David Baddiel on comedy, books and the trouble with dad

David Baddiel on stage with his show The Trouble With Dad, which is coming to the Lancaster Grand
David Baddiel on stage with his show The Trouble With Dad, which is coming to the Lancaster Grand
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Comedian, novelist and TV presenter David Baddiel is back on tour, in a show balancing humour with more serious topics, not least his father’s dementia. MALCOLM WYATT found out more

After successful runs at London’s Menier Chocolate Factory and in the West End, David Baddiel’s Olivier-nominated one-man show is heading nationwide, with dates already in the bag.

David Baddiel's new show tackles his family's recent history

David Baddiel's new show tackles his family's recent history

My Family: Not the Sitcom follows 2013’s stand-up return, Fame: Not the Musical. And as much as he enjoyed that tour, David’s loving the reaction to this more personal show.

Tackling, ‘Memory, ageing, infidelity, dysfunctional relatives, moral policing on social media, golf, and gay cats,’ and much more, it’s clearly not your average stand-up show, then.

The 53-year-old Londoner is perhaps still best known for 1990s’ BBC successes, The Mary Whitehouse Experience, with Rob Newman, and Fantasy Football League, with Frank Skinner. But these days, the father-of-two – married to fellow comic/writer Morwenna Banks– has seen his adult and children’s novels take off and now the story of his parents is receiving the plaudits.

Last year’s powerful Channel 4 documentary, The Trouble with Dad, tackling dementia, helped. But don’t expect him to talk about his folks – his mother died in 2014 – as saints.

He explains: “When family members die, or are lost to dementia, all we tend to say about them is that they were wonderful. If that’s all you can say, you may as well say nothing.

“To truly remember loved ones, you have to call up their weirdnesses, their madnesses, their flaws. The dead, despite what we may think, are not angels.”

The critical reaction to his new show has been gratifying.

“It’s been great, the reaction. I think because the show’s very personal and authentic, people respond to that. Despite being very personal to me, it seems to speak to people about their own family experience.

“It’s a new type of stand-up, more about storytelling, very autobiographical, not a million miles from what I did before, but a bit more mature, for want of a better word. This show particularly has touched a chord with people. I used to enjoy getting laughs but didn’t get the sense I get with this – people think it speaks to them, wanting to tell me about their family.”

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Next year marks the 30th anniversary of The Mary Whitehouse Experience’s radio pilot.

“Really? Funnily enough, Rob Newman’s playing Salford Lowry the same night as me. He’s in the smaller room! It’s the first time Newman and Baddiel will perform in the same theatre on the same night in …”

It will be 25 years since those huge Wembley gigs you did together.

“Actually, they offered us a gig, but it’s not going to be happening. I was sort of interested. I think Rob wasn’t. We wouldn’t have to dress up as History Today people – we already look like them. I saw Rob’s stand-up show recently. We had a long chat after and get on really well. There’s no animosity, but I doubt we’ll work together anymore.”

At one point The Mary Whitehouse Experience might have been named The William Rees-Mogg Experience. Might we see a new spin on that now - The Jacob Rees-Mogg Experience?

“I’m very happy for someone else to do that. He could do it himself. He is basically a comedy character. We have this situation now where politicians are like comedy characters – Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage, Jacob Rees-Mogg … You can imagine them being played by Harry Enfield.”

Any more novels on their way?

“Not adult books, but the children’s novels have done so well, they’re a joy to write and it’s a joy the way kids interact with them. I have another of those coming in October. I’ve also written a film of the first one, The Parent’s Agency, while AniMalcolm, my fourth, is being made into a theatre show by Story Pocket Theatre, and will be touring in your area.”

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You got a fantastic reaction to Channel 4’s The Trouble With Dad documentary. Did that inspire this?

“I was already doing this. In fact, the documentary includes footage from the chocolate factory when I started. It’s changed a lot but it’s the same basic show. The company who made that documentary got in touch, wondering if there was more to be said specifically about my Dad and this type of dementia. I wasn’t sure at first, but in the end they gave me a lot of control, me and my brother, and I felt very happy with that. It seemed to touch a lot of people.”

You made a nice point about feeling guilt at letting on to others about a loved one’s health without their permission. Many more of us have encountered that feeling.

“When one’s parents, either through death or dementia, aren’t able to tell their own stories, you have to accept that their children are the ones going to tell the story. You have a choice of silence or a very bland memory of them being a lovely person, or the true story, more complicated. I consider it to be a bigger act of love to tell the true story.”

It’s too late for our parents, but dementia is a ticking timebomb. What, in your view, needs to be done. Is it about throwing money at scientific research, care improvements, or both?

“I don’t know. Sorry! A woman wrote to me saying her Dad had the same type of dementia as my Dad, was getting no help from her NHS authority. Did I have advice? All I am is a comedian and storyteller. I can only tell my own story. I can’t fix stuff like that. I’m afraid I don’t know what should be done.”

Just by talking about it so openly, you’re helping further the debate.

“Well, I hope so. Thank you.”

David Baddiel’s My Family: Not the Sitcom visits Lancaster Grand on Thursday, March 1, and Friday, March 2, with a limited number of tickets still available.

For more details and to book, call 01524 64695, visit the box office (10am-3pm Mondays-Saturdays) or try lancastergrand.co.uk. It is also at The Lowry Salford, on March 4 and The Atkinson, Southport, on Saturday, March 17. Visit www.seetickets.com/tour/david-baddiel/list/1/30 for more details.