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Laurence Rickard: ‘Horrible Histories’, the world of comedy, and co-stars

The Tab sat down with comedy writer and actor Laurence Rickard, who is best known for his role on hit show ‘Horrible Histories’


Earlier this month, The Tab sat down with comedy writer and actor, Laurence Rickard before he later spoke at the Cambridge Union. Rickard is most well known for his role in the show Horrible Histories which has received 20 major awards, including four successive BAFTAs. Following this, Rickard has written and starred in various other successful shows, including Yonderland and Ghosts. He reflected on his entry into the world of comedy, experience in shows, and relationships with his co-stars.

Rickard photographed at the Cambridge Union before his talk (Image credits: Flo Tawns)

Entering the world of comedy

Rickard described how a career in comedy was something he had always wanted to do. He had “no other plan and no fallback” so he “had to make it work”.  After writing his first sitcom script at 17, he later went to university to study film, television, and drama where he met people whom he still works with today.  His career was a “very slow snowball up until Horrible Histories”, which happened as a “combination of experience and huge amounts of luck”.

Rickard describes how he always wanted to do comedy; drama was “fun” but he would “always end up accidentally putting jokes in”. He particularly enjoys how “tricky writing comedy is […] you have to do plot and character and everything else but you also have to make people laugh”. “The pressure of it” is what makes it so appealing to him. In particular, when he has done previews with a live audience he loves being able to hear “the theoretical laughs land in a room of people.”

Writing and acting

Although he knows “a lot of writers who seem to really hate it and it’s sort of like this weird punishment that they can’t stop”, Rickard attested to how he does really “enjoy writing”. However, he believes that the “luckiest thing about the position I’m in at the moment is that you get to do both. After six months of sitting at your desk writing, it’s really nice to go and mess around with your friends on set.” Equally, he describes how “at the end of a long shoot […] it’s very nice to go and sit back in the study” to do some writing.

Rickard reflected on how when creating new shows, “I’m sort of always thinking about it […] but in a really nice positive way”. He described how he’s “constantly sort of rolling through” ideas in his head. However, “there is a discipline” to writing comedy, and there are “there are mechanics to it”. Rickard always tries “not to be too cynical in my approach. I just write what makes me laugh.”

A packed chamber at the Cambridge Union for Laurence Rickard (Image credits: Flo Tawns)

The educational aspect

Rickard reflected on how when creating new shows, “I’m sort of always thinking about it […] but in a really nice positive way”. He described how he’s “constantly sort of rolling through” ideas in his head. However, “there is a discipline” to writing comedy, and there are “there are mechanics to it”. Rickard always tries “not to be too cynical in my approach. I just write what makes me laugh.”

A packed chamber at the Cambridge Union for Laurence Rickard (Image credits: Flo Tawns)

The educational aspect

He reflected on how this was a very different way to how he was taught history. He described an A-Level history which he “completely fluffed” because he “just didn’t enjoy doing it. It was so thick with context that my interest in the subject waned before you got to the good bit”.

On whether it was hard to balance factual accuracy with keeping the show entertaining, Rickard describes how it was about finding the “ingredients that worked”. Of 10 original sketches that were written for Horrible Histories, “only one of them had the right combination of elements”. However, “once we had found what the ingredients were, it became easier to apply.”

Laurence Rickard answering audience questions at the Cambridge Union (Image credits: Flo Tawns)

Co-stars

Since Horrible Histories, Rickard has starred in many other shows with his co-stars, including programmes Yonderland and Ghosts. He describes how when they were coming towards the end of shooting the first series of Horrible Histories, he realised that “I really like these people, and everyone felt the same”. They realised it would “be great to do something else together”, so in the green room at lunchtime they would “kick stuff about”, working on a TV idea, which became Yonderland, and a film, which became Bill, and “luckily we got to do both”.

When asked whether they ever have creative differences or disagreements, Rickard reflected on how “every now and then we do […] because we know them so well”. He states how “everyone knows that any frustrations […] are about a very genuine desire to make the best product”, but luckily “those moments are few and far between”.

Rickard also described the process of working alongside his co-stars when creating a new show. They “always start around the table, all six of us, and beat out ideas, lines, gags”. He says “then we take them away and write them individually or in pairs, and then they come back around the table and we all edit them together.” He states how “we’ve grown to trust each other more” as they have worked together for so many years.

Rickard seemed to be enjoying himself at the Cambridge Union (Image credits: Flo Tawns)

Achievements

When asked what he was most proud of in his career, Rickard stated that “the fact that so much of our audience has followed us through across the last 15 years is the most rewarding thing”. In terms of awards, he reflected on how their first British Comedy Award “meant so much to us because we were a sketch show on CBBC, we were a kids show”. He describes how “we were all just completely shocked” to win the award. He noted that him and his co-stars have “been so lucky to have had the reception that we’ve had down the years”.

The future

Turning to the future, Rickard revealed that “we’re thinking about doing stuff in different media”, and that he is hoping to try “something more dramatic”. He observed that now he’s “a little older, I feel more confident to do it without accidentally just putting in jokes”.

Whatever that may be, Rickard is unlikely to disappear anytime soon, as “it’s always tempting to do something we haven’t done before”.