Alan Davies: “TV & radio is frustrating – it’s great to be back doing stand-up”
It’s been more than a decade since Alan Davies’s last live tour. But now he is returning to stand-up, he couldn’t be happier about it.
Davies, who will be back on TV as Jonathan Creek next year, came back to the stand-up scene last year with his first dates since 2000. He toured Australia with his new show, Life Is Pain, and now he is bringing it to the UK.
Alan is that rarity: a comedian who is as funny off-stage is on it.
There is a twinkle in his eye that is mirrored in the sparkle he exudes as a stand-up. Live, he is brighter than a Catherine wheel on bonfire night.
In person, Davies also possesses an infectious, appealing self-deprecating sense of humour. “I recently did a benefit for the Teenage Cancer Trust at the Royal Albert Hall. There were a couple of kids backstage,” he said.
“After the show, one of them came up to me with a frown and said, ‘You’re much funnier and much more intelligent than you are on QI’. I replied, ‘I want you to stop watching that programme immediately! It’s obviously not doing me any good. I always thought that show was ruining me. It makes people think I’m an idiot!'”
Today Davies is bubbling with particular enthusiasm going back on the road. “Last year in Melbourne, I did 16 shows in 16 days, and I absolutely loved it. I’m now really looking forward to bringing the show to the UK.”
“Working on TV and radio can be frustrating,” he adds.
“There are so many people between your idea and the audience. Your idea has a go to a production company, then to a commissioning editor, and finally to a studio to be filmed. There are so many steps to go through. With stand-up, on the other hand, the only step is between your thought and how it comes out of your mouth. It’s a wonderfully immediate experience.”
The comic, who played the title role for 14 years in BBC1’s comedy drama Jonathan Creek, has relished being back in front of a live audience. “It’s like riding a bike,” he beams.
“When you get to the microphone, it immediately feels familiar and lovely. Doing the tour of Australia, I got my love back for stand-up. I thought, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah! This is it! I’ve been right around the world and come back to where I started, and it feels great!”
“It’s fantastic to have that feeling again. It’s just you and an audience in a room. There’s none of the paraphernalia of TV or radio. You’re pleased they’re there, and they’re pleased you’re there. It’s a very simple deal, a lovely contract.”
So why has he been away from the game for so long? “During my last stand up tour, I was also making a documentary and trying to turn my radio show into a TV pilot. I had three things happening at once. I was so tired that on tour, I would sleep in the dressing room and they had to wake me up to go on stage.
“I was just doing too much. It’s stupid to complain about having too many things that lots of other people would be delighted to do. But the problem was, I couldn’t do anything well. So I learned to do one thing at a time and enjoy it.”
Exhausted, Alan decided to take some time out from stand-up. “Then I looked around and several years had gone by. I had lost touch with live comedy. I never expected it would be a 10-year gap. Finally, a good friend who is a comedy promoter persuaded me to do some live gigs when I was touring Australia with a live show of QI last year.”
Alan, who is married with two young children, reflects that his comedy is inevitably different from the last time he was touring. “I’m 46 now, and I’ve got different things to talk about. I couldn’t do the stuff I talked about my 20s now – that would be ridiculous.
“Now I talk about how children change your life and how I haven’t been out for two and a half years since having them! We went to a restaurant once, but we had to go back home after the starter. We had to bring the rest of the meal home in a box!”
In Life Is Pain, Davies takes subject matter a little deeper than you might expect. He talks about his mam passing away, and how it affected his relationship with his dad.
“But don’t worry, there is still quite a lot about how stupid spiders are and how you try to get out of cleaning up after your baby has pooed! There is still a lot of trivia, but you’re less afraid of saying things about your life when you’re more mature.
“I’m less shy now,” he adds. “If you dig around in stuff that is uncomfortable, that can be interesting. Having been gambolling around being frivolous and attention seeking in my 20s, being an idiot on stage seems silly now. But I’m still dreadfully scatological – that’s an affliction I will carry with me to my grave!”
What’s the significance of the show’s title, Life Is Pain? “Even though the title is meant ironically, it turns out that it’s true. Stuff that is very funny can also be painful – as Aristotle would no doubt tell us…
“Stephen [Fry] could also have a very good stab at that subject – he could certainly talk about it for a very long time.
“It is a cliché, but comedy and tragedy are two sides of the same coin. People laugh uproariously at wakes and cry at weddings. Happiness and sadness are two closely related emotions when you start talking about things you really care about.”
Alan Davies: Life is Pain is at Middlesbrough Town Hall on Sunday 3 November. For tickets, call 01642 729 729, or see: middlesbroughtownhallonline.co.uk