Interview: Richard Herring and Matt Green on their 2013 Edinburgh Festival Fringe shows about life and death
This article is from 2013.
The two comedians discuss their respective shows We're All Going To Die and Alive
Richard: Hello, Matt.
Matt: Hello, how are you?
Richard: I'm good. How are you?
Matt: Pretty well.
Richard: How's your show coming together?
Matt: It's going all right.
Richard: Your show's about … being alive?
Matt: Yeah. It’s called Matt Green: Alive and it's kind of … it's one of these things where I think … I never quite know … I mean, you just know how you'd choose your show title because I sort of always do it in a slightly random way and then, the title begins to kind of determine what the show is about, so I sort of … think of a title that sort of makes sense. I quite liked the idea of writing about something about life. And I wanted to talk about some sort of personal stuff, some medically things, and then the rest of the show became, “okay, well how can I then make a show about that, you know? How can I make a whole show about that?” So I began to write a show about being alive and all the things that haven't killed me. It's slightly tongue in cheek because actually nothing hasn't almost killed me this year and that's sort of the point, they haven't nearly killed me, they just didn't kill me at all. But there are stories certainly, in the second half of the show, they're a bit more about previous years. Stuff that has happened in my past, which has been more sort of serious. So, it was quite fun and then for me, the kind of hook for it came when I found a list online of all of the different ways in which people died last year. Every cause of death in the UK in a table.
Matt: A big, long table, and there are just some odd things in there. Things that you might not expect - for example 655 people died falling down stairs, only two people were killed by dogs. And it's sort of weird - the correlations about those figures but how people are more scared of dogs than stairs.
Richard: Oh yeah.
Matt: All that kind of stuff began to kind of spark off ideas and made me think about how I wanted to structure my show.
So your show, conversely, is about death?
Richard: Well I think that any time you talk about death you are also talking about life. So my show is all about being alive while talking about not being alive. So, I'm sure they're in similar areas.
I basically wanted to choose a subject that was quite big … I've done quite major topics for the last three years. I wanted to do something that was a big subject and I like the idea of doing a show about death because it's a taboo subject. I've done quite a few taboo subjects.
Richard: Certainly penises last year and challenging love was also a taboo. I'm interested in anything that people say, "You're not allowed to joke about," and you're not allowed to talk about that. Why not? Whenever people talk about death, they use euphemism, just like they do with sex and defecation. We don’t really discuss death - even though it's inevitable - we kind of just try to pretend it's not going to happen. It's very hard to imagine your own death, that you’ll turn off and not be around anymore. So, I thought it would be an interesting topic. The way I come up with a show is generally choose a subject, then a title, then the poster … So I had all that and no material and then started to worry that it might be hard to make this amusing … because obviously most people have experienced a bereavement and probably relatively recently. Well it's a tricky sell isn't it? But I was always obsessed with death when I was a kid. As soon as I became aware of my mortality I was wondering what happens after you die… It’s fun to look at the crazier religious ideas about the afterlife … but of course I don't know what happens when you die. I think it’s the end but it might not be. And I cover that in my show.
Matt: And of course my show's all about not thinking about it in a way. It's all about kind of trying to get away from that. I was very ill when I was very young. So… I got better and stuff obviously.
Richard: Otherwise this would be a weird conversation. I've always thought you might be a ghost.
Matt: Well … I've got that kind of … I do have the kind of Victorian childhood look.
Richard: That would explain a lot. How you haven't aged at any point since I met you.
Matt: There is a portrait in my attic that's pretty horrific ...
Richard: But in terms of what happened to you as a kid?
Matt: Well I think ever since then, I've always felt like that was one of the most dramatic things that's ever, and probably will ever happen to me. And then yeah, sort of everything since then has felt like a bonus in some ways. How the lack of kind of crazy drama is actually good sometimes.
I think I see some people and I think, "Your lives are so interesting and exciting, it must be so easy to write material about them," And then I think, "You know, you have to live those lives." That's how I'm kind of trying to make this year anyway, trying to give virtue to the little things. The little annoyances and things, which in the end have actually killed some people … people have died from going down stairs or dropping something on their foot or … being in a car crash and all these things which I've had minor versions of this year.
Richard: It's sort of interesting in that I was thinking, it's so difficult to die really. Usually it's so difficult. You see all these other people get saved in ridiculous situations and come back to life, after ridiculous situations and then for some people, they just get tapped on the head and then they’re dead. That's what's terrifying about life and death. Also, I'm still worried about dying in an embarrassing way, like if I am wanking. I don't wank in a particularly dangerous way, but it’s just the law of averages …
Matt: In the car or …. I know somebody who saw that, that saw someone driving really erratically and crash. As they went past, they saw some guy with his trousers around his ankles and just kind of obviously go, "Wow, you must need danger in your life in a way that is quite extraordinary or you're so bored of driving now that … you know …"
Richard: There are people who die because they wank in dangerous places. Is it not good enough for you? Because just an ordinary wank is not good enough for you. You have to drive!
Matt: I've not ever done it. You would need two hands drive …
Richard: You only need one hand to wank while you're driving.
Matt: That's true. You do need two hands sometimes driving, I mean, certainly the way I would do it, you know. That's a whole different game. That's a whole different game. (laughs)
Did you ever worry that having a weird … weird is the wrong word … having a kind of strong subject like that. That that will put people off or that people will think, "Oh," but then they're going to hear about death.
Richard: Well, I don't really think about it in advance, but it didn’t strike me initially that talking about death might put people off. I like to choose titles that might make people think the show is going to be one thing and then surprise them when they come. A couple of years ago for Hitler Moustache, I could have gone with Toothbrush Moustache, or Chaplin Moustache, it would have been less confrontational. But the point of that show was that it was about the moustache being identified with Hitler and whether it was possible to change that. So that’s the starting point. You can’t give the end away in the title.
So I didn't really think about the fact that death might not be a good box office seller until I kind of agreed to do it and I thought …. I wonder if that will actually put people off. I think it does for some people. But then that's pretty good because I probably didn't want those people to come to my show… people who are put off by a title, put off by an idea. I don't really want them there because they won’t enjoy it anyway. I'm hoping to be challenging with that. It's not like I'm in your face and trying to upset you, but I talk about the topics I find interesting.
And so far, I've only had one guy getting upset. I'm doing a routine about a magazine called Railways and The Holocaust, which is such a bizarre and offensive thing to have a magazine about. So I was talking about how you can't joke about that subject, but if you do a serious magazine about it, suddenly you're all right? That's kind of what the routine's about. And a man said to me – do you think that’s acceptable? To joke about that? And I said … No, that's what I was saying. That people get upset about jokes, but sometimes a serious representation is much more offensive. So, people will find a way to get upset about something … Or they'll hear a word and go, you know, I think if the title has the word in it … so hopefully they're not going to come and go, "I can't believe you're talking about death,". But then once, during Talking Cock someone said that in the interval they’d heard someone saying, "Is it all going to be about penises?" When you see the title, you'd think you’d realize what it was about …. I feel I am lucky to not be more successful than I am in some ways. With Edinburgh, the kind of freedom I've got - what I'm doing is actually what I want to do. It's sort of amazing because I can grow a toothbrush moustache and I can do a show about death and no one is going, "Maybe you shouldn't do that…" With the career I have, no one is going “they might cancel your game show if you walk around with a Hitler moustache everywhere”. So, you know, it's kind of nice to have that freedom to do what I wanted to do.
Matt: Yeah. I've always thought Edinburgh is the place, for me, yes, to sort of challenge myself each year. I try to do something different, so I try and talk about a different sort of thing. Like last time I did it, it was a part of a political show and it had quite a lot of satirical stuff in it and then this year, I've gone back to doing much more personal shows. I've tried to share more personal things. I think that's the luxury that Edinburgh gives you and you have to hold onto that. I found out with previews sometimes that, because previews are often in comedy clubs, the audience are a comedy club audience, looking for someone to make them laugh for 20 minutes. You've got to remember that. That's sort of what the point of doing the show is. When you're closing, and the compere comes up and explains that they have five acts and then a preview. These guys have suffered enough, come on!
Richard: Yeah I did previews in comedy clubs where people were celebrating their birthdays and I’d think … “you're already thinking about being a year older. You don't want to be reminded of death”. It's difficult to do any of my stuff out of context.
Matt: I had an experience this morning, it's slightly different, but I did a gig the other day where we were waiting for a hen do to come in, so we were quite late in starting the show. We held the show for quite a while, then finally they turned up and just before we went on, they told the compere that the hen had terminal cancer. And we were thinking … "wow, that is not the easiest audience in the world." That's the thing, anyone can find something offensive in a situation. We all were just going, "It feels like everything we're about to do is inappropriate." You know, every line we have, it feels like there could be something that goes wrong. In that situation, I think you just have to go, "Well, someone's made a bad decision,"
Richard Herring: We're All Going To Die. 20:00 Pleasance. 13-25 August £12 (£11)
Matt Green: Alive. Jack Dome. 20:10 - 21:10 13-25 August £12 (£11)