Lee & Herring Press

CAREERS SESSION FEATURE

Lee and Herring are the stars of BBC2's "This Morning with Richard not Judy"
They are on tour at the moment but have a great web page and are very friendly. We have written to Stewart Lee and Richard Herring for our careers session.

 Hello everyone. This is Rich answering, but I'll get Stew to give his answers (which will probably be the same anyway) when he's next in the office.

Dear Richard and Stew
Thank you for letting us write to you.

That's OK. We could do nothing to stop you! 

We have CP but like your programme.
You have sublime taste!

We are still at school. Our favourite lessons are music and computers. What were yours ?
I like History (which I studied at university) and English. I did Latin for a couple of years which I really enjoyed, largely because the teacher was very funny. But he was also an excellent teacher. 

What makes you laugh ?
Lots of things. Stewart (most of the time) and comedians Harry Hill, Al Murray, Frank Skinner, Bill Hicks and many others. On TV I love the Simpsons and the Larry Sanders show. I also think Woody Allen is brilliant. In life, lots of things make me laugh. That's where we get our ideas from. But I think it's also important to be able to laugh at yourself, which helps one understand both positive and negative things about what you do and what you are. This is why I write semi- autobiographical plays. They can really help me understand why I have behaved in certain ways and so hopefully stop me being as stupid in the future. 

Are there any things you would not make jokes about ?
There are not subjects to avoid, just ways of approaching those subjects. For example in our recent tour we do some routines about the reactions to the death of Lady Diana. These have upset some people, but they are not about Diana herself, they are about the hysteria that followed and the way people tried to grieve ostentatiously in public. Stew also does something about an inflatable ET left out as a tribute to her, which is very funny. We don't want to upset people, but sometimes people miss the point. The minute someone tells you there are some subjects that can not even be discussed in comedy is a very dangerous time.

There is humour in everything. However, from our personal perspective we would not want to do material that supported racist, sexist or homophobic standpoints. We might do jokes about racism, sexism and homophobia (and sometimes my character might take a sexist, or racist (anti-french) standpoint, but that is only to satirise those opinions. Clearly the character Richard Herring (and possibly the real one) is a sad little man, trying to aggrandise himself and his attitude to women is a direct result of his own failures with them, that are his fault.

There are however, some sick jokes you can make with a group of friends, who know you are only joking, that can be so outrageous that they are hilariously funny, but only because you know that everyone in the room understands it is a joke and that you don't for a minute mean it.


 Would you make jokes about people in wheelchairs ? Why ?
Again, if the intention behind the joke was correct we might do. In Cambridge we did some jokes about Stephen Hawkings. Part of it was that he was so clever he can say what he likes and there's no-one there to check it, so he can say the universe is a banana and we'd have to accept it. That, of course is nothing to do with him being in a wheel chair, and though some people might think that is sick, they are wrong, because as you rightly say, being in a wheelchair doesn't mean you can't be made fun of, especially if the thing being made fun of is nothing to do with the wheelchair. We also did do some stuff about his wheelchair, speculating that he was only pretending to be ill as a gimmick and also some stuff about his voice synthesiser. This is harder to defend in the cold light of day, but again if for a second anyone had thought we were being serious I would not have done the jokes (Stew is always there to reproach me too). I think as long as the jokes are done with affection and without malice I can't see any problem with it.

We got one complaint on the TV series, when I started mocking something Stew had said by putting on what the caller described as "a voice clearly intended to mock someone with cerebral palsy". Again, this was not the intention. It was more that it was a childish way to argue (the way a schoolboy would act if he was losing an argument). As it happens this way of speaking is probably schoolchildren mocking people with CP, but in a grown up context I think the implication is different. Also I think that whole childhood attitude "normal" people have to the handicapped is very interesting, and something to exploit in comedy, as in adult life we can see the offensiveness of our actions, but perhaps understand the roots of prejudice. There is not time to answer this question fully here. I hope I have made myself clear. If not I apologise.


 We think that people in wheelchairs are as funny or stupid as anyone else !
You are right. A problem that PC comedy has is that it turns women, the ethnic minorities and people in wheelchairs into perfect infallible beings, which isn't funny. It is hard for people to see the person not the wheelchair, but people in wheelchairs are just as vain, hypocritical and silly as people who aren't in them. I would imagine there is also a lot of humour to be derived from what it is physically like to be in a wheel chair, what problems are encountered and so on. But personally I feel this material would be better written and performed by someone who had experienced it.

Humour is also a great way to show prejudiced people that the person in the wheelchair is actually just like them in many ways.


Do you like being on TV or being in a theatre best ?
I like both. If I had to do only one I think I would become bored by it.

But live work, TV work and writing are very varied and mean my job is fulfilling. Having said that the theatre gives you more freedom to say exactly what you want and to interact with the audience (and to see which jokes are funny). When this is going well and when you're actually making stuff up off the top of your head and people are crying with laughter... That's quite a hard feeling to beat.

But TV pays more! (and thus helps fund stuff like my Edinburgh plays which lose lots of money and take lots of time to do)


Do you get nervous before a show ? How do you cope ?
Not really anymore. Occasionally I get a few butterflies (in the old days nerves made me have to go to the loo a lot) but it's just a job.

Once you're on stage you're usually too busy to think of anything like that. In fact even if you're ill, you usually become well for the time you're on stage.


We are making a film with Channel 4 - what advice would you give us ?
Enjoy it!
Make sure you get to say what you want.
Use humour to help get whatever you want to say across.
Insist on a big trailer to sleep in between takes!
Don't get out of bed for less than 10,000
Be yourselves, don't try and put across an image that isn't you. i.e. act like a TV presenter. Being yourself is the most disarming, charming and effective way to be in the film medium.
Don't be so good at it that you put me out of a job. 


What music do you most like to listen to - why ?
I don't listen to that much music, but have fairly broad tastes. I like stuff with clever lyrics or with a real intensity behind it. So it's stuff like Paul Simon, Terry Hall, the Sex Pistols, the Beatles, Ice T. stuff from the 90s, I like Pulp, Robbie Williams and the Spice Girls (though not for their music exactly)
Stew will have a longer answer to this question. 


We have got to make the music for our film - what music would you have for your TV show and what about for the theatre ?
It depends on what I’m trying to get across. Richard Thomas writes the music for the TV show (mainly) and we needed something light, that showed this was a comedy show and also that parodied real daytime TV a bit.

 Thank you for writing to us and agreeing to be interviewed. We know you are very busy.
That's OK. I've really enjoyed it. Your questions are interesting (much better than most so-called "proper" journalists. I would be very interested to hear what you think of my answers. And like I say I’ll try and get Stew to reply in the next week or so.!

Good luck
And to you

Denzil, Martin, Barry, David and Matthew (and Dave their headteacher)
Lots of love
Who is the real sick man etc
Richard Herring

Source - http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/meldreth_manor_school/leeand.htm