Classic Interview: Alan Davies: Page 2 of 3

alan davies

BD: What was doing QI live like?

AD: Me, Stephen and three Australians. They charge a fortune for tickets, which Stephen and I were narked about because we weren't getting that much. For some reason it all fell apart in London, i think they have to pay too many people. Production companies, us. Maybe should have got Mick to promote it!
It works well. We are free to say what we want, it was a very successful event. I'm sure it would work well here, but it is one thing zipping around Australia flying from Melbourne to Perth, different getting in a van and driving around the East Midlands in the winter doing 101 dates."

BD: You are always on Dave? That kept your profile up over the years.

AD: Yes, but it's madness. I wish they wouldn't run repeats when there is a new series on BBC2. It's good that they want it, but these are new, the ones that have just been on are old, I shoudn't complain, I wouldn't get paid,  We are filming more in April/May to go out in autumn. Doing K."

BD: How do you feel about the current popularity of panel shows?

AD: I used to do the panel shows and I get asked to do Would I Lie to You and 8 Out of 10 Cats and I usually give it a thought and then on balance decide I'd rather stay at home. I do 16 QIs a year, I think that's enough.

BD: Do you have a favourite apart from your own?

AD: I think Would I Lie is very funny, hilarious. I'm a huge fan of David Mitchell, it's just that I did a lot of panel shows 20 years ago. You can't do them all your life or you go a bit mad. Have I Got News For You do one a week and it takes an hour, that's the best way.

BD: QI is one of the more female-friendly shows isn't it?

AD: There's not so much testosterone in it. That's deliberate and that's how i like it. Mock the Week is not for me at all. Those are the extremes. I'm good mates with Dara O'Briain but don't like having to elbow my way in for space.

BD: Do you avoid the show because they are full of strutting young turks and you are one of the old guard?

alan daviesAD: I'm only 46 I've got a long way to go. I'm like a fine wine. I'm maturing. Is that right. Or am I like a mature cheese? Stinky. The people I revered were people like Dave Allen, who I saw in the West End in 1991 when he was around 60. And I saw Bill Cosby at the Albert Hall in the early 90s. He did two and half hours, just ambled out, had a chair and rug no set no music, warm ovation, starts talking never used the chair, genuine standing ovation at the end, not just cheerleaders. Very very funny, touching, almost moving at times. He talked about families, love, parenting.

BD: What about the rise of Jack Whitehall? Is it like you know you are getting old because the policemen seem younger, except its comedians, not bobbies?

AD: You could crack it in your 20s if you had the talent when I was young too. Mark Lamarr was on The Word in his twenties. Kevin Bridges and Whitehall are extremely talented, I'm a big Bridges fan. He has the demeanour and deliver of someone twice his age...

BD: ...And, by the look of him, the cholesterol level too...

AD: Jack is very talented. If he did the clubs he could be great but understandably he's been distracted by TV because he's a pretty good actor. I remember talking to Matt Lucas and he asked me whether he should stay on at Bristol University and I said 'get out and do the circuit.  You are very talented just gig as much as you can.'

BD: The business seems very healthy at the top end moment.

AD: There are a lot more comedians making a shit load of money, that's the difference between now and the nineties. I can see why young comedians might want some of that and maybe think to themselves 'in fact I think i'm better than that'. In my day Ben Elton was our leader, doing one night at the Hammersmith Odeon like him was the biggest ambition.

BD: Gigs at the O2 are pretty lucrative though...

AD: My ticket prices at Hammersmith are £25. It's not like a gig where you pass hat around. If it was at the O2 it would be the same show but miles away. It's an awful place but you can charge nearly double for an audience four times the size, so imagine the exponential growth of your income. Young comics must think of those people ahead of you making shitloads of money, that's made a different mood on the circuit.

And there is so much stand-up on TV. One of the things that was agreed upon when I was in my twenties was that you could not do stand-up on television. Then somehow with Live at the Apollo they cracked it. It always looked like a great night out that you were not part of. But the way they light it, edit it well so everyone gets five star review. The reality is that when you see them it's not the same. but you have to go to arenas. It's the only way you can see them and they do deliver. The downside of it and it is a bit of  a shame is it just gets greedy after a while. You see one show that costs £40 each so you end up spending nearly £200 for a family and you won't got to your local comedy club, you feel you've done comedy this month. People on the circuit are saying times are hard because too much money is being taken out by the big acts.

BD: Comedy is a meritocracy though isn't it?

AD: It's always been a free market. We had meetings at The Red Rose Club two decades ago trying to organise a comedian's union with Ivor Dembina and Mark Kelly and other assorted socialists. Get everyone paid the same. But then Kelly said you can't unionise a workforce that is basically contented! We were all small businesses but lefties who set up a free market. Like Edinburgh, its a free market, that's all it is, if you don't like it move.

BD: How do you look back on your start?

AD: It's my 25th anniversary this March. I did my first gig in Whitstable Labour Club in 1988. The Black Cat was August 1988 when I started properly out of university trying to get gigs.

BD: Have your concerns changed?

AD: I got very emotional over te shooting in that school as a parent and that kid shot in pub car park in Liverpool. Once you hear it's a child it hurts as a parent. I feel as strongly about things but whether I'm able to be as active as my peers i don't know. If someone says there's a march let's go, it's not as easy, you need a babysitter, bit of that. Parenthood does affect the way you think about things, their welfare and well-being. My children are 3 and 1. It makes me think about that all the time, but it's more difficult nowadays, you are being smothered by so many issues you  you can't unite and fight one thing. the one thing we are supposed to be furious about is global warming but is the sun just having a funny turn for a couple of centuries I've no idea? CND was clearer what you opposed – there was a strategy in place for an engagement for a limited European nuclear theatre.

BD: I thought you went to Greenham Common because you fancied one of the protestors at Uni?

AD: There was that as well. I'm still a member of the Labour Party, still on the left, but it's hard to be as partisan, it used to be like football, if a player played for Arsenal he was great if he played for Tottenham he couldn't be. It used to be like that with Labour and Tories. Now I look at any politician on Question Time and can't tolerate it, they just go into a default position trying to score points, it's like Mock the Week to the power of ten, and it is worse in the states where they nearly destroyed the economy.

BD: But times have changed since you went to the public school in Essex that you hated

AD: I was asked to give out prizes at a local school and I asked one boy how he was doing and he said 'my attendance is good.' At my school it was inconceivable that attendance would count for anything. That was a basic expectation.

BD: What's your relationship like with Stephen on QI?

AD: He does an amazing job. I think they would like him to not be filming a documentary in the morning and going to a concert in the evening. But he has his elves making him look even cleverer, he has cards, people screaming in his ear and we are all sitting there with no help at all. Producer John Lloyd is very clever.

BD: How about your beloved Arsenal. Happy with Arsene Wenger?

AD: It's the most extended endgame in football history.

BD: You like Twitter don't you?

AD: It passes the time on location, But I think on balance if they shut it down tomorrow i wouldn't miss it. Or Facebook or the Internet."

BD: When I saw you do the show in Edinburgh last summer you said your arm was aching. How is it now?

AD: The microphone was hurting, so I started to use a headset microphone. It would stiffen up, it only happened at UK stand-up gigs. I think it is since I had second child and picking them up constantly...

BD: You are not horrible about people onstage. Are you trying to avoid being a grumpy old man?

AD: I still don't feel comfortable attacking people, 'what about that cunt I hate him for these reasons.' I've never been like that. I end up being the fall guy, the victim of the tale somewhere. I think comedy should be personal, about you, and if there is any truth in it it will hopefully resonate with people in the room, like when I'm talking about my grandfather having Parkinsons, there's people around the room and I'm sure they know someone who has Alzheimers, cancer in hospital. everyone has got their story.

BD: You talk about the death of your mother when you were six in this show in a way you have never done before...

AD: I guess it's having a bit of distance. Being older. When I was in my twenties I was very ambitious to get on, even if I didn't know where to. I was fearful of content of show exposing myself. Therapy for a few years helped. I started when I came off the circuit, people said it will make you unfunny, but that was ridiculous, it makes you more comfortable about where you are."

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