“Where did we first meet?” I asked performer Richard Coughlan. “Was it at the Edinburgh Fringe two years ago?”
“You were hanging around outside The Counting House,” he replied.
I have a terrible memory.
“And I wanted to see your show but couldn’t fit it in?” I asked. “I remember I liked the title.”
“Eat a Queer Foetus For Jesus,” said Richard.
“That’s my sort of show,” I said. “Your surname is Irish.”
“That’s not my real name,” he replied. “My real name is Richard Harris but, for obvious reasons, I could not use that name to perform. The guy I got it from – Richard Coughlan – was the drummer in a prog rock band called Caravan. He ended up running a pub in Faversham in Kent, where I live, and I ended up working for him.
“Me and him just did not get on and I had started doing comedy. We had a blazing row and I thought: I’m going to take his name and try and make it more popular than he ever made it. Or more disreputable. I think I’ve done both.”
“You could,” I suggested, “have tried to be more famous and more disreputable than the other Richard Harris.”
“Well,” said Richard, “I have done that famous thing he did in A Man Called Horse with the hooks. I’ve done that.”
“Whaaat??” I asked.
“I did it a couple of months ago,” he continued. “I’ve been wanting to do it for about ten years. I’ve got a lot of tattoos and I used to have lots of piercings but I’m crap with piercings: I don’t look after them well enough, so they always go manky. But I saw a guy at a convention doing this thing with the hanging on hooks and I thought: That looks bizarre and horrific – I would like to have a go at that.”
“The hooks go through the flesh of the chest, don’t they?” I asked.
“What I did,” said Richard, “was hanging on hooks through the back. You’re not allowed to do the chest thing until you’ve had a good go. I found a French guy who could do it for me and I uploaded a video of it happening onto YouTube, but it was flagged and taken down for ‘pornography and sexual content’. I have no idea why, apart from the fact I was in my underwear and was moaning a bit.”
“It might be a bit too Hellraiser,” I suggested, “which was a bit sexual.”
“There was nothing sexual about it,” said Richard Harris who calls himself Richard Coughlan. “I’ve always had this thing about doing things which everyone else thinks are a bit weird.”
“You’re not really a straight stand-up comedian,” I said. “What are you?”
“I’ve been lots of things. I originally trained to be a chef. But I’ve been into stand-up comedy since I was nine and I always wanted to do it. My dad had a Billy Connolly vinyl record. To me, Billy Connolly had a funny voice, big banana boots and he swore and said the word ‘jobbie’ – and, really, that’s all you needed at the age of nine.
“All my friends were into Nirvana and grunge music and Oasis or films and I was always into comedy. I had no-one to talk to. I obsessively watched comedy. One of the first jokes I remember hearing was a Roy Chubby Brown joke – You are what you eat and I am a cunt.
“I went to see Jerry Sadowitz with my dad for my birthday in 2003. He did 90 minutes straight; I’ve never laughed so much. I had always liked him, but it was so hard to get hold of his stuff – the only thing was that Total Abuse Show VHS which had been heavily edited. When I saw him with my dad, he opened with a joke about Stephen Lawrence. Two rows of Indian people walked out during his impression of a Pakistani shopkeeper with Tourette’s Syndrome. A woman got up and threw a pint glass at him and he just ducked and kept going.
“I also saw him in 2007 with my girlfriend. It was at the Underbelly in Edinburgh and I said: We gotta sit at the front and he immediately started abusing me and spat all over me. I thought: This is brilliant! I’ve been waiting for this for years! I’ve finally been gobbed-on by Jerry Sadowitz! He was making a rape joke about my girlfriend who was sat next to me.
“I started doing stand-up when I was 21. I’m 35 now. But, when I was starting out, I had the attitude a lot of people have. If you’re a musician and you see David Bowie, you think I could not do that. The only other thing I was interested in was cooking. That, combined with the fact I used to watch Chef! with Lenny Henry.
“So I trained to be a chef. But I decided to quit being a chef when I was working for a guy who literally grabbed me by the scruff of the neck, slammed me up against a wall and threatened to beat the crap out of me because I didn’t put enough salt in the peas. I decided at that moment that I was never going to care enough about someone else’s pea to be a great chef. I respected the fact you have to care that much but, to me, it’s just someone’s dinner. If it’s not perfect, they’re not going to starve to death.
“At the moment, I work about 25-30 hours as a general hand at a fine dining kitchen, but I supplement that with my online stuff.
“I’m on my fourth channel now, cos I’ve been suspended and banned. I don’t know anyone who has had more videos removed. I had one channel with 30,000 subscribers and about 10 million views and that got taken down because there were something like 50 fake copyright claims filed by someone who took a dislike to me.”
“Justified copyright claims?” I asked.
“No. Not one of them. That’s not to say most of my videos don’t contain some genuine copyright violation, but most people don’t really care. I don’t think Michael Bay is going to care if there is a one-second clip of Transformers in a video.
“I set up two other channels and they only went down about six months ago – they probably had about 5 or 6 million hits between them.
“My new channel, that I started about seven or eight months ago is Dick Dynasty 666. And I’m teaching myself to do animation – it is a long slog – because I came up with this idea for a funny mini-series. There was no feasible way you could make it with people and animators either need paying or, if they’re a friend of yours and prepared to do it free, they’re notoriously unreliable. It’s amazing how cheap you can get stuff. I got one animation program for £40 and another for £20.”
“What’s the mini-series about?” I asked.
“Have you got an aim?” I asked. “An ambition? In general?”
“If I can just do something and I’m happy with it and it’s fun… Working in the kitchen is stressful and it’s not my ideal job, but it keeps a roof over my head and I’m a bit of a minimalist. I don’t look at what I could have. I look at the fact that, globally, I’m probably in the top 5% of people in the world. I could have been a lot worse off.
“I respect ambitious people, but I’m just not that motivated a guy. I just do things. I don’t have a plan. I figure you should just get on with life…
“I got invited to do guest lecturing at Southampton University where they do a comedy degree and, in the fourth year, they do stand-up. I told the students: The problem you will have is not doing your material on stage: it will be doing it as you. I told them: Find five minutes of your favourite stand-up and perform that material. Then perform that same routine as yourself. And then perform your own routine as yourself. That’s the hardest part for new acts. It’s not doing your jokes; it’s doing them as yourself. Like life.”
Richard’s full Eat A Queer Foetus For Jesus show, as performed at the Brighton Fringe, is on YouTube.
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