RICHARD Herring returns from a controversy-hit nationwide tour to host next Sunday's Lyric Comedy Night.

The Shepherd's Bush-based comedian, who helped create Alan Partridge and more recently hit the headlines for growing a 'Hitler' moustache, tells Robert Cumber how he believes fame came too soon for him first time around.

THERE was a time when Richard Herring was understandably bitter about his treatment by TV chiefs.

This Morning With Richard Not Judy, the brilliantly odd Sunday morning highlight of his long partnership with Stewart Lee, was building a cult audience when it was cancelled by the BBC in 1999 after just two series.

He later enjoyed success writing for Al Murray's Time Gentlemen Please but initially struggled on his return to stand-up, often playing to tiny audiences.

However, he has enjoyed somewhat of a resurgence in recent years and when I caught up with him, at a café in Aberdeen, towards the end of his hugely popular Christ on a Bike tour, he was in reflective mood.

"It's been a slow process building up a fan base but I'm getting two or three hundred people at most gigs now, whereas before it might have been 50-100," he says.

"Maybe Stewart (Lee) and I did get discovered a bit early. It was quite a rapid ascent and I wonder if we'd got our chance a bit later whether we might have been more successful.

"Nowadays you get comics plucked from obscurity and put on TV and suddenly they're performing at 10,000 seat venues.

"If you don't do the work you're missing quite a lot. I'm learning and improving all the time as a stand-up.

"When I was 24 I probably would have thought it was great to be where Russell Brand or Matt Lucas and David Walliams are but now I think as someone trying to write interesting work that can be as much of a hindrance as a help. If people just accept anything you do that's not necessarily the greatest thing.

"There are times when I feel I've been a bit unlucky but both Stewart and I are having a resurgence and if you have that kind of success it's nice to feel you've earned it.

"This is a job I want to do until I die. If you get too successful you start to piss people off and can have a short shelf life."

Despite this advice, Herring has never been one to avoid controversy.

For his sell-out show Hitler Moustache he bravely grew a Fuhrer-style nostril tickler in a bid to reclaim the look, previously sported by Charlie Chaplin, for comedy. Despite critical acclaim he was forced to defend the show in a letter to the Guardian.

That didn't stop him revisiting his first solo stand-up show Christ On a Bike, in which he jokingly discusses whether he's the new messiah, for his latest tour.

The show, which mixes a surprisingly scholarly approach to Christianity with his trademark mischievous wit, is far from an attack on religion.

However, it has still led to protests outside several venues and sparked furious correspondence in the letters pages of local newspapers, often much to his amusement at the writers missing the point.

"What I do is quite experimental, playing around with the idea of offence, but I now know people who come to see it will have a good idea what to expect," he says.

"Eight years ago people were walking out of gigs quite regularly and that becomes pretty hard to take."

Herring is no stranger to hard work. The 43-year-old claims to have the world's second longest-running daily blog, Warming Up, with more than 3,000 entries since he began writing it in November 2002.

He has just begun a new run of the weekly stand-up and sketch show As It Occurs to Me, with Radio 6 collaborator Andrew Collins, is working on a comedy show for the BBC and when I spoke to him was preparing to appear on Have I Got News For You.

That's not to mention the monthly comedy nights he comperes at the Lyric, where for just £10 audiences have been able to see the likes of Tim Minchin, Dara O'Briain and Al Murray, alongside a number of smaller acts.

"The Lyric's a brilliant venue and it's great to have this opportunity. Most circuit acts never get the chance to play a 500-seat theatre and the big names we get, who are used to playing to 10,000 people, like being able to try new material with a smaller audience," he says.

"I'm really excited about the line-up for this month and we've got some great acts, including Stewart (Lee), coming later in the year."

This month's Lyric Comedy Night is on Sunday, May 29, at 8pm. Tickets, priced £10-15, are available at or from the box office on 0871 2211 722.

The line-up features:

SHAPPI KHORSANDI – The Iranian-born comedian has made numerous radio appearances, including her own show, Shappi Talk. Her TV credits include Have I Got News For You and Question Time.

ROBIN INCE – Having started his comedy career as a writer for the likes of Graham Norton and Ricky Gervais, he is now probably most famous for his comedy revue show The Book Club.

MATTHEW HARDY – One of the first Aussie comics to cement himself full-time on the UK live circuit, he is the author of best-selling book Saturday Afternoon Fever and was also part of the BAFTA-winning The Sketch Show writing team for ITV.

JOSH WIDDICOMBE – Having made it to the final of the prestigious So You Think You're Funny competition at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2008, his first year on the comedy circuit, he was last year named Leicester Mercury Comedian of the Year.