Tuesday, 26 April 2016

INTERVIEW - Dane Baptiste

Dane Baptiste, pic credit Steve Ullathorne

SIX years ago Dane Baptiste was working in a job that didn't fulfil him. Now he's a fully fledged professional comedian and a rising star on the circuit with two award nominations, a BBC3 sitcom and plenty of appearances on TV comedy shows under his belt.
It may seem a meteoric rise to some but the 34 year old from Lewisham isn't about to get excited about it.
In fact, quite the opposite in that Dane prefers to keep his feet very firmly on the ground and is modest about his achievements - although he admits that he has achieved things he previously had only ever dreamt about.
Indeed it's a dream come true to be making a living out of making people laugh - something he had wanted to do ever since he saw the likes of American comedian Chris Rock on TV and Russell Peters live at the Broadway Theatre in Catford when Dane was 15.
But his success has come at a bit of a price - that of worrying about whether or not it's going to last and is he as good as people tell him. In fact he says it is a constant source of worry that his new found career - which he loves - is about to come to an untimely end.
All these misgivings and worrisome thoughts have provided the perfect inspiration for his latest stand up show, Reasonable Doubts, its name taken from the title of Jay Z's debut album, in which Dane discusses doubt and how his life has changed in the past few years.
He is currently touring the show and as well as some South London dates later on this year he is doing five nights at the Soho Theatre starting on Tuesday of next week.
"The idea is that when you do something for the first time and it's a success, everyone raves about it but then questions whether you will be able to do the sequel and get the success you had with the first," he says cheerfully.
"I have doubts just like anyone else so I talk about them and the sacrifices I made to pursue my creative endeavours - such as no long term relationship and not being able to afford to buy my own home for example.
"The trappings of celebrity can make you detached," he adds. "I had a normal job for so long. But now I'm doing what I love so I never get carried away as it could all end tomorrow. I worry I wake up one day and find myself bankrupt!
"I am from a normal working class background and if my fortunes do change for the better I don't want to lose my humility."
And there's more besides which spill out of Dane at a fearsome rate. He talks quickly but softly and has plenty to say about politics, comedy, the refugee crisis, the NHS and growing up in South London. It's clear he wants to put the world to rights through his comedy.
"We have reality TV shows where people are successful for having no talent - so what's the point of learning a craft to be successful?" he says.
"It's ridiculous because they are telling people you can become a millionaire by doing nothing.
"Maybe we should put those who work in the NHS on the same pedestal as we do footballers and these reality TV people.
"And then there is the issue of affordable housing - who can afford to live in these flats they are building in Lewisham at the moment? It's insane but I worry about it all.
"It sounds morbid but everyone has doubts and this show is about me dealing with all these things. There's lots to talk about!"
And with so much to say on so many topics, and in such a funny and self deprecating way I ask what took Dane so long to get behind the mic.
It was he says a bit of a gamble but as he was stuck in a dead end job, it was worth the risk.
"When I was at school at Lee Manor Primary I used to make the other kids laugh and always wanted to be an entertainer but didn't know how to pursue it - I certainly didn't know you could make a living out of it," he says.
"I remember watching Hale and Pace, Russ Abbott and Harry Enfield as well as American comics like Chris Rock and being really inspired - Chris Rock and his experiences was the light bulb moment for me.
"I considered it when I was at uni but those who wanted to get into entertainment were douche bags and I just didn’t like it. I never saw anyone like myself do it and had no idea how to become a comedian.
"I also wanted to be the good guy and support my family. So I got a job - although starting work at about the same time as the credit crunch happened wasn't ideal!"
But he cheerfully admits it wasn't enough and it wasn't long before he decided to take a punt on doing comedy as a career.
That was six years ago. The rest as they say is history.
But even with his success, he refuses to "bask in the glow of celebrity" and so we get back to those irksome doubts of his.
He credits his upbringing, his family and his friends for helping him keep his feet on the ground.
He grew up in Lewisham in a "nice stable family" where he "would rather have gone to prison than disobey or annoy" his parents.
"I have good friends and family and that's instrumental to my success," he says. "They keep me grounded.
"Although primary school was a bit difficult because I felt very constrained, I enjoyed my time when I was at secondary school at Askes.
"I found out more about intra racial differences but was never involved in gangs - I was never interested in that. I know people who got into trouble but it wasn't for me.
"I also didn't want to let my parents down. They instilled a sense of working hard so I never take anything for granted."
And to prove that he's kept his feet on the ground, he still lives in the borough in which he grew up and says he doesn't think he could live anywhere else.
"Life's great but I will never take it for granted," he says. "Working hard to do something you love is fantastic - even on the worst day things are better than the best day in the office - which was the day I left!
"Not many people get to do this so I'm very lucky."

Dane Baptiste is doing his show Reasonable Doubts at the Soho Theatre until Saturday, May 7.

Visit http://www.sohotheatre.com/ for full listings.

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