While most people may recognise Alan Davies as QI panellist or as the floppy haired detective Jonathan Creek, Nouse talks to Davies about his return to stand up as he sequels his last stand up tour Life is Pain with an altogether more optimistically sounding show Little Victories. Nouse caught Alan on the last leg of the show as he concludes it with a tour around the United Kingdom.
The title of your show is Little Victories? What has inspired such an optimistic title? What has marked the transition from Life is Pain to Little Victories?
Well really I wanted to call this ‘Sex is Pain’, but when I suggested that title to my promoters in Australia they thought we might attract the wrong sort of audience; we might attract people turning up in gimp masks. They told me I had to come up with something to differentiate it from the last show, so that everyone knows it’s two hours of spanking new material. Little Victories comes from one of the anecdotes in the show where I tried to get one over on my dad as a child.
The show’s been great so far, this is the last leg of the show, touring around the UK. I’ve toured Australia, New Zealand and Europe and then I will finally be putting it away.
Will this be your last tour?
I won’t be doing anything next year, I really enjoyed it but I’ve been touring a lot the last four years and I’d like to spend some time at home but I do think I have one more tour left in me yet.
What do you enjoy more: TV or stand up?
Stand up is much more fun for me because it’s my show and I can say what I want, you don’t have to worry about being cancelled after one series, budget squeezes and pay cuts – the horrors of doing TV. It’s not that I don’t enjoy it but if they all fell apart and got cancelled tomorrow I’d fall back on stand up. It’s how I started out and it’s what I see as my job.
What do you find easier, your own stand up show or a panel show?
Panel shows. There is a lot of support for them. QI is the bedrock in research and scripting. QI is like a fantastic hotel, it’s all prepared for you and then a bunch of comedians turn up and ruin it. It’s a relatively easy job as all the hard work’s done for you, unlike stand up, which means stand up is more rewardable.
What’s kept you at QI for so long?
I’ve always enjoyed QI, for a while there was a period when I thought, it’s on so much, and it’s repeated so much that if I ever did want to be an actor, really how could anyone cast me? They wouldn’t be able to see me as anyone else except the bloke from QI.
Who is your favourite guest?
Julian Clarie, I think he’s hilarious, but nowadays we have a lot more female guests; Katharine Ryan and Sarah Pascoe I love. But people like Bill Bailey, Phil Jupitus and Jo Brand are old friends. I’ve known them half my life and we’ve all got kids now, it’s not like we’ll go out drinking afterwards, those days are long gone.
Your favourite fact?
Topical for York, they had this thing about the Vikings they’d go looking for land in long boats and they’d let ravens go from the sea and the ravens would fly towards land and they’d follow it and if it couldn’t see land it would just fly back to the ship, and in fourteen years of filming that’s the only thing that’s really stuck in my head.
Students don’t know a damn thing. They’ll tell you everything but they don’t actually know anything
How do you come up with your material?
My method is just jotting things down that I find funny. Over a course of a few months I keep notes, usually in my phone and then when it’s time to start preparing a new show I see if they’re still funny, try them out in little gigs and keep going until its really funny all the way through and then I tour it.
What will be in the latest show?
I cover a lot of material in this new show, but I mostly concentrate on my own life. Now it’s futher away, I can look back at the disasters of my own life and find them funny. Things I might not have wanted to talk about before have suddenly opened up to me as comedy material. And then of course there’s becoming a parent, having children and the realisation that your life is essentially over. As a comedian you get better as you get older, students don’t know a damn thing, which is what makes them great. They’ll tell you everything, but they don’t actually know anything.
How would you describe your typical target audience?
I get a real mixture, young and old; QI has a very broad audience and lots of fans that didn’t even know I was a stand up in the past. It’s nice, I’ve had an age range of people born in the 20s to the 2000s although I’d probably say the bulk of my audience are in their 30s and 40s.
How do you feel about the influx of comedians being discovered through social media?
I don’t resent it, I don’t know what I would do now if I was a starting comedian. While YouTube seems almost essential, there is no shortcut to being a comedian, you have to do gigs. Having five minutes on Youtube doesn’t make you a comedian.
Nowadays there are 60 or 70 comedy shows going on at the same time, whereas when I started off touring there would only be about six or seven shows on the road, yet this is still killing off the small comedy clubs.
Edinburgh Fringe is important, the size of it is overwhelming; it gets bigger and bigger every year and I absolutely love it. I went there when I was 20 as a student and it’s been a big and fantastic part of my life. It’s hard to break through but if you’re really good, people will talk about you and you’ll be found.
Would you consider returning to acting?
Acting is something that’s not up to me, you are dependent on if anyone wants to hire you. You can make yourself more available, but for me with young children, while acting was great, 80 hours a week is no good. Unless something really, really great came along, I wouldn’t give up my one evening a week schedule. A friend of mine has just got a lead part in a Ken Loach film, something like that I’d bite your hand off, but people like Ken Loach, Mike Lee, they don’t want me.
Family life alongside touring?
I only do three shows a week, that way I’m not away from the family too much. They’re both at school so weekends are important and if I did tour again that wouldn’t be until 2017 or 2018.
What advice would you give to students that might be considering a career in TV or comedy?
I think what you will find is that everyone wants to have their time at university again because they wasted it. They didn’t study, they didn’t read enough books and they didn’t pay enough attention. What I did was a theatre course, but most people, even if they didn’t do a drama course, would be doing drama and would join a drama or theatre society and follow that career path that way. I think I should have done a degree like Philosophy or something and kept drama as an extra-curricular activity. My only advice is to actually get up in the morning and actually do something with your day; stop wasting it in bed. Be busy, make the most of it and put your iPhone away because it’s crap when you graduate and you’ve got work!
Alan Davies comes to the Grand Opera House, York with Little Victories on November 4th.