Alan Davies is either a world class genius or the village idiot. While all actors are familiar with the perils of typecasting, this British comedian has made his mark in two very different, long-running television roles. Having returned to stand up comedy after a lengthy break, he’s found audiences aren’t entirely sure what to make of him.
“I find the people who know me from TV don’t know I’m a stand up comedian,” he says. “It is a bit of an eye opener, that people still come to my shows and are surprised to find I’m neither Jonathan Creek nor the dunce from QI.”
Wherever his fans have found him, Davies has also developed a quiet sex symbol status that he is always at pain to downplay, but it nevertheless exists.
Davies first played master detective Creek way back in 1997, while QI recently chalked up its 11th series. Does he still enjoy playing roles at both ends of the brainy spectrum?
“I do. But it’s the stand up that really matters, because that’s me. That’s what I spend all my time thinking about or writing. That’s what keeps me awake at night.”
His recent return to stand up comedy after a 10 year gap has seen Davies cast off his screen personas to embark on a bout of self-discovery. In the process, he seems to have rediscovered his love of the art that first brought him to the public eye.
In the early ’90s, Davies developed a reputation for comedy that mixed observational humour with flights of absurdity. The reborn comedian is quite a different animal. Much of the silliness has been lost, replaced by a more honest, more personal and, sometimes, much bleaker approach. His most recent show, Life is Pain (available on Madman DVD), saw Davies talk openly for the first time about the death of his mother when he was six
Not obvious material for generating laughter, I suggest.
“It depends how you evolve the material really. I think, once you’re at a certain point of your life, you’ll actually start talking about important things. You can touch on things that might be a bit bleak, but find there’s a lot of humour if you can handle it. In this show, there’s a fair amount of frivolity and filth, but stand up can’t all be that. If you’re on for 90 minutes, you better have something to say.”
Davies credits parenthood for this new tendency for openness, but insists he hasn’t developed the common touchiness of new parents around certain topics, when it comes to deciding what’s funny.
“I still find most things are funny. I think that, perhaps, if you think of something you feel is a bit bleak and you wouldn’t want somebody to know you were thinking it, that’s when you’re on to something and you need to stay on that thought.”
Is the role of the comedian to say the unsayable?
“Only what’s unsayable for yourself. If other people are feeling offended or judging you, that’s up to them. For you, what wouldn’t you say out loud? Then you have to say to yourself, Why wouldn’t I say that? There must be a way I could say that. It is funny.”
He denies, however, that he uses his stand up gigs as a form of therapy.
“People have asked if it’s cathartic. Not anymore than it is for anyone to speak their mind or get things off their chest. It’s good to talk and maybe people could talk more and have a bit less screen time. For me, stand up is sometimes me just talking things over, but there’s an audience there.”
This year will see Davies back in the duffle coat for a new series of Jonathan Creek, but he’ll also be heading to Australia in March to launch his new live show Little Victories. He says he has no plans on stepping down again from the stand up circuit.
“The two best stand up comics I’ve seen in my life are Dave Allen and Bill Cosby. They were both in their 60s when I saw them and they both got standing ovations. So I feel, really, like a bit of a beginner.”
Alan Davies tour Australia this month with Little Victories
Perth: Wednesday 12 and Thursday 13 March, Riverside Theatre
Melbourne: Friday 14 and Sunday16 March, Hamer Hall
Hobart: Monday 17 March, Wrest Point Entertainment Centre
Canberra: Tuesday 18 March, Canberra Theatre
Adelaide: Wednesday 19 March, AEC Theatre
Sydney: Thursday 20, Friday 21 and Saturday 22 March, State Theatre
Darwin: Monday 24 March, DEC Playhouse
Brisbane: Tuesday 25 March, QPAC Concert Hall
Brisbane: Wednesday 26 March, Lyric Theatre