How we met: Stewart Lee & Richard Herring
Sunday 18 April 1999
with his fiancee, Gina
Richard Herring, 31, was born in Yorkshire but grew up in Somerset. He studied history at Oxford University. With Stewart Lee, he has written and performed in many radio and television comedy shows, including `Fist of Fun' on BBC2. He has also taken solo shows to Edinburgh, and is script editor for the comedian Al Murray. He lives in Balham, south London
STEWART LEE: Rich grew up in Cheddar, in Somerset, and when I was about four my grandfather very nearly went to Cheddar Gorge to run a hotdog stand. But then he became ill and we didn't go. If we had moved, though, Rich and me would have gone to the same school. As it turned out, Rich thinks we first met in a corridor when we were students in Oxford in October 1986, but I don't really remember that. I think the first time we properly met was at a Christmas party, which I remember because there was a Sex Pistols record playing, which was quite unusual in the mid-Eighties, and Richard was pogo-ing to it on his own. And I also remember us looking at a photo on the wall of a cricket team from 100 years ago and laughing at all the hats and beards. We'd heard by then that we had each been doing some sort of comedy act and we got on well and agreed that we wanted to write comedy that wasn't just a rip-off of Monty Python.
Richard is optimistic and hard-working and something of a perfectionist, which is good because I have always been one to give up on things very easily. For example, recently we were offered the chance to do a sitcom pilot by Fox TV in America, which I couldn't really be bothered with - it was only because Richard stuck at it and worked really hard that I was able to get inspired.
We work together for about six months of the year and for that time it's like a marriage - you can't escape so you have to get on. Now we accommodate each other's unreasonableness. Having said that, Richard sings the opening lines from a Paul Simon song - something about gasoline being "Detroit perfume" - four or five times a day, which can be annoying.
Richard once posted his tour diary, which included a bad row we had one night, on the Internet, and got an e-mail from a fan, saying: "I'm sorry to hear that you had a fight. To look at you on stage I expect that Stew can be quite grumpy and unforgiving while I expect your energy can be quite wearing after a while." We both laughed at that, because it's actually close to the truth. But often people don't realise we're playing characters, and say things to me like, "God, that bloke's really annoying, how do you put up with him?"
What we get paid to do is spend all day in the company of another person with similar tastes and knowledge, and try and think of things that are funny. The problem is that there's very little to be gained from Rich and me spending any time socially, because there's nothing left, we've been doing it all day. I've noticed that if we do meet up in the pub after work, we have absolutely nothing to say to each other. If either of us had a solo project that took off, I don't think the other would begrudge it. If our working partnership does come to an end it might mean that we can develop a more social relationship.
RICHARD HERRING: Stew and I met at Oxford in 1986. The first time I remember seeing him, we passed in a corridor - we were auditioning separately for the Oxford Revue, which neither of us got into. Then I glimpsed him through the window in a Kentucky Fried Chicken shop. But we finally met at a Christmas party, by which time we'd both heard of each other's work, and soon afterwards we started writing together. I guess he thought that if I was dancing to the Sex Pistols on my own and I'd written a Keith Harris-meets-Elvis song called "My Penis Can Sing", I must be all right. Which goes to show how wrong you can be when you're 19.
What I really love about Stew, unsurprisingly, is that he's so funny - the stuff he does on his own is brilliant. Most of his good points are also his bad points, because he takes everything to extremes. Although there have been arguments and tense patches (inevitable, after 14 years), we've generally thought about each other as much as ourselves. We've got the same sense of humour and similar backgrounds and similar outlooks, so if we have disagreements over our work it's only about the minutiae. Working together and travelling on tour, we spend more time together than a married couple would do. It's a weird thing, having a double act - I think Stew puts more energy into his solo stuff than I do, and tries to establish his independence more.
I think Stew tends to view me as if I was still 21. That might be because our act is about two emotionally stunted men who still behave like teenagers. Stew is the trendy Indie kid and I'm the slightly odd, obsessed-with-women one - which is just an exaggeration of what we used to be like. It's about the relationship - everyone can relate to the idea of two very close friends who argue a lot. I suppose we work by picking out what the other person doesn't want to admit about themselves and exaggerating it. Recently on stage I was bragging about something and then Stew came back with, "Yeah, but you went to Mexico on your own, didn't you, Rich? Because no one would go with you" - which is fairly close to the truth, as it happens - and I could have been upset about it. But I thought it was funny.
I'm more interested in characters than Stew. When we wrote a sitcom pilot recently, Stew found it embarrassing to have to think about the personal feelings of these characters and how they would relate to each other. He's very private, and he worries about what people think of him. On the way to this interview, for example, he told me to watch what I say.
I think we're both realistic about the fact that our solo work could take off and if Hollywood were to beckon to Stew, as it did last year, I wouldn't resent it. We're not completely dependent on each other for our work, and our friendship will certainly survive our working relationship. But I can't imagine either of us ever saying, "I never want to work with you again." We grew up together, we've shared a house, and at certain points we've seen each other every day for years on end, so I think we complement each other in work and in life.
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