Edinburgh Fringe 2015: An Interview with Dane Baptiste

Stand-up comedian Dane Baptiste offers a reality check, and reminds us that TV talent has gone to the dogs, as he talks to about his Fringe show, Reasonable Doubts

dane baptiste 114c photo by steve ullathorne

Image: Steve Ullathorne

“What world is this man?” Dane Baptiste asks, in a tone of disbelief. I get the feeling that he asks that question a lot because he struggles to understand reality most of the time. Well, reality TV, which is the same thing right? But a world that favours obnoxious frivolity and perfect pouts just doesn’t make sense to Dane: “I feel that it’s weird because I’ve got a lot of friends who have kids, and they want the best for their kids, so they always push them to do loads of extra-curricular activities, whether it’s like football or dancing or whatever. The sentiment is that you want to encourage your kids to have some kind of talent, but then every one of you guys comes home and you sit down and you watch people with no talent, and it’s just like well: you’re wasting your time because you’re creating a world with no talent.” Berating and candid: the comedian cuts straight to the point… and it’s a good one.

“When I watch shows like Made In Chelsea, I look at it, and I think: is it not enough that you’re already rich, you’ve already mixed with people of influence and prestige, so why do you need to do that shit on TV? And some people say, well they give charitable donations and shit, but what would be charitable is for someone from a privileged background to help someone from an underprivileged background realise their potential, either through sponsorship or through stepping aside and giving that opportunity on TV to somebody who actually has a talent to actually reach an audience.” Now a little fired up, he goes on to talk about other shows which have limited purpose, (“Nobody in the world was like, you know what, I want to find out about the secret life of Ice Road Truckers”), and the fact that one of the winners of Britain’s Got Talent had a stunt double, and also happened to be a dog.

While he does appear anything but doubtful about it, the nation’s preoccupation with questionable, if not pointless talents is one feature of Dane’s new show Reasonable Doubts. Having toured with Katherine Ryan last year, as well as scoring a successful stint at Fringe with his first full show, Dane’s heading back to Edinburgh armed to the teeth with worries: “a lot of the stuff is like normal stuff that people have doubts and fears about, but then some of the stuff isn’t normal, like I talk a bit about the irrational fears that I have.” From how the world will end, (“will it be starvation, nuclear war, disease, zombie apocalypse?”) to modern relationships and how people “have lost the courage to even […] put themselves on the line”, Dane’s show airs out a number of modern complexities.

However, he also mentions: “I hope basically that it sparks an idea, among my generation: that we’re entitled to something, that if you’ve given something to the structure of the world, either academically or economically (through tax), then you deserve something back and you should invest your time into how to go about that”. He comes to the solid conclusion that “you can lose your job anyway, it’s not the only thing that should guide your life… you’re a human being not a human doing”, sounding more and more like a motivational speaker.

But it’s these infectious ideas which come out in full force for his recent Iplayer comedy pilot, Sunny D. Dane plays a character called… Dane (“there are a lot of parallels to my own experience”), or ‘Mario Balotelli’ to his boss (for the banter). A cynical office-worker in his 20s, Dane’s character is tired of his dead-end job and dreams of better things. There’s plenty of anti-capitalist speech-making and calls for revolution, but fictional Dane’s greatest fear is confronting his own family about making the change, which, when he finally does, provides for a brilliant X-factor style ‘I have a dream’ skit.

You have to be playful, you have to make the words dance in your sentences

I ask him if this feeling of melodrama maps back onto his own experience but the truth couldn’t be any less so, “I didn’t really have a declaration, I kind of just left work, I hated it, and had a bit of money left over”, which he put into a creative writing course. Dane remarks that “I don’t want my job to be more important than anyone else’s” and that because he doesn’t come from a theatrical career he hasn’t treated comedy as a competition of ego; “I’ve never been like ‘Hello everyone, I’m doing a performance, everyone pay attention to me”. Instead, he welcomes “the organic aspect to comedy,” and claims that it’s “kind of like having a conversation,” which is why the prospect of a heckler doesn’t especially phase him.

Observational comedy is especially conversational, because “the only way to distinguish yourself is to tell things from your own perspective, at least that way it’s genuine and original and it allows people from all walks of life to project their own experience onto it as well.” This would make comedy a personal affair, and Dane has thus far relied on the strange things that have happened in his life as material, often thinking at the time “this is so stupid I’m going to have to tell the world one day”. I still ask him if it’s hard to put some parts of his life out there to be laughed at, but he replies, “a lot of people say that comedy is just tragedy plus time”. Shamefully, it’s the first I’ve heard of this and it makes a lot of sense as Dane explains: “you’re trying to find the funny side of things and it’s just a natural progression people go through with grief or life” as you ‘rationalise’ your own story in your head.

Comedy is also “tragedy [pause] plus timing”, which is how Dane said it the first time round, before correcting himself. But this makes as much sense, especially as he considers comedy to be a near-relative of rap. Dane states that, as with rappers, “a lot of the time you assume a personality, like a heightened version of yourself […] there’s a lot people trying to work out if it’s art imitating life or life imitating art.” And yet, “it’s really hard to make people pay attention for more than half an hour, in the same way that 16 bars isn’t enough, you have to be playful, you have to make the words dance in your sentences in order to maintain people’s attention”, which says a lot for what’s lined up in Reasonable Doubts.

Check out Dane’s show at 7.15pm from the 5th-30th of August at Pleasance Courtyard.

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