Jack Dee is returning to the stage with a brand new stand up tour coming to the Royal and Derngate in Northampton.
The deadpan comedian will be appearing on the stage on Wednesday September 18.
He has been away from stand-up for six years, so why is he so eager to return to touring now? “I want to spend less time with my family,” he says in that familiar, deadpan tone.
“I think that’s a very good reason for touring. Everyone with children will surely agree with that. I think a little bit of absence from your family is actually a good thing. There are far too many diligent parents out there overdoing it and putting us to shame.”
Yes, Jack is back – and he couldn’t be happier about it. After spending the last six years making his marvellously acerbic BBC2 sitcom, Lead Balloon, and writing his hilarious memoirs, Thanks For Nothing, which he modestly dedicated to himself (“without whom none of this would have been possible”), the comedian is returning to his first love: stand-up.
Jack, who is also the wonderfully poker-faced host of Radio 4’s legendary “antidote to panel games.”, I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue, has spent the past year warming up his live act. And the good news is, the show is in great shape.
A star for the last two decades, Jack is one of the finest stand-ups in the country. You’ll no doubt be delighted to hear that he is equally funny offstage, keeping me laughing all the time during a highly entertaining hourlong interview in the run-up to the tour.
A hugely charismatic stage presence, his trademark is turning misery into mirth. When Jack is agonising over the slightest niggle, no other stand-up can touch him. As he moans about the day-to-day annoyances that plague us all, he is a dazzlingly funny performer.
The comedian, who has been very happily married to Jane for the past 23 years and is the proud father of four children, admits that he was initially nervous about his return to the stand-up arena. But the moment he stepped onstage once again, his love for the genre was rekindled.
He reveals that, “At the first warm-up gig I did after that six-year break, I felt like a complete novice. I didn’t know where to begin.
But almost immediately it came back. I’ve never taken it for granted – to do it well takes real application. But I been gigging all year now, and it’s felt really good.”
Jack, a very deserving past winner of the British Comedy Award for Best Standup Comedian, goes on to articulate the sheer thrill he gets from performing live. “You don’t have to consult any other people – you get immediate feedback from stand-up.
“When stand-up goes well, it’s almost as if you can fly – that’s how exciting it is for you and for the audience. There is so much risk involved that the tension can become very addictive. During the warm-up shows, I have been thinking, ‘Wow, why have I been away so long?’”
The comic, who will this autumn also be chairing a very promising new Sky Atlantic panel game, Don’t Sit In The Front Row, explains that he has really regained his appetite for stand-up. “Six years ago, I had done a very very long tour and I was tired. The day you stop enjoying stand-up is the day should stop doing it. So I had to step away from it and recharge my batteries.
“Now, I’m very glad to say, I’ve got my passion back. Touring the country doing warm-ups has been a really nice experience and has put me in a very good place for this tour.”
Jack, who has produced six bestselling DVDs and will release his latest one in autumn 2013, never lets his material grow stale. Part of his brilliance as a stand-up stems from the fact that he is constantly refreshing his act. He says that, “What is really exciting is when you get an idea just before the show begins. Then you go on stage and the new material immediately gets a big laugh.
“I keep putting in new stuff, so the act remains very fresh – otherwise it becomes sealed. It’s not very attractive when it becomes glib. I never want it to become set, like a play.”
According to Jack, the only downside of touring is that, “When I come home, Jane notices that it takes two or three days for me to come down from the stand-up cloud. I have been in the mindset of constantly trying to find the funny, and it takes a while to shake that off. I’m sure she finds it very tiresome and is quite glad when I’m not around. ‘Oh no, he’s back. Not him again!’”
So what subjects will he be covering in this new stand-up show? Jack, who was a team captain on the superbly daft Reeves and Mortimer BBC2 panel game, Shooting Stars, discloses that he will mainly focus on, “Observations about home life and living with teenagers. My take on it is that adolescence should really be regarded as a form of mental illness. Once you’ve accepted that, everything makes more sense.
“It’s very alarming when adolescence happens to your children. Most parents don’t believe it will happen to them. But overnight, you lose the person you been living with for 10 years and someone else entirely emerges. Suddenly you’re living with someone who’s metamorphosed into a lunatic.”
How do you deal with that, then? “I deal with it by going out on tour and making jokes about it,” Jack laughs. “But that’s no help to people who aren’t stand-ups. That’s the only response I know to most things in life. Of course, anything like that forces you to look at yourself, so other strands from your life, such as religion and drinking, come in to the show.”
Jack hastens to add that his act should not be taken too seriously.
“There is no sense of mission or self-analysis. It’s simply funny stuff that has occurred to me. I have never been a comedian who writes to a theme.
“That’s why I never give my tours a title – I find it impossible to paint myself into that corner. My comedy is more visceral and less prescribed than that. The only thing that keeps recurring is that the show is a rolling review of my life.”
Another constant in Jack’s comedy has been his grumpy persona, a fact that has led his friend and fellow comedian Jeremy Hardy to dub him, “A little ray of sleet.”
But his curmudgeonly image only serves to enhance his material. Jack, who was also appeared on such TV shows as Have I Got News For You, QI, Never Mind The Buzzcocks and 8 out of 10 Cats, reflects on why this crotchety persona works so well. “I find it funny, and the audience do as well. I learnt a lot from playing the character of Rick Spleen in Lead Balloon. I go to great pains to say that Rick is very different from me, but no one believes that!
“But I really like that sense of someone who is the author of his own unhappiness and can’t see that complaining about everything is only making things worse. You’re blaming everyone else for your problems and can’t see that in fact you are to blame. I’ve always found that very amusing, and it’s always been a big part of my stage persona.”
He continues that, “There’s nothing funnier than someone who thinks life has colluded against him, someone who believes that everyone has got it in for him. That’s not a rare comic attribute – Woody Allen is the master of that style of comedy. But it works brilliantly for me.
“I can say anything in that tone, and people immediately know where I’m coming from. In fact, audiences are almost expecting it. When TV went digital, I Tweeted, ‘No warning, no nothing, no signal, no TV for a week”. I got a massive response. The idea was that I was paranoid that no one had consulted me – even though there had been a banner about the switchover across the screen for the last decade.”
I can reassure everyone that in real life Jack is a far more genial character.
He confirms that, “You need to be able to step away from that persona. That’s how you can get a perspective on that attitude. That characteristic does exist within me. But because I’m feeding off it, I’m very aware of it and can identify it more accurately.”
At the conclusion of what is bound to be a hugely successful journey around the UK, Jack is aiming to tour Australia. There is just one snag. “I haven’t told Jane that I don’t want to take her with me,” he jokes.
“I could just tell her that I’m touring around the North of England. But after a month, that might become slightly less believable. At some point I’ll have to own up to her that I’m actually in Australia. ‘I’m sorry, darling. When I said Grimsby, what I really meant was Sydney. It must have been a very bad line’.”
Details about Jack’s tour can be found at www.offthekerb.co.uk