Just ahead of the Greenwich Comedy Spectacular at Greenwich Theatre, Herring shares with us how his eleventh stand up tour in 11 years - Lord of the Dance Settee - has been received.
The comedian - who was one half of comedy duo Lee and Herring with Stewart Lee - has been in comedy for some years and has performed at nearly every Edinburgh Fringe Festival since 1987.
He said: “I have had some great gigs in Greenwich, even one aboard the Cutty Sark. And it will be fun to return. But as a comedian you take one day at a time and one gig is much like another. So it will be great to return, but I am still able to sleep at night.”
What’s behind the tour’s name Lord of the Dance Settee?
It comes from me misunderstanding the lyrics of the hymn Lord of the Dance as a five year old. It’s a good title, if you get it (and many people made the same or similar errors) as it has a joke in it. Though it’s clearly confusing if you don’t get the reference (though hopefully still intriguing). I am still at a stage where a good percentage of my audience come to the show based on liking the sound of the idea, rather than knowing who I am. So getting a good subject and title is still vital. My tour numbers stayed steady, so I guess this title was OK.
How’s the tour gone so far?
It’s been one of the most enjoyable for me. The show is stories rather than jokes and so it’s a challenge to perform it as well as possible and find new laughs (or play around with more serious bits as well).
Sometimes there are jokes that you can’t get to work. Usually they end up getting changed so that they do work or dropped from the set, but one or two every year I keep in for myself and when one or two people laugh at them every night I want to stop the show and hug them for having such a good sense of humour. But you can’t have too many moments like that.
Is there a golden subject that you can never fail to make people laugh with?
Oh you can always fail to make people laugh. However many times in a row you have made people laugh with a joke there will come a time when for some reason it doesn’t work. And tastes change. I have been going long enough that jokes that I have seen whole cycles where jokes that were funny, become not funny any more and then become funny again. But you usually can’t go too wrong with a knob gag. Unless it’s your grandma’s funeral.
Seeing you have written for a lot of comedians, do you have to adapt the jokes to people’s style of delivery?
Yes, you have to write in the voice of a comedian, though I have always found that quite easy. I write a lot of sitcom scripts and plays and you have to get under the skin of all your characters, so writing for a comedian is the same. Usually they will have their developed style and I find it easy to slip into other people’s voices. But in a sense I am doing that when I write for myself. The stage version of me is still a character and the longer you work on it the easier it becomes to discover the kind of things that they would say
If you weren’t a comedian what would you be?
Almost certainly a teacher like everyone else in my family. It’s a noble and selfless profession, so the exact opposite of what I actually do.
I am performing all 11 of my previous one man shows over six weekends at the Leicester Square Theatre in August and September, plus a new one called Happy Now? at the end of the run. I am trepidatious about this as it’s going to be a lot of work and I am not sure I will be able to pull it off, but I love a challenge and it’s going to be fun to revisit those 18 hours of old material.