Interview: Alan Davies

Interview: Hazel Ward
Illustrations: James Taplin
Friday 07 November 2014
reading time: min, words

Some might know him from the telly as Stephen Fry’s sidekick on QI, some as the lovable magician-cum-detective Jonathan Creek, but Alan Davies is also a dab hand at stand-up and he’s rolling through town with his new show.....


He’s been a detective (Jonathan Creek), a gay man in love with a straight woman (Bob and Rose) and spends much of his time being affably baffled on QI, providing a foil to Stephen Fry’s genius quizmaster role. But when we caught up with him, he was in ‘dad’ mode, walking with his children across Hampstead Heath and offering helpful advice on blackberry picking. While he may be one of Britain’s favourite comedians, his children evidently don‘t see anything special in having a dad who regularly has his mug plastered on theatre billboards as he reveals that “my two think that everybody has their picture on the tube sometimes. They’ve not quite worked it out yet.”

They may be seeing a lot more of their dad on the sides of buses, though. After a rather lengthy break, Davies returned to the stand-up scene in 2012 with a hit new show, Life is Pain, which toured the UK, Australia and New Zealand. His new show, Little Victories, is garnering critical acclaim, which made us wonder why it took Davies over a decade to return to his comedy roots.

“I slightly fell out of love with touring. I do lots of drama on television too, lots of long shoots,” he explains. “Once you’ve done four or five months of a film shoot, you don’t want to do anything else for the rest of the year, it takes you right away from stand-up. Plus, it’s quite hard to do The Comedy Store on the late show when people are away from the telly and they’re drunk and they wanna shout things. So I fell out of it a little bit, but I didn’t anticipate it being as long as it was.” Wryly honest, he continues, “I wrote a book that no one bought, then I did a sitcom that got cancelled after one series, and I started to think I should do the thing that I’m best at, really. I was podcasting a lot about football, that was funny but there’s no money in it. I just combined these different things, and went back out to do shows. I didn’t know how it would go and fortunately it’s been a huge success which has been very gratifying. Plus, I really enjoy going round the country.”

Luckily Davies hasn’t had many bad experiences with touring, although he’s had run-ins with the bane of performers everywhere, the heckler. “Years ago, in the nineties, I had a pair of lime green, moleskin trousers. I can’t imagine wearing them today but they were comfortable and I liked them. I wore them for my DVD recording in 1998. Anyway, I was doing the show one time and someone shouted out, from right up in the gods, ‘Are you colour blind?!’ I had no idea what they were referring to. The audience laughed, and the penny dropped that he was talking about my trousers. It was a good heckle. If you really want to heckle a comedian and put them off, point something out about their appearance. They’re as vulnerable on that as anybody else.”

It’s not the jibes that cut the closest, however, but the lack of any reaction – the disconcerting sound of silence. Davies recounts a gig in Glasgow where he was forewarned about the Glaswegian crowds, “It turned out to be the mildest, meekest audience I’ve ever had - you had to berate them to get any kind of reaction out of them. Once I’d done that a bit, they had a good time and the show was good fun but I was like, ‘What’s the matter with you lot?’ They said ‘ah, the people that come to your show are not really hard drinking Glaswegians, they’re the more cerebral types.’ I was like okay, whatever. [Laughs].”

Alan Davies’ other big project is, of course, QI – the witty panel show that’s currently steaming through the alphabet (the new series concerns all things ‘L’). With seemingly endless repeats on comedy channel Dave, its popularity seems assured. How does Davies view the success? “I’m totally into it now. For a while I wondered if I should keep doing it seeing as it’s repeated about 85 times a week, and everyone essentially thought I was a complete idiot. I wondered whether I’d get a job doing anything else other than being an idiot. I’m over that now, I realise it’s a privileged position to be in – in that chair next to Stephen for all these years. And certainly, I’m committed to get to Z. We’ll see how we go when we’re halfway through.”

It’s obvious that Davies has cheerfully resigned himself to filling the ‘panel idiot’ role on QI, although he jokes that he’s been the unwitting victim of devious QI producer John Lloyd for the past ten years. “But you know, the rewards are just about enough to keep me in the seat. Stephen has an army of researchers preparing all his material for him, and I get nothing at all. So they show you the questions when you turn up and they make no sense whatsoever - they spend months trying to work out traps for me to fall into.” Asked if he‘s ever tempted to do his homework and turn the tables on Fry, he answers, “Not really, I’m too lazy to do that and I think it would create an awkward experience all round. He doesn’t like having the rug pulled from under his feet, he likes to be in charge, so we’ll leave him where he is.”

However self-deprecating Davies may be, he’s clearly got a handle on many talents. The aforementioned book, released in 2009 and titled My Favourite People and Me, 1978-88, was not a resounding success, as Davies freely admits, but he was pleased it was done without the aid of a ghost writer. He says he “can sort of get why it didn’t sell, but at the same time, much of it, I’m really quite proud of. I spent a lot of time on it. The trouble is, there are so many celebrities with books out, and they all get put out around Christmas, it’s so easy to dismiss them.” He seems pretty sure he has another book in him somewhere, but for now he’s sticking with the thrill of live laughter.

However, Davies is realistic when it comes to the art of comedy, and how hard it is to keep momentum. “It’s not like being a songwriter where you might have a purple period where you sell five billion albums. You have to keep plugging away. Your life changes, so your material changes. You’ll never be flavour of the month again, but you’ve hopefully got good quality stuff.” Judging by reactions from fans on this tour, he’s not got much to worry about.

Alan Davies’ Little Victories, Nottingham Royal Concert Hall, Thursday 13 November, 8pm, £20 - £25

Alan Davies on Twitter

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