Ask a Comedian: Richard Herring


23rd Apr 2024 Humour

4 min read

Ask a Comedian: Richard Herring
From his days as half of the comedy duo Lee and Herring to his hit RHLSTP podcast and his new, cancer-themed stand-up Can I Have My Ball Back?, Richard Herring is a comedy legend. Ian Chaddock asks him about his funniest experiences

What stand-up special or comedy film made you fall in love with comedy?

As a young kid, things like Tiswas got me into comedy. As an older kid, probably the Monty Python films.
Life of Brian was a massive deal for me, but also quite difficult to see because my parents wouldn’t let me go and I wasn’t quite old enough but I managed to wangle my way in somehow. Life of Brian explains the most of what I’ve become.

What do you remember about your first time doing stand-up?

Towards the end of university, a few of us got invited to go and do some stuff at the Tic Toc in Coventry.
I did an old man character—a Somerset Alf Garnett sort of character—and I brought a crate to stand on like I was at Speaker’s Corner—which I did with that character too. I think Phill Jupitus was on it as well, as Porky the Poet—I think it was around 1989. 

What’s the weirdest heckle you’ve ever heard and how did you reply?

The one I remember from the Lee and Herring days was that I would do a bit where I would pick on a teenage boy in the audience and say how I was better than them because my mum didn’t give me my money and I had pubic hair. Then I would invite them to come back at me and they would usually just say I was fat or stupid or whatever, which was the intention.
"One kid heckled me by saying 'the sleevs of your jacket are slightly frayed'—he'd seen through me"
But one kid said “The sleeves of your jacket are slightly frayed”. I looked at them and they were. It was a pinpoint heckle. I was meant to be crushed by the heckle, that was the joke. But he’d got me there, he’d seen through me.

What has been your funniest live show experience?

Richard Herring
I think the Brian Blessed on RHLSTP would be hard to beat. He just took over and I mainly just sat there with him standing in front of me pontificating, but occasionally got to join in. But it was an amazing, crazy atmosphere in the room. I got a couple of jokes in that went down quite well. You only occasionally get that kind of electricity in a room.
"There audience were laughing so much that their heads went back, and I hadn't even got to the funniest part"
During Christ on a Bike in Edinburgh, it was my return to stand-up and doing a one-man show and I was nervous. There was a routine in that show that got the audience laughing so much that their heads were going back, which you don’t often get, I knew I hadn’t even got to the funniest part of the routine. That level of hysteria doesn’t happen very often.

As well as stand-up, you’ve worked on many TV shows and a pioneering comedy podcast. Which format do you find most rewarding and why?

It’s difficult to pick. Podcasts are sort of like stand-up in that you have autonomy and nobody tells you what to do, apart from the audience. I just think, as a medium, the artistic freedom to be able to do whatever you want and get things up straight away, have been the most fruitful and have allowed me to carry on.
The podcast definitely helped my audience grow for stand-up, because I almost had to start again. Without the podcast I might not be doing anything now.

Your new stand-up comedy show is about your testicular cancer and is called Can I Have My Ball Back? Did comedy and making it the source of a book and stand-up special help you deal with what must have been a scary time?

When you’re a comedian, anything that doesn’t kill you you’re thinking, this could be great material. My early diagnosis was that it wasn’t anything serious and I won’t say I was disappointed, but there was a part of me that thought I wouldn’t be able to do a show. It was very scary because they didn’t let me know how easily treatable testicular cancer was until it had been confirmed as cancer, which was after the operation. But being able to joke about it and talk about it really helped. Other people contacted me and told me that they’d had it 30 years ago and they’re fine, so that was helpful.
Thinking you might die gets things into sharp focus, both comedically and more seriously. The first year jokes really got me through it, doing the remote podcast (it was during COVID-19). A week after I’d had the operation, Jeremy Paxman was my guest and I got to talk to him about what I’d been through.   
"Balls do not signify masculinity, they're the weakest thing you could ever have on your body"
It’s a funny place in the body to get cancer, not that cancer is funny but funny things happen around it. I think talking about it, especially for men, was very helpful for me and the audience, while still taking it seriously. Life is a bizarre accident and we’re lucky or unlucky to be here. It’s lovely to be able to joke about it.
Balls aren’t this important, masculine thing. They’re faintly ridiculous, slightly wonderful things that do not signify masculinity, quite the opposite. They’re the weakest thing you could ever possibly have on your body. Some view them as equalling strength and manliness when they’re the exact opposite of what manliness is perceived to be.
Richard Herring tours the UK with his show Can I Have My Ball Back? from March to July.
Banner: Richard Herring
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