Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Interview with David Baddiel

WHEN people think of fame it's either the glamorous or the tragic side - champagne-filled parties or the untimely deaths of public figures such as Amy Winehouse.
But is that all there is to it? Comedian, writer, actor and football pundit David Baddiel thinks not.
In his new show, which he is bringing to South London for a four-week run starting tonight, he aims to lift the lid on fame and what it's really all about.
The 49-year-old is well placed to talk about the subject. He shot to fame in the late 80s with Rob Newman as part of the four-piece comedy sketch group the Mary Whitehouse Experience.
Then in the early 90s he and Rob branched off to do the BBC TV show Newman And Baddiel In Pieces achieving almost cult status in the process.
They became the first comedians to sell out arenas - and were credited as inventing comedy as the new rock 'n' roll - attracting a level of fandom normally reserved for pop stars - which I witnessed firsthand when I saw them at a show at the Birmingham Symphony Hall.
"Well, to be fair they weren't really screaming for me," he chuckles modestly.
But in 1997, David took a step back from stand-up to concentrate instead on various TV collaborations with Frank Skinner, write a number of books, a screenplay and is currently penning a sitcom for Channel 4.
But now he's back at the mic stand after his enforced hiatus and, although he admits to a few initial nerves, he is clearly enjoying himself.
We speak as David takes a short break in Cornwall, before he takes to the stage at the Menier Chocolate Factory in Southwark.
I start with the obvious question: what is fame?
"When people think about fame they think either of the baubles, the glitz and the glamour of it all or the downside of it, the loneliness and tragedy associated with fame," he says.
"It can be both of those things but I think there's another aspect and that is the mundane and absurd nature of it, which no one talks about.
"The show is not glorifying fame and saying how wonderful it is to be famous. Instead I try to illustrate the reality of it and demystify it.
"It's an interesting thing that can happen to someone - fame is thrilling but it can also be incredibly annoying."
This annoyance extends to Twitter, being recognised and stopped in the shops, and dealing with people's misconceptions.
"Social media, like Twitter, has changed the nature of fame," he says.
"Twitter is great but people can get in touch with you at any time. You see different levels of your fame as people discuss you and you have to deal with people who hate you.
"If you get too famous there is a version of you out there that isn't you, so it gets uncontrollable. I had problems with that, which is one of the reasons I stopped doing stand-up.
"For me it's about being slightly more visible.
"The ideal scenario is that you don't feel so famous that things seem out of control, but there is enough fame that people are interested in what you are doing."
And he denies it's a naval-gazing exercise.
"I basically tell a series of stories in which I am the butt of the joke in some way or another in all of them," he laughs before sharing some of the gems he will be sharing in the show.
"As an example I was reading Cormac McCarthy's book The Road on the Tube not so long ago and started crying. People were looking at me and were probably thinking, 'There's that bloke off the telly crying, he's clearly having a breakdown'."
This self-mocking also extends to talking about being mistaken for other famous individuals, most notably BBC executive Alan Yentob, who is 20 years older than him and even comedian Ben Elton not to mention showing the audience mistakes he has made on TV and Twitter over the years.
Jokes aside, David says fame has changed since the heady days of the 90s with the screaming fans and says he is happier now as a result.
"When I was touring with Rob, things were so different. Not least because I was 20 years younger and doing all the stuff a 20-something would do," he says.
"My life was out of control back then and I wasn't really comfortable with it.
"This feels different and I'm really enjoying it.
"Now, I am coming back home most nights, being a dad and doing the school run rather than living in some kind of closed-off bubble, but that was what you do when you are young.
"I loved those shows, but I think it would be stupid to expect things to be the same now -- andI shouldn't be trying to generate that kind of response now - it would be ridiculous!
"It's funny though because I look out at the audience and I do wonder whether some of them know the History Today sketches - some will know the 'That's you, that is' catchphrase but I'm sure the younger ones don't know what the hell I'm talking about!" he laughs.
Now he says he has a clear sense of who he is and is keen for the Menier audiences to see the real him.
"The Menier a lovely theatre," he says. "It's a really cool place, does brilliant shows, is near the Tate and, of the theatres that asked, it was the one I wanted to do the show in.
-- "It's also a good size. I'm actually very anti big venues these days -- partly because I don't think I could fill them, but I like the intimacy and this show suits a small room.
"I am slightly worried about having to do it every night for four weeks though," he jokes. "It's a while since I have done that but I'm looking forward to it!"

Fame: Not The Musical is at the Menier Chocolate Factory until May 23. Visit www.menierchocolatefactory.com or call 020 7378 1713 for tickets.

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