Preview: What Is Love Anyway?

Comedian Richard Herring tells Jim Keoghan why his latest stand-up show gets to the heart of the matter

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The meaning of love has taxed some of the greatest minds throughout history: Plato, Nietzsche and Baudelaire to name a few. Many have tried to unravel its mysteries but ultimately failed. Undaunted by the towering greats that have come before and fallen short, and inspired by Howard Jones’s eighties chart-topping classic, Richard Herring thought he’d give it a go, the results of which make up his new show What Is Love, Anyway?

“The idea came to me after doing my last show, Christ On A Bike – The Second Coming, which looked at my relationship with Jesus as an atheist and generally questioned religion,” enthuses the comedian.

“I would conclude the show by saying it’s all right to believe in whatever you want because we often have delusional faith in other things, such as love. The audience tended to go quite quiet when I said that and it seemed that it was OK to have a go at religion but not some other ‘magical’ thing that people believe in. I felt that was really interesting and thought that love would be a great subject to explore for my next show.”

Despite the complexity of the subject matter, Herring insists that formulating the show wasn’t that difficult.

“I was at a point in my life anyway when I’d already been thinking about love. I’d been with my girlfriend for a few years and was reaching that moment when you start contemplating the nature of the relationship more. It was also a subject that really fired my imagination and that’s important when putting together a new show.

I often get ideas that might appear workable at first but gradually peter out because they don’t engage me over the long term. I found that I was able to write relatively easily, drawing on my own experiences of love and relationships.”

Over the past decade, Herring’s shows have become something of an anticipated event on the comedy circuit, with his exploration of topics as diverse as his anxiety at turning 40, the attitude of men towards their appendages and the reclaiming of the Hitler moustache. All of which have been greeted warmly by fans and critics alike. But although pleased with this response, Herring feels that equally gratifying has been his growing understanding of how a stand-up’s performance works.

“When I first started out as a stand-up in the early nineties I was very unsure of what I was doing. That was part of the reason why I felt the need to have a partner on stage and become part of a double act with Stu [Stewart Lee]. Since I’ve returned to stand-up I’ve become much more aware of the technical side of performance, how the right inflection, the right pause or the right emphasis can make a joke work or die. And it’s this greater understanding that I think has helped me as a performer. Having said that, each time I think I’ve cracked it, six months later

I realise that I was wrong and that there are still things I can do differently. It’s an ongoing process.”

Although the audiences that saw his previous show might have felt a moment of disquiet when parallels were drawn between love and religion, this time around, Herring’s handling of this most sensitive of subjects has gone down much better.

“I’ve been touring this for a few months and the response has been good. I did get to road test a lot of the material on my blog, Warming Up, so I already had a sense of what might work and what might not. But it still feels nice to get on stage and have it confirmed. Despite this, I am still tinkering with the show, using the audience’s reaction to fine tune things. That’s one of the wonderful things about stand-up, the knowledge that even with the same basic set, no two gigs are ever really the same. It’s the reason that I love doing this and why I hope I’ll keep doing it for years to come.”

What Is Love Anyway? 6 March, Hyena, York; 7 March, Harrogate Theatre; 10 March, Library, Leeds. For more dates go to

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