Interview: Danny Bhoy
Glasgow funny man Danny Bhoy brings his latest tour show, Messenger (Please Do Not Shoot), to the Newcastle Tyne Theatre on Friday 24th June. Ahead of his performance in the North East, Radio Teesdale’s Katey Wallace went for a chat with Bhoy to talk about the new show, the impact TV comedy has had on British stand-up and the trouble surrounding his name!
KW: Your brand new show, Messenger (Please Do Not Shoot), is coming to Newcastle this week. What can you tell us about it?
DB: When I started writing the show I really only had one piece of material, which was about the history of messengers and how they used to be the guys who stood between war and peace. I was quite fascinated by the concept of it, hence the title. But it’s not really about the now, so it’s just a title, really. It’s fairly free flowing but at the moment I’m talking a lot about the crisis in the world – it’s all very depressing! It’s funny – don’t panic – but that’s just a starting point.
I’ve just came home from a tour of Australia where every place I went to had a catastrophe or a major disaster weeks before so I was starting to think it was my fault – I more or less started writing material that was about that. I don’t want to panic people from Newcastle, but it’s a bad omen!
KW: I presume that in Australia you were discussing disasters that were still quite raw – how did they take to that?
DB: Yeah, I had to push a lot of elephants out of rooms when I first started doing it! I’ve never shied away from talking about things that are relevant. I went to a town in Australia that was completely devastated – even the theatre was only half in use – and you can’t not mention it. I try to just get stuck in; you can make anything funny, you know.
KW: You seem really relaxed on stage – you must get some nerves!
DB: It’s taken time; it’s a very nerve-wracking thing to do anyway. I find it a lot easier now but I’m still always a little nervous because you just don’t know what’s out there. That’s the thing with comedy – until you’re out on stage you have no idea how much the crowd have had to drink, how good their week has been, how bad their week has been, whether they’re young, old. It’s the fear of the unknown that drives the nervous energy.
KW: Well, Glasgow is notorious for tough crowds but you’ve got home advantage there, haven’t you?
DB: Well, you see, it’s interesting you should say that because my name, Danny Bhoy, is lauded by half of Glasgow because it’s a nickname for Celtic supporters. I didn’t choose it for that reason but it means that half of Glasgow immediately warms to me and half already hates me. That is a very difficult ship to steer! I’ve got a joke about my name which I do in Glasgow – I use it as an opening line to try and calm the crowd down.
Rangers supporters are nicknamed the Teddy Bears, I think. I guess to even it out I could walk on dressed as a giant teddy bear with a Celtic top on over the top. ‘We don’t know who this guy is! We can’t boo him but we can’t cheer him either. We might just listen to him.’
KW: That might just work! Are you a football fan at all then?
DB: I am. Believe it or not I’m a Newcastle fan. I grew up on the Scottish borders so it was the closest Premiership team to my home.
KW: Moving back to comedy, your first Fringe show was back in 2001 and very your first gig was in 1999. Take me back to the first gig, the first audience, the first venue – how did you get on?
DB: Well, I walked past a pub in Edinburgh called Christie’s and I was slightly over refreshed, shall we say. I went downstairs and there was comedy night on, and after fifteen minutes or so I went up to the promoter and said, ‘I’d quite like to try this.’ Luckily there was a gap later on in the show. I happened to wear a long, black leather jacket at that time and I put my hands in the pockets, walked on stage, stared at the back of the room while I told a story and they laughed. And that was it, really!
It was very weird – very few people have fallen into comedy the way I did. It just happened one night but after that all the hard work starts; the initial buzz was great, though.
KW: John Bishop mentioned once that he first got on stage because someone offered to buy him a pint if he did. No preparation at all. You must be quite at home with it?
DB: Well, it scared me that night but not nearly as much as it has scared me since. I’d had quite a bit to drink for that first gig but I’ve never since then had a drink before I went on stage. It slowly gets easier over time but you take a lot of deaths at the beginning and a lot of knocks.
Before I got into comedy I studied History at Glasgow University…and I still don’t know to this day what I was planning to do with it. Weirdly Messenger (Please Do Not Shoot) has quite a lot of history in it – funny remarks on history – so I suppose in an odd kind of way it’s paid dividends. At the time I did it because I wasn’t very good at English but didn’t have the brains to do anything scientific.
KW: Well that’s come in handy then! From what I’ve read you’re constantly travelling around the world, but is there anywhere you’ve been where they just don’t ‘get’ your material? Or is British comedy a universal language, so to speak?
DB: Yeah, British comedy is probably the best but it can be the hardest. To answer your first question, I find the United States the one place that alludes me because, especially in the Mid-West and the Deep South, they have a very formulaic way of telling jokes. It’s very meat and two veg – there’s no kind of flair to it. It’s very hard when you try and tell stories because they don’t see them as jokes. You can lose them very quickly. Even American sit-coms are like that, I think.
KW: What kind of comedy do you personally enjoy then? Is it very similar to your own style?
DB: No, not really! People like Andy Zaltzman, Daniel Kitson, Lee Mack – a lot of those guys I grew up wanting to go and see, but they’re constantly changing their act and adapting in interesting ways. They’re all very different but fantastic.
KW: Daniel Kitson is known for shying away from TV work, but Lee Mack has experienced a tremendous amount of success recently. Do you have any plans to involve yourself with television or sitcoms?
DB: Well, I’ve pretty much established myself as a comedian around the world then came back to do it in the UK. I’ve sort of done things the opposite way around. I do think you need a push in your career – and the media certainly do that – but I’m not massively keen on doing too much television. I appeared on Live At The Apollo recently and this tour is almost hinging on that five minute spot! I’d never done any stand-up on TV here, and I was a little sceptical about doing it, but it’s been good and it’s made people more aware of my comedy. Up until then I was doing small rooms and on this tour I’m doing theatres – they’re not selling massive amounts of tickets but it’s still quite exciting!
I think the whole TV thing has gone a bit crazy. I went away for a few years and when I came back I couldn’t believe how popular mainstream comedy had become when I came back. There’s just no legislating for it – sometimes it just happens. When I first started out the BBC would run a mile at the thought of a stand-up show, but it’s become a kind of cheap and good way of filling a Friday night. It turns out, though, that people love comedy on a Friday night and now acts are scrambling for those TV slots to launch their lives careers.
As I said, though, I’m not too fussed about that side of things. I think it’s more important to have the audience you want in the room rather than just someone who’s seen you on television. I like to build and watch it grow. If I come back next year and there’s another 100 people in the room I’d be absolutely delighted.
The thing with TV success is that your whole life changes and I don’t really want to change anything. I quite enjoy seeing my mates, go out and do that sort of stuff. I don’t get home as often as I should or want to, but that’s just the life of a comedian I guess.
KW: What are your plans for the rest of 2011 then? Obviously you’ve got a month-long tour in Britain, but what do you have in mind after that?
DB: I’m just going to find a farm house in France, sip wine and just hide, basically! It’s been a bit of a mental year – I did about 80 shows in Australia, 30 in New Zealand and I’m starting the tour here now; so I’m definitely going to take a bit of time off afterwards!
You can also listen to Katey Wallace’s interview with Danny Bhoy on Radio Teesdale’s website here. Bhoy will be appearing at the Journal Tyne Theatre in Newcastle on Friday 24th June. Further information can be found on their website.