Comedian Richard Herring claims he knows more about Christianity than many Christians. Roz Laws finds out why he’s revisiting his Christ on a Bike show.
Richard Herring and Stewart Lee have more in common than the fact they were once a comedy double act.
They have both managed to offend Christians with their work, discovering that making jokes about religion can open a nasty can of worms.
Stewart co-wrote Jerry Springer: The Opera, infamous for its irreverent treatment of Jesus, who’s depicted wearing a nappy and declaring he’s “a bit gay’”.
When it was broadcast on BBC2, more than 16,000 people complained and Christian organisations attempted to bring private prosecutions for blasphemy.
While he may not have elicited quite such a strong reaction, Stewart’s friend Richard Herring paved the way for upsetting Christians when he performed his first solo show.
Well, it was called Christ On A Bike.
Now, a decade on, he’s touring it again – and some people are still telling him he’s going to burn in hell.
The show sees atheist Richard examine his own obsession with Jesus and wonder if he is, in fact, the second coming of Christ.
He compares himself to Jesus to see whether he’s achieved as much, and at one point they have a bicycle race, with Richard pedalling away on an exercise bike on stage.
Despite the irreverence, Richard claims he really doesn’t set out to offend anyone.
“I’d say it’s a quite thoughtful, fair and balanced show, even though there are moments of rudeness,” says the 43-year-old.
“It’s about my own stupidity as much as the stupidity of Christianity.
“It’s surprising what people find offensive. I’ve had two complaints from people who haven’t even seen the show and whose emails are amusingly un-Christian.
"You’d think Christianity is about being reasonable and turning the other cheek, not delighting in the fact I’m going to burn in hell.
“My problem isn’t with Christ, but with the hypocrisy of Christians. Jesus is cool, it’s just the people who follow him are idiots. He’s like the Fonz in that respect.”
There’s no denying that Richard knows his stuff. He is very familiar with the Bible and has learnt the first page of the New Testament by heart, with its lengthy genealogy of Jesus, which proves he was descended from Abraham.
“I enjoy properly researching the show. I know a lot more about Christianity than some people who believe in it, who haven’t even read the New Testament. They just blindly believe it to be true. It’s weird to base your whole life on something and not research it properly.”
So why revisit the Christ On A Bike tour, a decade on?
“It was the first solo show I did. I wanted to do it again because I hope I’m a much better performer, and I think I have a new following.
“The core of it is the same, it’s stood up pretty well. But I do keep changing stuff so there’s plenty of new material in there.
“When I did it in 2001, hardly anyone had touched on the subject of religion in stand-up. Now there are a few people doing it, but I’m pleased it’s still relevant.”
Richard is known for putting himself out for his stand-up shows.
In 2004 he toured with The 12 Tasks of Hercules Terrace, named after where he was living, in which he set himself a dozen Herculean challenges.
One was to kill the Loch Ness Monster, others to learn to parachute, to run the London Marathon and to learn the entire Guinness Book of Records off by heart.
But one of the hardest tasks was to date 50 women on 50 consecutive nights.
“That nearly killed me with the amount of drinking alone,” remembers Richard. “And it cost me £5,000.
“It was a feat to get through. It shows I didn’t have much going on in my life, as I couldn’t spare the time now – and my girlfriend wouldn’t be happy.”
Richard also sported a Hitler moustache for almost a year. He was trying to reclaim the facial hair, made famous by Charlie Chaplin but hijacked by Hitler, and made it the centrepiece of a show attacking racism.
“I can’t believe I went on TV with that moustache,” he says. “At least this show doesn’t interfere with my real life too much.”
The tour has almost 70 dates and takes Richard through to May, playing small theatres and venues, such as Birmingham’s Glee Club,
“I would hate to do a stadium tour,” he confesses. “I just want to perform to about 400 people in every town.
“I have toured every year for the last 10 years, and I’m now seeing the fruits of my labours, building a fan base. It’s a slow process. Some comics get a TV show quite quickly but I’m not sure they’ve learned the skills.
“When I was 24, touring was fun, partying every night. Now it’s just going back to the hotel for a cup of tea. But it’s great to meet new fans, and old ones.
“Sometimes they get obsessive in a slightly sinister way. I’ve become good at spotting them. I try my best to be friendly, but they have to understand that I’m not their friend, I’m not there to email them back.
“Someone made me a replica of a British Comedy Award out of Perspex. It’s beautiful and really nice that they went to that much effort. Others put together complicated scrapbooks of stuff about me, which is a little scary.”
Richard even played Cupid for one couple, bringing two of his fans together at a show.
“It’s always lovely to see them. They are dedicated, they’ll pop up and will have found some obscure piece of Herring merchandise for me to sign, or a flyer from 2004.”
* Christ On A Bike comes to Shrewsbury’s Theatre Severn on March 2, Birmingham Glee Club on March 2, Worcester Huntingdon Hall on March 4, Wolverhampton’s Wulfrun Hall on March 5, Royal Spa Centre Leamington on March 18 and Warwick Arts Centre on May 15. For more information go to www.richardherring.com.