Rainer Hersch, current conductor and host of The Johann Strauss Gala chats with Kevin Cooper about being a stand-up comedian, his ambition to play The Royal Albert Hall, his love for Victor Borge and performing at The Royal Concert Hall Nottingham as part of the Johann Strauss Gala.

Rainer Hersch is a British conductor, actor, writer and comedian known for his comical take on classical music. He has toured in more than 30 countries and has broadcast extensively, principally for the BBC. His radio work includes ACME (All Classical Music Explained); Rainer Hersch’s 20th Century Retrospective and All The Right Notes, Not Necessarily In The Right Order.

In December 1987 Hersch made his debut on the London stand-up circuit as part of a comic double act, The Tebbits, with fellow student Peter Wylie. He now continues to tour the world presenting his one-man shows or as guest conductor in comedy concerts with orchestras. Among his many other commitments, he is currently conductor and host of the annual Johann Strauss Gala.

Taking time out from is busy rehearsal schedule to have a chat with Kevin Cooper, this is what he had to say.

Mr Hersch good afternoon.

Hi Kevin how are you?

I’m very well thank you, how are you today?

Not too dusty thanks so that’s good (laughter).

Before we move on let me just thank you for taking the time to speak to me.

Not at all Kevin. Thank you for the interest and the support.

And just how is life treating Rainer Hersch at this moment in time?

It’s actually very good at the moment. I’ve been away from home quite a lot in November as I was in Austria, Canada and Germany but now I am back (laughter). So yes I am good on the whole.

So now that you are back are you looking forward to being out on the road touring with The Johann Strauss Gala?

Yes I really am. It’s so good to be back home and for me to be working on that programme.

This will be your fourth year working with them. What is the attraction for you; what makes it special?

That’s simple Kevin, I really do love the music. It is such a wonderfully tuneful experience. It is full of tunes that even if you have never been to a concert before, you will recognise most of them. Even the ones that you don’t recognise are so easy to get into and that is really wonderful. The whole show has such an incredible elegance about it. At times it is not easy so that makes it an intellectual challenge too, which is something that I like. I just love all of that combination of things and for me to be in charge of it all is simply fantastic. For me it is a dream come true.

And just how many people will there be on stage?

There will be a twenty-seven piece orchestra, six dancers, a singer and of course me (laughter). I will be on stage for the duration of the concert whilst the dancers will be coming on and off.

Do you enjoy touring the UK with such a large body of people?

Yes I do as most of them are really friendly. You make friends amongst the group which is really nice. Many of them have now done The Johann Strauss Gala for many years, in fact most of them have been a part of it much longer than me and it is good to see them again and for us all to get back together. I find myself spending most of my time with the dancers and the singer as we are one unit. We really do have lots of fun both on and off the stage. We do our very best to entertain the audience because, I don’t think that any audience can really be entertained unless you are having genuine fun as well.

You mention entertaining the audience, does your background as a stand-up comedian help in any way?

When I tour with The Johann Strauss Gala I find myself first and foremost being the conductor but I am also a musician. However you are quite right Kevin, I did spend a very long time doing stand-up comedy. So to put it bluntly, for me to be pissing about on stage is something that I really like doing (hysterical laughter). As with most other stand-up comedians I like things to be a bit random and I think that the audiences like that too. What I particularly like about The Johann Strauss Gala is that yes, it is a classical concert but there is a looseness about the whole thing (laughter).

Yes we all know where we are going, yes we all know what we are doing, yes there is a script but nevertheless within that there is a freedom which brings the whole evening alive.

So just how do you manage to get your comedy over to the audience when you spend most of the evening with your back to them?

(Laughter) that’s a very good point Kevin. Let me just say that when I do turn around and speak to the audience, it is twenty times funnier than, for example, when Andre Rieu speaks to his audience (laughter). There is an advantage to conducting things which he doesn’t have, and I honestly feel that we have far more variety in our show than Andre has in his. It is real genuine comedy.

You are a conductor, actor, writer and comedian. Which one gives you the most pleasure?

I have to say that it is a really odd combination Kevin especially the comedian and conductor bit (laughter). For example it’s like a doctor in a remote part of Scotland who has to drive for miles in order to see his patients. Is he a doctor or a taxi driver? He has to do the driving in order to be able to see his patients. Therefore in my opinion one goes completely hand in hand with the other if you see what I mean. I never think to myself this is the bit of my job that I really like; it is all part of what I am. I never feel as though I am changing roles as they are all part of the same thing.

Today I am studying the scores ready for the tour and at the same time I am writing gags about the scores or how I can introduce them in a funny way (laughter). The comedy side of things run through my life really. It is the one thing that the media here in the UK love to do. They love to pigeonhole people Kevin. Let me just say that my pigeonhole is bigger than most and I simply can’t separate them out. I really do get a great amount of pleasure from both the music and telling jokes. I’m not a comedian being musical and I’m not a musician being funny, it is just what I am.

Was it always classical music for you or is there some Led Zeppelin hidden away in a closet somewhere?

I’m sorry to say that there is no Led Zeppelin hidden away anywhere Kevin (laughter). I think that I must have taken a wrong turn when I was about thirteen years old. Maybe that was my own form of rebellion. Ever since then it has always been this kind of music for me even though I don’t know why. I heard The Beach Boys song Lady Lynda which is based upon Bach’s Jesu Joy Of Mans Desiring which was in the hit parade in around 1904 when I was young (laughter). So even in this corrupted pop version there was something about the classical music that fired off the brain cells in me and it has always been that. It just is and I can’t explain why.

You have an English mum and a German dad. Was it ever safe to watch the football on the TV?

(Laughter) luckily Kevin my mum and dad were never interested in football as I am not also. However my wife is German so she obviously supports Germany whenever they play England, who for a short period of time will get my support (laughter). However England have been so crap in the Last few years, so utterly rubbish, so it has in fact been quite good to have a foot in both camps so I can support Germany afterwards (laughter). I was in Germany during the last World Cup when they were murdering Brazil and that was quite funny actually. It was quite funny to be standing outside a pub in Germany supporting them as they beat Brazil. So that is how it works in our house.

Your stand-up show ACME (All Classical Music Explained), were you surprise with just how well it was and still is received?

Yes I was Kevin because that was the show that bought the two things that I do together. I was doing my stand-up comedy but at the same time I was so interested in music. I was at the time playing the piano and I bought the two together with that stand-up show. What was pleasing about that was that I found my voice so to speak. I realised that it was music that I should be talking about; that was my thing. Stumbling across that was wonderful.

Who has inspired you along the way?

There has not been any one individual who has inspired me musically Kevin but going back to that pigeonhole thing again, with my comedy I have been likened to Victor Borge. I found Victor Borge after I had started doing my stand-up and I have subsequently become a bit of a Victor bore expert as I have done a couple of shows about his life for the BBC. If I am truthful I would have to say that Monty Python were the people who really started me off through all of the shows on TV together with their films.

I also liked the late American comedian Bill Hicks and Thomas Andrew Lehrer. I thought that Lehrer’s satire was superb; you could cut it with a knife. I still find it breath-taking to this day. A lot of comedy sounds naff after ten or twenty years but not Hicks or Lehrer. I can’t do what they did but it makes me stand in awe.

What has been the highlight of your career so far?

That, I hope, is still to come Kevin (laughter). Playing Nottingham perhaps (laughter). In 2009 I played at The Royal Festival Hall in London for the first time when I played a comedy concert which I had put together. I was amazed because I made a list of all of the people who are my heroes and they all said yes. They all became my comedy bitches for the evening (laughter). We also had The Philharmonia Orchestra playing with us all evening which is the Rolls Royce of all orchestras. So I have to say that was a pretty special evening, but let’s hope that I am still working on that one (laughter).

Do you have any ambitions left to achieve?

Yes I do Kevin, and that is for me to play The Royal Albert Hall. I don’t know why but I have never played there as yet. I have performed at all of the other big concert halls but I have never played The Albert Hall. You simply have to play there, don’t you? I would love to be up on the stage there as that would be a fun thing to do. Maybe it will happen sometime, who knows (laughter). I think that the main ambition is simply to keep going, to continue having fun and to stay in work which I feel are all good things for me to aim for.

Do you want to play at The Royal Albert Hall because of the acoustics or is it because of all of the great names that have previously played there?

(Laughter) I have to tell you Kevin that the acoustics at The Albert Hall are absolutely terrible. It is simply the worst place ever for acoustics. Let me just say that the acoustics are perfectly suitable for lion taming (laughter). It is all about being there at The Albert Hall. I have played The Royal Festival Hall quite a few times now which is quite special as every man and his dog have played there (laughter). There is something very special about playing at The Albert Hall but I have to tell you that it’s not for the acoustics, god no (laughter).

Any regrets along the way?

Regrets I have a few, but then again, too few to mention (laughter). I’m thinking of issuing a hard disc full of my regrets; Rainer Hersch’s Regrets featuring two hundred gigs and a horse (laughter). Yes of course is the answer but I try not to dwell on the things that have gone wrong; you just go forward. If I were to name them it would sound so petty and you would just think that I was a complete weirdo Kevin. Most of them I feel are better to stay private. Onward is a far better motto I think. Having said all of that I have to tell you Kevin that whenever I come off stage I always think of the thing that has gone wrong, and that is a mistake.

My wife knows that I am a glass half-empty man and she once came to see one of my shows. I met her during the interval and she said to me that the only person who was not enjoying the show was me. I don’t think that it is a bad thing to be critical about yourself or what you have done but once you have examined it and tried to learn from it, then it’s gone and I am always looking forward. I collect memorabilia from shows that I have done throughout my career and I simply can’t be arsed to look at any of it. If I do something on the radio or TV I simply cannot be bothered to listen to it, I can’t. It simply doesn’t interest me. What’s done is done, let’s move on to the next thing.

You have played here in Nottingham before, do you have any fond memories of our fair city?

Yes Kevin of course. A few years ago I loved performing at the Jongleurs comedy club up there in Nottingham. I also love visiting the independent record stores that you have in the city. I have always found Nottingham to be a fun place to walk around. The Royal Concert Hall is modern in its design and I remember it having a great acoustic feel to it. Having spent quite a lot of time performing at Jongleurs over the years I now feel that I know Nottingham pretty well. Nottingham is a great place and I have had some great times there.

On that note let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me.

Not at all Kevin, thank you once again for your interest and I hope to catch up with you at The Royal Concert Hall.