“Love is something we think we all know about,” muses Richard Herring. “But if you think about it for 30 seconds you realise that you can’t define it at all. That’s perfect territory for inquisitive comedy.”
Has the headmaster’s son gone soft in his old age? His latest show, What Is Love Anyway? sets out to examine love in the same way that one of his musical heroes, Ben Folds, does with such sad-eyed precision. “I got married, which is something I’ve resisted for 44 years. I think it made me realise how my propensity to question everything (including the existence of love) is great for my act, but maybe not so good for my personal happiness. Love is a leap of faith.”
However, it’s not love Herring will be musing on at Balham Comedy Festival, but something altogether more base. The comic will be reviving his Talking Cock show for the debut event, which also features Harry Hill, Marcus Brigstocke, Ardal O’Hanlon, Milton Jones and a host of other big names, all squeezing the gags into the not-so-huge surroundings of The Bedford pub.
The partnership for which Herring is best known is the one he struck with fellow comic Stewart Lee. The pair set alternative comedy on fire in the 1990s with their TV shows Fist of Fun and This Morning With Richard Not Judy, and the sketches they wrote for Armando Iannucci and Chris Morris’s radio satire On The Hour. “On The Hour changed comedy in this country. But not always for the best: some of the people who copied Chris Morris didn’t understand what he was doing or why he was great.”
And as for that sometimes complicated relationship between Lee and Herring, he reveals: “I do still see Stew. Nothing like as often as we used to, but I think that’s a positive thing for both of us. It’s easier to be friends now that we’re not in each other’s pockets.”
As for his own career, Herring says: “I’m very happy doing my tours and my podcasts. I’m prepared to wait for the right TV project and it’s not the end of the world if it never happens.”
A stable career and married life make Herring sound more upbeat than ever: “I think I am in almost the perfect spot for a comedian now – well-known enough that people will pay to see me, not so well-known that my life becomes uncomfortable or disrupted.”