To encapsulate Richard Herring’s career would be nigh-on impossible. The volume of his output seems to be rivalled only by its variety. Whether you know him from his 1995 televisual debut with Stewart Lee or his more recent Leicester Square Theatre Podcast, Herring is uncommon in being able to command large audiences for national tours without being a regular TV name. We discussed the act of building up an audience in this way ahead of his current tour, Lord Of The Dance Settee, which comes to the City Hall on 29 October.

How long have you been performing comedy?

It depends on where you take the starting point from. It’s been 27 years since I first did the Edinburgh Fringe. 1987 was my first Edinburgh Fringe. I’ve been up all but five years. It’s been a long time.

With titles like Hitler Moustache, What Is Love, Anyway? and Talking Cock: The Second Coming, people will have an expectation of the show’s content. Lord Of The Dance Settee seems a lot more open-ended, so what can people expect?

Well, that was a deliberate choice. I wanted to do something that wasn’t as overtly themed. There are very subtle themes to the show and all the material is linked, but I wanted to do a slightly gentler show that wasn’t quite as offensive or controversial as I usually am. I wanted to do stuff that would work both on the level of being suitable for Michael MacIntyre’s Road Show or Stewart Lee’s Alternative Comedy Experience, in that it’s rigorous enough to be okay for the latter without being exclusive or excluding people. The show’s a little bit about dance and it’s a little bit about looking backwards and looking forwards. I’m 47 years old and I’ve got to a point where I’m working out where my life’s going to go and where my career has got to.

Throughout the show, if you’re a massive ridiculous fan of mine – to the extent that no-one has really noticed it – there are jokes weaved throughout the show that are derived from stuff over the last three or four decades of my life which I then expand on in different ways.

Is that why you chose Lord Of The Dance Settee as your title, given that it’s also a piece of material that comes up in This Morning With Richard And Not Judy?

Exactly. Well spotted. I thought it was a good title for a show to be honest. I had this recurring idea of using the sofa in different ways in the show and of symbolising a space in the world that’s yours. So the dance settee is a slight metaphor within the show, but also something I knew that fans would recognise.

Some of them get angry and say, “Oh, he’s using his old material!” Well yeah, I’m using 30 seconds there in my 90 minute show. It’s not like I’ve run out of ideas. Through that routine I’ve found that a lot of people have made the same mistake, to think that the lyrics of Lord Of The Dance were, “Dance, then, wherever you may be, I am the Lord of the dance settee”. It’s a funny idea about misunderstandings and mishearings, but part of the reason I did it was to have these little echoes going back through my previous work. But no-one’s noticed that. I’m only telling you because no one’s noticed it.

Is this why you’ve put so much effort into platforms like blogging, podcasting and online radio, to allow people to follow what it is you’re doing?

The blog and the podcast started more because I was having loads of ideas and felt like I had no real outlet for them. I’m much more into the idea of creating stuff than making money or being famous. When I was touring 10 or 11 years ago I was getting very tiny audiences, even right off the back of the TV show. Lee and Herring was a cult thing and not many people came to see us live. So I’ve had to rebuild my audience, which I’ve done by touring every year and hoping people will tell their friends to come next year. Now, unlike most people who aren’t on TV, I can command an audience of 200-250 people. Sometimes it’s 500 people and sometimes it’s still just 50-60 people. There aren’t many people in that position because most people are either on TV and get 1,000-10,000 people or are brand new and get 10 people coming to see them.

The impetus has always been more about having somewhere to do my stuff, and it still is. Most of my podcasts aren’t money making and some of them are quite money losing. So if it pays off when people do come and see you or buy your DVDs then that’s nice, but that isn’t really what drives me. It’s a kind of unexpected benefit that it’s made it profitable for me to tour.

If this online content has helped build up your audience, is that where you think the majority of your current audience has come from?

It’s all different people, it’s all different things. A lot of my success comes from the fact that I don’t care whether I make money or not. And by not caring about that, you’re freed up to do what you want if you’re producing good and interesting content. There are episodes of my Leicester Square Theatre Podcast, where I’m interviewing a big comedian, that will have a different audience than the Me 1 vs Me 2 Snooker podcast, where I’m playing myself at snooker in the basement and commentating on it. If that was all you’d heard of me you’d either definitely want to come and see me live or would never want to come and see me live.

Do you ever find that, what with doing so many different things that appeal to different people, those coming along to live shows might not quite be getting what they expected?

Maybe, but that’s not a bad thing. Even if you’re a fan of my stand-up, I’m not a stand-up who’ll do the same thing every year. That might be a bad thing in terms of creating a following and a ‘brand’, but I don’t. You never quite know what you’re getting.

Even someone like Stewart Lee, who is a comedian I massively respect and massively admire that I’ve obviously worked with before, because he’s now on TV he has to wade through a certain amount of audience who’ve just come because they’ve heard he’s on TV and they don’t really know what he does. And then they don’t like what he does.

I don’t really get that very much. I have an audience who will stay with me and trust me and know that I’m going somewhere interesting with something even if they haven’t figured out what it is yet. I would rather grow my audience that way. The longer you do it the more your audience becomes this kind of ‘super audience’ of people who are correct for your show.

Richard Herring’s Lord Of The Dance Settee comes to Sheffield Memorial Hall on 29 October.

richardherring.com
Tickets via Sheffield City Hall

Sean Morley