Tab Meets: Alan Davies

ANNA WILMOT speaks to legendary funny man, Alan Davies, about QI, Jonathon Creek, and the follow-up to his long-awaited return to stand-up comedy with his show, Little Victories.

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How did you originally get into comedy? Did you always want to do stand-up?

Not particularly. It only really occurred to me to do it towards the end of my time at university. I’d always wanted to do some kind of comedy, I just thought I would collaborate with someone and when that didn’t quite happen, I discovered the comedy circuit and thought maybe I could just do it myself.

You now have experience working in both a team, through the panel on QI, and on your own, through stand-up. Do you have a preference?

I don’t really, no. I mean, QI is great – sharing the stage with everybody else is the fun of QI and when everyone is in quite a mischievous mood, you get Stephen laughing and everyone just has a nice time. But certainly in terms of having some control, saying what you want to and being yourself, then stand-up is the way to go.

So you took a hiatus from stand-up for over a decade – what prompted you to return to it?

I wanted to get back into doing something I enjoyed really. I’d had a couple of disappointments – I spent six months writing a book that no one bought and then I made a television series called ‘Whites’ which I thought was really good and it got cancelled after one series. It was only after those knock-backs that I started to think about stand-up again and I got kind of pushed into it really. A friend of mine is a promoter in Australia, and helped me put on a new show there in 2011, which is basically when I rediscovered my stand-up mojo.

Are there any particular themes that you have focused on for this new tour?

The stuff is always fairly autobiographical, it’s always reflecting how my life is. Like at the moment, I’ve got two small children so there’s a lot about parenting and a lot about my own father and viewing him a bit differently now I’ve got my own kids. And there’s also lots of daft stories from just being a kid, you know, the first time I got drunk, losing control of my farts… So its a mixed bag.

How do you go about writing the material for a new show? Do you have a particular process?

I tend to make a note of anything that I hear that I believe could be remotely funny, either things I’ve thought myself or things I’ve overheard or seen. And then I go to make pages of notes and then from I create my routine. It’s really an evolutionary process and it takes a lot of time. When I tried out my new material in Australia in 2012, I basically thought that if the new material wasn’t working then I could just revert to old material from the distant past, which I couldn’t really do here. But I didn’t want to use my material from the 90s, that would have felt like a defeat. Fortunately, we were going to Australia anyway because we were doing QI live in Aussie theatres so I was kind of piggybacking on that and it went really well. Now I’m preparing to start my tour in Australia next month and before I come back here in April.

Do you get nervous before shows? Do you have any pre-show rituals?

My pre-show rituals normally involve the lavatory but the nerves tend to go pretty quickly once I get on stage and once I’ve got the show organised and I know it well. Certainly when the material is new, then you get a few more butterflies. But that’s really quite a good place to be because it means you’re evolving something, and that’s when it’s quite fun and exciting. Once it has become a routine, it’s probably more fun for the audience but no fun for me.

During your hiatus from stand-up, you appeared as a permanent panellist on QI – how do you think being part of this show has honed your skills as a stand-up comedian?

I think mainly it has sated my need to be on stage because, even though I wasn’t doing stand-up in those 10 years, I got to do QI in front of a big studio audience and it’s pretty much laughs all the way through. I’m scratching the itch a little bit to do live comedy and also I get to see a lot of old friends who I grew up with on the comedy circuit 25 years ago. But really, it’s very different from stand-up.

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Why exactly do you think QI is so popular?

Well there’s a huge amount of work that goes on for months before we record the episodes by all the QI elves and the producers. The scripts that are written for Stephen are so brilliant and all the questions are so clever and funny and incomprehensible, and I just come and piggyback in at the end. But I am really glad to be a part of it, and we’ve got a long road ahead. We do one letter a year so we’ve got 26 years to get through…

Alan Davies’ ‘Little Victories’ tour will come to the Cambridge Corn Exchange on the 5th April.