Classic Interview: Danny Wallace

Danny Wallace

Danny Wallace is a journalist and TV presenter and for a while he shared a flat with comedian Dave Gorman. Then one day in the late 1990s he made a drunken wager with Gorman, betting him that he couldn't find lots of other Dave Gormans. Gorman rose to the challenge and as a result the acclaimed show Are You Dave Gorman? was born. Wallace later wrote the 2005 book, Yes Man, based on his idea of saying "yes" to everything for six months, which he doggedly carried out. Yes Man was turned into a Hollywood movie starring Jim Carrey. This interview took place in the Groucho Club in Soho on the eve of the film's release in 2008. It was first published in The Reader's Digest.

 

At 13, he was writing reviews for video games magazines and at 22 he became one of BBC radio’s youngest-ever producers. His best-selling books include Join Me and Random Acts of Kindness, and he has presented TV shows as well.

Yet the bespectacled Dundee-born 32-year-old’s fortunes have just gone stratospheric, thanks to the power of answering in the affirmative. His hit book Yes Man detailed his six-month experiment saying “Yes” to every question asked of him. Now it has been turned into a big-budget comedy starring Jim Carrey and opened the doors of Hollywood for Wallace. His story is the ultimate example of the power of positive thinking.

Ironically, the concept for Yes Man came out of heartbreak. Wallace had broken up with his girlfriend and was depressed. “You close up a bit when something like that happens,” he recalls. “Saying ‘No’ when your friends ask you to go out becomes a habit.”

Then he met a mystery Indian man on a London bus who advised him that the way out of his malaise would be to say “Yes” to every request.

Danny decided to try it for 24 hours: “The first thing was a phone call from a man asking if I wanted double glazing. I said ‘Yes’ and we arranged a meeting.

Then I remembered I already had double glazing, so I told him. He asked, ‘Are you wasting my time?’ and I said, ‘Yes.’ I realised there and then that this could be interesting.”

Giving affirmative answers over the next six months resulted in Wallace buying a car he did not want, flying to Singapore for a weekend when a magazine advertisement suggested it and to Holland when invited by e-mail scammers. He spent time in Wales with a hypnotist and his fez-wearing dog (who can also hypnotise people) and had to endure an excruciating dinner with his ex and her new boyfriend when they asked him to join them.

Yet, in the end, everything worked out for Wallace. Saying “Yes” to a request from an Australian girl called Lizzie to buy her a ticket for the Edinburgh Festival led to him finding a new girlfriend. The six months ended with the biggest “Yes” of all – Danny and Lizzie are now married.

“The experiment opened my eyes to the realisation that ‘Yes’ is a word of change and ‘No’ is a dead end. You should try to say ‘Yes’ to everything because how do you know what the right thing to do is?

“Almost every self-help guide could be replaced with three words: Say Yes More. I Googled ‘I Wish I’d Said Yes’ and ‘I Wish I’d Said No’. The latter were pretty trivial things, but the ‘Yes’ things were sometimes unbearable: ‘I wish I’d hugged him’ and ‘I miss her, I wish I’d said yes because I miss her so much now.’ ”

The film version of Yes Man transplants the action from London to Los Angeles, but the inspiring tone remains. “I was very aware that a film about a man who lives in Bow and shops in Argos would not bust any blocks,” he smiles. “There are moments when Jim’s driving at 150 miles per hour and I never did that in my Nissan Figaro. But the way the story pans out gets the message across.”

Wallace is delighted with Carrey’s portrayal of him. “He really throws himself into it, literally. In a bar he bumps into a waitress and does this incredible ankles-over-head pratfall. He cracked a couple of ribs, but he said it was worth it. I’m in the film too. I play ‘man at bar.’ Those who can lip read will see that I am saying, ‘I have other books available in all good bookshops.’ ”

If the film has a similar impact to the book, it will change people’s lives.

“I get e-mails from people all round the world saying they’ve done this and that and have ended up in odd places. For some reason, quite often they’ve married South American women. One guy e-mailed to tell me he said ‘Yes’ to becoming a blacksmith, which is probably not a growth industry, but something he always wanted to do.”

Wallace’s power of positive thinking is most definitely a growth industry. Production companies Blueprint and Film4 have optioned Join Me, his tale of forming his own friendly cult, and Miramax is looking at his latest book Friends Like These, about tracing old mates.

With TV and other job offers now flooding in, the only downside of his success is that he’s going to have to renege on his own philosophy and learn to say that dreaded two-letter word – “No”!

 

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