Interview: Dave Johns
Dave Johns is a veteran of the comedy circuit with more than 20 years of service under his belt, and appearances on TV panel shows such as Never Mind The Buzzcocks and 8 Out Of 10 Cats to boot. Luke Milford recently had the opportunity to catch up with him for a chat, and here’s what the North East comedian had to say.
LM: Hi Dave. You’ve been a comic for over 20 years now – do you think the current scene differs from the scene that you started on?
DJ: Much different, yeah. A lot more younger comics see it as a good career move, probably because of the success they have seen people like Russell Brand and Russell Howard have.
Also before, you know, someone would just say, “Do you want £30 to get up in a pub?”, and you would go, “Yeah all right, let’s just get up and see how long this can last for”. So yeah, it has definitely changed as comedy reaches a much wider audience and there’s a lot more clubs to go to now.
LM: Definitely. Why do you think this is, though?
DJ: Well when I started you never got stags and hens coming along to comedy so obviously it’s a much bigger market now. I mean I started a comedy club in 89/90 in Newcastle called The Comedy Café, and at the time it was one of the only clubs outside of London.
You had comics like Jack Dee, Jo Brand, Steve Coogan and Eddie Izzard all just starting out – they were just on the circuit and made for great bookings. In fact, at The Café it was where at 14 Ross Noble first got up and gave it a go.
You know, I do think it is a great career, and I do think young people should get up and give it a go.
LM: Would you agree that, with comics like Sarah Millican, Jason Cook and Chris Ramsey around, the North East has a strong scene at the moment?
DJ: The thing, you know, with people like Sarah is they moved to Manchester to try and better their career, probably because at the time there wasn’t as many smaller clubs in the North East as to what there is now.
Like you say though, Jason is great and Sarah is going to be huge – they are two really enjoyable acts so I would definitely say that there is a strong scene here in the North East.
LM: We recently spoke with Mick Ferry, who said appearing on television didn’t have the desired affect for him. You have been on quite a few shows, did they work out for you?
DJ: Yeah it was a good thing for me, I did Never Mind The Buzzcocks and 8 out of 10 Cats, and they were all good experiences. Mick was unlucky, you know, as on programs like McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow you only have a limited amount of time to capture people’s imagination.
Kevin Bridges, for example, went on it twice and just blew everybody away and has managed to really do well off of the back of that program. So I think television time can just differ for different acts.
LM: I couldn’t agree more. With success from television a lot of comics will go on to do big arena tours – but where do you stand on performing in an arena?
DJ: I think it would be an exciting and hard to resist offer. Mentioning Kevin again he recently did a big arena show in Scotland and he said walking on stage was like having a band like Aerosmith behind him and it just felt unreal.
With an arena tour I don’t think it could ever be as intimate as a local venue. However I think all comics would like to do an arena tour just to see what it is like, but after doing it once most would probably just go back to doing smaller gigs.
LM: As a comic, what do you think of hecklers?
DJ: Most of the time they are definitely a bad thing, and for a young comic just starting out you probably hope that you don’t get any. Obviously it gets easier the more experience you get but you never want them. There’s a difference, though, between a hecklers shouting you shit to someone you have asked a question of. Also, if someone shouts something random out it can be quite funny.
Places like The Comedy Store really try to stop unnecessary heckling from occurring and in places like America they won’t stand for it at all.
LM: Speaking of The Comedy Store, I heard there was an incident a few years back at the Manchester Comedy Store between you and a heckler. Do you mind talking about it?
DJ: No, not at all. What happened was there were a group of Israeli students in the front row who had been talking and heckling throughout the night and other comics that night had been talking to them. I came out and asked them, “Are you the Israeli students? As I’ve just been to the box office and there’s a group of ten Palestinians who say you’re occupying their seats.”
It got a lot of laughs and I continued to have bit banter with them – and they didn’t like it.
LM: So what happened next?
DJ: [Laughs] Well, the next day they started a Facebook group up calling me a racist and anti-semitic, which clearly isn’t true; and also every show at The Store is taped so I had proof. I think the lad just thought it would be my word against his and it wasn’t and it all got resolved. It wasn’t the best experience as the internet can be a powerful thing.
LM: Well it’s good to see everything was resolved in the end. What some people may not know about you is that you are a highly successful stage actor, and have acted alongside people like Christian Slater. How did you get into acting?
DJ: Well it came through being about at the Fringe Festival, really. I started by doing a play called 12 Angry Men then after that came the stage production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. One Flew Over was a great runaway success that year at The Fringe – it was the hot ticket and was getting amazing reviews from all over the place. Then on the back of that the show went on tour, even with a run in the West End and that was when they though a big star was needed, so Christian was brought in.
LM: Sounds like quite the hit. I guess the obvious question to follow would be which do you prefer, acting or comedy?
DJ: I just love comedy and always will. What I like about acting though is also the writing side. I did a stage adaptation of The Shawshank Redemption and that premiered at the Wyndham Theatre in the West End.
In fact, here’s an exclusive for you: I have just acquired the rights to do a stage production of The Damned United.
LM: Excellent – I love both the book and the film. Can you tell us any more about that?
DJ: Well it will be based on the book as I felt the film bottled it a bit due to players that were involved complaining, you know. Also, I would love Alistair McGowan to play Cloughie, so if everything works out and he is available to do it that is who I will ask to play that part.
LM: You’re clearly going to be very busy within the next year. What does the future of comedy hold for you?
DJ: More of the same. I love comedy and love performing, so just more gigs in places like The Comedy Store and all over really. Just check out my website for more details about where I’ll be on.