffaw in 30-60 seconds. Just put it onto youtube and then go to the Leicester Comedy Festival’s website to apply for that.”

Herring’s judging panel is in control of a £5000 first prize, while a £2500 second prize is judged by humanity at large, by internet vote. “There might be something, a broader thing that posh, horrible comedy critics won’t like that the public do like. And also the guys behind the Inbetweeners will give some comedy advice to the winner as well. That’s probably a nicer extra thing. I mean, the money’s pretty nice.. £5000 is pretty nice though, right?”

I agree.

The tour of Talking Cock resumes in February. New show for the festival. Podcasts and blog.

*I saw fit to write this phrase “spontaneously amusing” down. And underline it. I don’t remember why, but it does seem to imply it’s important. Take note.


One Response to “Richard Herring Wants You To Save Comedy!”

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