Comedian and podcast stalwart RICHARD HERRING brings his live interview show RHLSTP to the Playhouse in October. From his Hertfordshire home, he talks to Sam Turner about the reasons for the show’s success, the allure of podcasting and his other more esoteric projects – podcasting snooker matches against himself and clearing stones from a field while walking his dog.
It’s interesting that there have been quite a few big personal revelations on RHLSTP considering it’s a live performance podcast.
I think people have got their reasons. There’s something about the format, the weird [emergency] questions, which I started doing in case I ran out of things to say. It has a knock-on effect: people have to talk about something they’ve never talked about before, it opens the door and they feel like they can talk about other stuff. It’s not like a traditional interview when you’re asking the same questions and you have your standard responses. I’m not trying to find stuff out and I think therefore it relaxes people, and if they want to reveal something they reveal something. It’s just conversations and if people trust you then hopefully they’ll give you some good stuff.
And I suppose you never know what to expect. It could be a light-hearted discussion, or deep, or political. I suppose that keeps it interesting for you?
Yeh, I never really know and I’m quite good at adapting to who the guest is and working out what they want to do. I guess it’s just having that empathy to listen and understand when you’re pushing things too far. Certainly over an hour you can’t just keep the laughs going all that time. Maybe with Greg Davies and Bob Mortimer you can, but with most people there’ll come a point when it’s time to talk about something a little bit more seriously.
There’s the occasional one where it’s harder to get stuff out of people or where it’s a bit more awkward, but people tend to like those ones more! What I like about it is we put nearly everything out. People can see how much stuff is good, how much stuff is not that interesting, or where something doesn’t work. It proves that the rest of the stuff is genuine. You don’t get that on TV shows. Chat shows, panel shows are all edited down, all the eggy bits are taken out and all the lead-up bits are taken out.
Do you think what you do now is a reaction against that over-edited version of a lot of media? You’ve got RHLSTP, but there’s also Me1 vs Me2 Snooker podcast and the Stone Clearing podcast. Those are probably unlikely to get commissioned as TV series…
Well, you never know! There was a series for Bob Mortimer and Paul Whitehouse so there might be for Stone Clearing, give me another 10 years! What attracted me in the first place was the autonomy. When I started with Andrew Collins, just after the Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross thing, there was a crackdown on offensiveness and swearing and upsetting people. And also, you’re waiting months and years sometimes to get a project green lit on the radio or the TV. So, I thought, ‘This is great, we can put it out’, and it was just for fun, really. People were saying, ‘You’re doing stuff and you’re not being paid, why are you doing it?’ But it’s worth more to me to get the ideas out there.
Something like the snooker or the stone clearing, it was just, ‘Oh, I wonder what would happen if I try and do this for, you know, the rest of my life’ – ha! See if it turns out to be a fruitful idea, see if it turns out to be boring and, if so, that’s funny, see where it goes.
Some people are making hundreds of millions of dollars being podcasters, so, you know, I’d like to say I was a genius and I saw that coming but that wasn’t my motivation. My motivation was to get ideas out there and on my own terms. Some of the really big ones – No Such Thing As A Fish, My Dad Wrote A Porno and The Guilty Feminist – they’re playing the Albert Hall and doing massive worldwide tours. My Dad Wrote A Porno has been going three or four years and none of them were particularly famous before it. So to go from nothing to a world tour where you’re selling thousands of tickets everywhere you go… a stand up would look at that and go, ‘What the fuck, how’s that happened?’
But I think my things have always been a little bit more niche and when I was on TV it wasn’t mainstream stuff, and obviously a lot of things I’m doing online are deliberately kind of almost trying to get rid of listeners! Not so much RHLSTP, but it’s still not kowtowing to the mainstream ideal.
Do you get new podcasters asking you for advice in the same way you’ll get comedians asking you for tips?
Yeh, a little bit but the advice for everyone is just, ‘Get on with it’. I think asking for advice on any of this stuff is just a delay tactic, really. If you want to be a stand-up get out and go and do some shows. And with podcasting it’s the same. You don’t need to hang around, you have this outlet and if you have an idea just crack on with it – and if it’s terrible you can delete it. You’ve got to build up an audience. I’ve been podcasting for what I think is 12 years now, and that’s what people don’t want to hear, it takes a long time.
But there is a sort of meritocracy to it. People can say TV doesn’t let certain people do this stuff and that’s true, it’s hard to get involved in that world, but with a podcast, if you’re good there’s no reason why you can’t go from nothing to the Albert Hall in three years.
And some people might want to do it just as a way of expressing themselves, they may not want to play the Albert Hall…
Absolutely. With the snooker the express idea was to have no listeners. I think it started with about 30,000 in the first week and it went quite quickly down to 5,000 but I can’t shake those 5,000 off. With Stone Clearing it’s… both of those are slightly like art projects with tongue in cheek. The idea of doing something relentlessly for a long, long time that has no end; they’re both sort of similar themes. The snooker is kind of a battle against yourself and the Stone Clearing is a sort of battle against your mortality and the environment and the kind of uselessness and the pointlessness of existing. They’re both sort of about that, but then just the stupidity of someone doing it I hope is entertaining, which I think it is. I genuinely think the Stone Clearing thing is one of the best things I’ve done.
Even though the podcast is about me creating this wall [from cleared stones] I was doing it before the podcast. I was genuinely quite obsessed with it before I started doing the podcast, it’s a heightened version of that obsession and me being paranoid. But it’s weird, it gets into this transcendental thing where I’m being paranoid that I’m being observed, which I am. I kind of don’t want people in my village to know, but obviously they probably do because it’s a podcast, but you sort of are hallucinating out there and I’m seeing stuff and weird stuff is happening so it’s quite an interesting look at the human mind! But it’s mainly sort of how long can a man talk about one subject.
Yes, and people will use it for different reasons – the meditative aspect being one…
I think people generally use it to go to sleep. People find it boring enough that it sends them to sleep and then they’re annoyed because there’s some quite jarring music at the end, ha! But I quite like that. But when you create something you have no power over how it’s going to be interpreted or what people are going to do with it. Once you’ve put it out there it belongs to whoever is ingesting it. I don’t think Salinger thought, ‘I’ll write Catcher In The Rye and that’ll get John Lennon assassinated’. It’s not Salinger’s fault directly, but that’s what happened. So, if anyone gets assassinated because of Stone Clearing it’s not my fault is what I’m trying to get at here. I just want to get that in.
RHLSTP With Richard Herring comes to the Playhouse on Wednesday 23rd October.