Interview: Rarely Asked Questions – Julian Dutton

Well they do say comedy is nearly all about timing, so jolly good show to Julian Dutton who, as the title below suggests, is performing a show about Dad's Army star John Le Mesurier just as the classic sitcom celebrates its fiftieth birthday. Dutton is well suited to the part. He is a masterful impressionist – you may have seen him on BBC One's The Big Impression. He has also done some thorough research about his subject. Here is an anecdote he tells about the famously languid actor.
"In 1968 John Le Mesurier's agent rang him up to offer him the part in Dad's Army. 
'Oh and they want to know if you can run, John.' 
'Of course I can't run. But I remember the real Home Guard, and I never saw any of them run - except possibly to the pub.'
Do You Think That's Wise? – The Life and Times of John Le Mesurier is at Laughing Horse at Cabaret Voltaire from August 2 - 26. Info here.

1. What is the last thing you do before you go onstage (apart from check your flies and/or check your knickers aren't sticking out of your skirt and check for spinach between your teeth)?
I was a pacer doing stand-up but doing the John Le Mesurier show I've found that I have to force myself to be totally and utterly calm. He was such a languid, almost Zen-like actor it's impossible to be nervous and give a good performance - so the last thing I do now before going onstage is adopt a state of utter Buddhist-like tranquility. I'm still working on it. That is, I still pace a bit - but I'm basing it on the 'pacing school' of Buddhism. 

2. What irritates you?
Everything. I've reached the age now where I'm out of step with almost the entire culture. Nearly everything I grew up with is now gone/irrelevant/discredited/mocked - so consequently everything inside my head has become completely at odds with the zeitgeist. I think they call it 'cognitive dissonance' or something. I don't feel at home in the 21st century AT all - I feel that mentally I'm an Edwardian that's been transported to a planet of the future. I disagree with almost everything everyone says. It's awful. A (small) recent example - a journalist in the Times is now saying Monty Python 'wasn't funny.' That kind of thing drives me nuts. It's like a bullet-hole in one's youth. Also, generalisations drive me up the wall. Such as - 'the whole of history has been a patriarchy.' Absolute nonsense. 90 per cent of all men throughout history have been slaves.
I want to say to the new generation - go on then, take the stage, create your own civilisation! Be our guests. Stop moaning about the one we created and create one as good as we did. God I sound horrible don't I. You asked! But I'm also cognisant that every generation feels like this - I mean, even in the 1590's a historian called John Aubrey was complaining about London becoming over-developed. I know it's only because I'm in my 50's that I find the whole of humanity insanely annoying - and of course knowing this allows a certain inner peace. Oh - and another thing I dislike is the left happily and merrily saying things like 'Tory scum' and 'hang all Tories,' and the like, but as soon as anyone starts criticising John McDonnell or Corbyn or whoever, all hell breaks loose. Viz. the Tracey Ullman sketch lampooning Corbyn. You'd have thought Tracy Ullman had insulted Allah or something.
3. What is the most dangerous thing you have ever done?
I've parachute jumped but loved it and trusted the training and equipment so to me there was no danger, only a state of insane bliss. Probably swimming in the sea in the middle of the night in Brighton. A group of us had written a radio series - me, Richard Herring, Stewart Lee, Peter Baynham - and it was on tour. We were in Brighton and late at night we all decided to jump into the sea, drunk. I can't remember who else dived in - I know Stewart Lee definitely did. I loved the first couple of minutes but then the dark water began to freak me out. I've had a fear of dark water ever since.    

4. What is the most stupid thing you have ever done?
Where do I begin? I once got drunk in Brighton with Harry Hill (a different time to the above, but Brighton again, that saucy mistress of the south coast) and climbed four-floors of scaffolding on the side of a building in the middle of the night. I swayed there on the top in the wind for a few moments before thinking - what the hell am I doing? I inched my way down gingerly with Harry offering words of encouragement interspersed with cackles of laughter.   

5. What has surprised you the most during your career in comedy?
How wonderfully democratic and meritocratic the world of comedy is. I started in the world of the theatre and found that very snobbish, autocratic, almost feudal in comparison. Quite odd for an industry that is supposedly left-leaning. But in comedy, if you can do it, you'll get on. Simple as that. Of course there's a pecking order, but if you can do it, people don't care where you came from. When I began in radio comedy in the 90's I walked in off the streets, handed a pile of sketches to a producer, and they were on the radio two days later. I love people who 'do' comedy. They're all nuts of course, but I would rather be around comedy people than anyone in the world, and since I began in it I've felt at home. 
Interview continues here.


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