Meet conductor and comedian Rainer Hersch who not only does the odd solo stand-up spot on the London circuit, he tours the world performing comedy alongside orchestras. Yes, you read that right!Prior to his huge April Fools’ Day show at the Southbank Centre, he spoke to LiF …
1. Introduce yourself please Rainer
I’m a stand-up comic who is classically trained in music, and what I do is combine those two things in an interesting, funny and dare I say unique way. I do everything from me on my own doing stand-up only, to all-singing all-dancing shows in concert halls with a symphony orchestra, and I have a mini version of the orchestra of 10 people.
2. What is your approach to musical comedy?
I do comedy about music, corrupted versions of the classics that everyone will get. I don’t do comedy songs. The people who are best at that, like Bill Bailey and Tim Minchin, they can set a room alight with the right couple of lines. I’m not a rock-pop musician though so I don’t really get the references with people like Bill or Flight of the Conchords.
Technical brilliance is not the issue either; the most important thing is the comic idea which can in fact be very simple, and audiences really respond to that. You don’t want people thinking, oh yes wonderful bit of harmony, listen to those arpeggios, or fnar fnar they played that in G minor rather than G major, but there being no laughter. Laughter is what it’s about really.
3. What sort of audience do you get?
It’s a spectrum, really. I get stand-up audience at a stand-up show, and at a Rainer Hersch show it’s people who know me or know of me from the radio, I’m not so much of a TV face. You also get people who have never been to see a symphony orchestra but like the idea of a funny one. I get people who’s interest is piqued by the idea of combining seemingly uncombinable art forms, that can be anyone from 20 to 70 years old, which is wider than the usual stand-up age range.
4. How long have you been doing comedy for?
My first ever guest spot on was December 17, 1987, at the Rubberdubdub in Sydenham. I’ve never been to Sydenham since. I think the club had something to do with Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer. It went really badly! I was part of a double act, we didn’t have any jokes and we didn’t know how to tell them. I wrote sketches at university, which is why I thought I could write comedy, and they seemed hilarious at uni but they were terrible outside – it didn’t relate to anyone’s life at all.
5. What are the strangest venues you’ve played?
Oh my goodness. So many: on boats, I’ve done cruise ships, car parks, muddy fields – when you’ve been on the circuit this long nothing shocks you.
6 What one thing about comedy do you wish people had told you before you started it?
That it’s down to the writing in the end, and that really takes perseverance and hard work, whereas you’ve either got charisma or you haven’t. You can develop that to a point but still some people are never quite able to shake off their inhibitions onstage.
7. Who makes you laugh?
Frank Skinner, Jeff Green, Tom Lehrer had some lines that were just so brilliant, he could condense a whole other way of thinking into just a few lines. Bill Hicks was a big hit for me in the old days. Victor Borges [about whom Rainer had a tribute/biographical comedy show] is interesting, a hero of mine whom I really admire. He was to me a comic who could play the piano, not a pianist trying to be funny. Musicians can be too good at their instruments to really be funny.
8. If you were to appear on Parkinson as a guest, what would be your walk-on music?
That’s difficult to answer … something that isn’t classical music. I’m slightly embarrassed about the associations that classical music has got. If I walked on to something classical four-fifths of the audience is already thinking “what a twat”.
9. Describe your dancing.
Actually I do some dancing at the end of [my latest] show. It makes people laugh, so I suppose I dance a bit funny.
10 Do you have a celebrity doppelganger?
Years ago I used to come on stage say I’m a young George Cole, which always used to get a laugh, or “one more op and I’ll be Leo Sayer“, in Germany I’d say I was bitten by a radioactive Michael Schumacher – I’ve just got a face that looks like a lot of people.
• Click for full details/booking for Rainer’s huge April Fools’ Day gig at the Southbank Centre, featuring the Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain, Alistair McGowan and Mark Andre Amellan
And here’s a little of Rainer with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra in Hobart, Australia …