Dave Gorman interview
As he prepares to go on the road within days of becoming a father for the first time, Dave Gorman opens up about what makes him tick as a performer, and explains why he has one of the most enviable jobs in comedy.
From early shows like Are You Dave Gorman? to his latest smash-hit TV series, Modern Life Is Goodish, Gorman’s unique comic adventures have enthralled and entertained, both on his travels and in cyberspace.
Now, as he prepares to play Middlesbrough Town Hall on Saturday 21 November with his show, Dave Gorman Gets Straight To The Point* (*The Powerpoint), he tells Mark Wareham how he owes it all to two great British 20th-century dames, Mrs Thatcher and Mrs Merton.
For verification purposes, are you Dave Gorman?
Yes, I still am. I tried to start a rumour that it was a stage name and that I was an actor called Matthew Street, but you could see people thinking, ‘Then everything he’s done is a lie,’ so it didn’t take hold.
And are you ready for impending parenthood?
I feel as prepared as I can be. There’s this huge industry around babies, all these books… I started reading one but I gave up really quickly. They set up this idyll, and if you’re not doing it you feel you’re failing as a parent. I think if he’s still alive then we’re succeeding. So I’m going to ignore the books and be a clumsy idiot who gets away with it. That’s my tactic. Keeping it alive.
Is it a boy?
Yes, it’s going to be a boy.
No. I definitely wouldn’t do that to it. God, no.
You’ve just had your TV show Modern Life Is Goodish recommissioned by Dave for two more series. Are you pleased about the amount of work you’ve now got lined up?
Yes and no. It’s weird. These commissions are the only times in my life I’ve ever known my diary beyond three months ahead, and it’s quite unsettling having a bit of a future mapped out. I’m not used to that at all. I guess it probably does suit someone who’s about to have a baby.
Did you imagine the show would be so successful?
You never know. It’s as much luck as judgment. Normally, when you get a second series, someone will say, ‘We like it, but this could be changed.’ But right away, they said, ‘We don’t want to change anything.’
It’s genuinely fortunate. I don’t think I was a scheming genius who got it all right. But it’s also been successful by not being made in the way that so much telly is made.
What I’m good at is long-form stuff where everything ties up. I’m not good at five-minute sets, and telly works well for comics who can be cut up and edited.
Telly doesn’t like to relinquish control. They want to make the show in the editing suite. For a half-hour show they want to record 90 minutes and use all the best bits. And ‘all the best bits’, to me, never feels like a show. It feels chopped.
Our show is an hour on telly, 45 minutes with ad breaks, and the longest recording we’ve done is 55. We aim to do 50. Cut out the ums and uhs. That’s all. We’re never going, let’s cut out five minutes of material. Telly people really resist that cos they don’t like the lack of a safety net.
What’s the process? Are you always road-testing stuff?
Constantly. I do a monthly new-material night where I put on four really good acts, and try out new stuff. Then before we go into the studio I’ll do dry runs in theatres and get it down to time. I’ve never written a paper script. It’s a jigsaw puzzle in your head.
When you do the live stuff, does that feel like a breath of fresh air? Do you prefer it?
I do. But making the TV show is like doing live stuff. We deliberately don’t record it in a TV studio. You see a lot of TV shows where the audience are sitting behind a bank of Dalek-sized cameras craning their necks to watch it on a tiny monitor. So we imbued the production team with the sense that our job is to give these people a good night.
But the joy of live is, you have an idea, and you say it that night and you get immediate feedback. And it’s really good fun. A couple of my friends throw up before every gig. I don’t know how they carry on. It’s the most enjoyable way of spending an evening. So with the live show, the ratio of fun to work is much better.
Do you ever feel like you’re a comedy spokesperson for all things tech?
I don’t feel like I am. I’ll use some tweets in a show and people go, ‘Ooh. Isn’t he modern?’ But Twitter’s just a place where a conversation is happening. I don’t see any reason why an anecdote about going to the shops is old-fashioned and a conversation on Twitter should feel modern.
Maybe it’s because you embraced it so early on?
But it’s where we all live. It’s not like my mum doesn’t use the internet. People say, ‘How can Powerpoint be funny?’ By not using it to show you sales figures from the third quarter.
It’s just a way of showing you stuff. People get so locked into what they think is the zeitgeist. And I think just treating it as normal, rather than being worshipful of it as technology, is the difference. I actually think the show’s really old-fashioned. It’s completely not in love with the technology. It’s using it.
Looking at the span of your career, there’s a very optimistic, almost romantic feel to your work. Is that waning as you get older?
I don’t think it is actually. What I think underpins all the stuff I’m doing now is, why can’t this be better? It’s people taking things for granted that I dislike. It’s that kind of slapdash, oh this’ll do attitude. That’s what I hate most. The laziness. Telling people not to tolerate things feels as positive as what I’ve done before.
Somebody once said American comics say, ‘This is how it is folks,’ and British comics say, ‘Why’s it like this?’ Some comedy is saying, ‘Aren’t I clever,’ but I just want the audience to go away thinking the world’s nicer and bigger and friendlier and stranger than they thought when they arrived.
That’s quite unusual in comedy. The default position tends to be one of cynicism and chipping away at stuff.
I don’t know if that’s true. There’s a lot of that, but I grew up loving Morecambe and Wise, Kenny Everett and The Young Ones. I didn’t come away from those shows thinking, ‘Yeah, that’s put the world to rights.’
Going back to when you started out in the early 90s, you stopped your degree to take up comedy. Was there a specific moment when you made that decision?
Sort of. I did my first gig at the end of my first year and remarkably it went well. My 3rd or 4th gig was awful but I’d tasted this thing that was brilliant and wanted to do it again. So I threw myself into it and I didn’t go to any lectures in my second year.
In Manchester it was a very small circuit, so I was doing open spots in Leicester, Nottingham and Birmingham. I’d already made my mind up, but I had to wait until I’d failed so I could tell my parents and move on and go on the Enterprise Allowance Scheme. I’m one of Thatcher’s children. By the end of it I was self-sufficient, so it actually worked.
If I’d had a degree to fall back on, I’d have had a safety net. Nothing motivates you more than ‘this had better work’. When you’ve called your mum up and said, ‘I’m dropping out of the maths degree and oh, I haven’t told you, but for the past year I’ve been doing stand-up…’
You hadn’t even told them?
No. I never told anyone. The first time two of my flatmates found out was when they saw me on TV. I’d been living with them for a year and they didn’t know. The job is entertaining strangers, not your mates. The last thing I want is a clique in the audience coming along and over-laughing. I’m not interested in that.
Back in those early days, what do you remember about writing for The Mrs Merton Show?
I loved it. What a learning experience. If I have a bloody-minded streak, it’s nothing compared to Caroline [Aherne]. But it was a very informed bloody-minded streak. She really understood what she was doing. We had Patrick Lichfield as a guest, the photographer and Queen’s cousin.
Caroline was showing him Mrs Merton’s family photos, and they were out of focus and awful and the funny was, after two or three bland ones, there was a shocking one and seeing his face react to it. He cracked up.
The director was saying, ‘Can we just do a quick pick-up, can you hold the photo in that hand Caroline and we’ll just put a camera over your shoulder and see it.’ And she said, ‘When the audience sees what it is, it won’t be as funny. What’s funny is the audience wondering what the f*** has made him react like that.’
The director said, ‘We’ll just do it anyway, we don’t have to use it.’ And she just refused. ‘You will use it. You think the audience needs to see everything and it doesn’t. I’m just not doing it. You’ll ruin the joke.’
And she was absolutely right. It was a really influential place to be, with something that was quite different and quite brave. It was a lesson in where to toe the line and when to stand your ground.
People who haven’t seen you live before, but know you from the TV show, might not get the connection. But how will the tour be different?
There’ll be some swearing, but not much. The biggest difference is that everything I do gathers momentum through the show. But on the TV show you have ad breaks, so I need restart buttons. Whereas live you set it going and it never stops, it gets denser and deeper and more involved, so it’s pacier and more ferocious.
I’m always layering things and it’s so much easier to do that when you’ve got an hour and a half to just head in one direction. It’s just a more satisfying bullet train. Gather, gather, gather… That’s the thing for me.
No interval either.
I do have a support act, Nick Doody, who’s worked on every series of Modern Life Is Goodish, so it really is Team Goodish on the road. We collaborate a lot and we do a thing together at the end, so it’s all tied up and hopefully feels like a gang show. He’s never had a bad gig on the tour and I feel evangelical about introducing him to people.
How do you see your Powerpoint show panning out in the future? Arena seminars, maybe?
No. It’s very easy to say, when you’re not in a position to sell out an arena, that I wouldn’t want to do one. But I’ve seen a couple of big shows and I didn’t enjoy them. I’d rather do more nights at the South Bank Centre than the O2 cos that’s the fun-sized room to play where I’m together with the audience.
I live a very undisturbed life doing a thing I enjoy. I’m very lucky and the idea that I would trade that for bigger ticket receipts and take a more disturbed life doesn’t sound very attractive. It’s really nice being allowed to do what I do in my own little corner and there’s a bit less pressure and a bit more freedom. So it’s all good.
Dave Gorman Gets Straight To The Point* (*The Powerpoint), Middlesbrough Town Hall, Saturday 21 November, 8pm. £24.00, middlesbroughtownhallonline.co.uk