Worst case scenario? I’d be incredibly racist and punch a disabled person | Dom Joly on I'm A Celebrity, Trigger Happy – and not being a proper comedian

Worst case scenario? I’d be incredibly racist and punch a disabled person

Dom Joly on I'm A Celebrity, Trigger Happy – and not being a proper comedian

‘My big fear is that I’m not a comedian,’ says Dom Joly. ‘Everyone knows me as a comedian, but I’ve never done stand-up, I’ve got this issue that I can’t do live stuff. Dressing up as a squirrel is fine, but I just don’t tell jokes.’

If true, he’s about to face that fear in a very public way – with a 65-date live comedy tour that kicks off at the end of this month.

The idea came off the back of a book tour for The Dark Tourist, a travelogue around some of the world’s least likely tourist destinations, such as North Korea, Chernobyl and Iran. Joly decided to liven up what would have been a straightforward reading with his holiday snaps and ‘patter’.

‘The first one was an absolute disaster,’ he admits. ‘But by the end it was OK. On the very last one I thought, “God, I could do this, I think.”

‘Just before I went into I’m A Celebrity…, I said to my agent, “Do you know what? I’m thinking I could do it; talk about all the weird things I’ve done the last ten years.” When I came out of the jungle, he said, “We’ve got it all set up, 70 nights, are you on?” and I thought “Yup!” But I hadn’t really decided what to do then.’

He said the show has now found its form, and will lay to rest those demons about being labelled a ‘comedian’. ‘I feel completely out of place as a comedian because I didn’t spend my life wanting to be a comedian,’ he says. ‘I didn’t go to Edinburgh. I wasn’t in Footlights. I wasn’t even at Oxbridge.

‘But if you look to my CV, it would like it was on purpose. Because I was in politics and I was working at ITN, I got a job on the Mark Thomas Comedy Product as a political researcher, but the moment I was there, I realised that essentially I was a very lazy man and that comedy was perfect for that. Because of that, I went into Trigger Happy, and I don’t think I realised at that time how lucky we were that it was such a big hit. But I also knew that I was never going to do any better than that. I just don’t think it’s possible.’

To say he’s never done live stand-up is slightly incorrect – as he did once take to the stage of the Comedy Store, wearing prosthetics, for an extra on the Trigger Happy DVD.

‘Although it seemed like a big deal for me, the Comedy Store was nothing in the end,’ he says. ‘It was a joke in itself that it wasn’t funny. That was all play, not stand-up. I was just saying really ordinary things like “Sorry I was late, there was traffic.” Then everyone’s waiting for a joke, and there wasn’t a joke. It was like Andy Kaufman reading out a book for an hour but there was no punchline. Anti-comedy, I suppose.

‘It was quite funny because it was the Comedy Store and everyone was geed up for laughs. Actually, for about eight minutes, everyone giggled and they thought, “Oh, there’s something clever coming here from this guy who looks like a Liverpudlian car thief”. But eventually they were like, “No, please go”.

Joly promises some tales from the making of Trigger Happy in his tour, saying: ‘I’m giving people a bit of what they want, which is hear some weird things about Trigger Happy, things you didn’t know happened behind the scenes, how you make this sort of hidden camera show and how it’s disorganised as anything.’

But as the title Welcome To Wherever I Am suggests, Joly’s unusual globe-trotting adventures will be the backbone of the show.

‘I’m attracted to weird places because I love travel but hate the fact that everywhere is homogenised,’ he says. ‘In the old days travel was to go and have an adventure, to come out of your comfort zone. Now the only places where you can do that tend to be places that are politically dodgy, because then tourist don’t go there.

‘Of course then that means, if these people are living a horrible time, should you go there as a tourist? Maybe not as a tourist but I know a lot more about North Korea than I did before when I just had this vision of it as a complete nutty place. And it is nutty to an extent but I now understand a little bit more of the world view.

‘It’s a country that’s been bombed and raped by the Japanese for 50 years and then they hadthe Americans bombing them. So their world view, is that the world’s not that friendly. They’re known as the Hermit Nation. It doesn’t excuse them when the leader is an absolute twerp, but I get their point.

‘I don’t think it’s voyeurism. It’s connecting with history, that’s what I like it. I’m a real anorak about history and politics and that going somewhere where something has happened somehow connects you with it.

‘Chernobyl is actually fascinating, a really weird snapshot of Soviet Russia on that day, but North Korea is on its own. I’d never go there if it was a normal place, with democracy. It’s the ugliest country; Pyongyang is the ugliest city. It’s so dull, but because of this weird thing, you’re like in a film. It’s like The Truman Show. You just can’t believe people are living there.

‘You’re on a bus and you see people cutting grass with scissors. Hundreds of them. Then you go into a square and there’s 5,000 schoolchildren all dancing, holding plastic flowers with a man shouting on a megaphone – and that’s before we got to the hotel. It’s insane.

‘North Korea is a very depressing and horrible place to live – but also, you can’t deny that there are odd and funny things about travelling there. It doesn’t mean you’re making light of the place. I think because I grew up in Lebanon, which is like a frightening place but you still have a normal time. So I think I’ve got slightly odd mind in that way.’

Joly says one of his most heart-stopping moments of his travels came in North Korea, which only 1,000 Westerners are allowed to visit every year, on closely-monitored approved tours.

‘There was this nutty Finn in out group who I knew from the moment he turned up was insane,’ Joly recalls. ‘He kept showing me his scabs on his legs from a motorcycle crash and he said he was a priest in the church of the flying spaghetti monster and immediately I was like, O…K…

‘On the last day, we went to this museum and there was a gong in the corner which is one of North Korea’s few ancient relics. He walked up to it, took his shoe off and started banging it. He just thought it was like a dinner gong. Anyway, they went mental, totally mental and they’re usually very un-expressive people. When we went back to the bus there was a crowd growing and they started rocking the bus. I thought, “Fuck, we’re going to get lynched in North Korea.”’

Joly said The Dark Tourist was conceived as a book, rather than a TV series, because ‘it’s very different when you make a TV thing’.

‘You go with the crew, everything is paid is for you, you turn up, you film, you have a nice time, you get drunk with the cameramen, and you don’t really do anything. Whereas if you go on your own, you get really bored and you go out, and that’s when you actually engage with people. So I did want to write a proper book. I might now make a Dark Tourist TV show, but I think you need to do the book first. And I’d probably go to different places.’

Not that there is any shortage of overbearing regimes and humanitarian hellholes for him to visit. ‘I want to go to Yemen. I want to go Rwanda. I want to go to just so many different places.

‘I’m doing an e-book this year called Scary Monsters And Super Creeps where I’m going to try to find six big monsters of the world like Loch Ness, Bigfoot, the Yeti. Obviously, I’m not going to find them. Let’s face it. Even, if I did, “Dom Joly discovers yeti,” it’s like “Yeah, right. Sure.”

‘It’s just another peg to go to interesting places. And it’s more about the sort of people that get obsessed by the legends. You can read Sasquatchology at the University of Oregon. I’m going for two weeks and you just think, “Who does this?”

‘Before we did Trigger Happy, when we were working for the Paramount Comedy Channel, Sam Cadman [his long-term collaborator] and I went up to Loch Ness, filming with a really shit monster costume, and we saw this guy who got obsessed with Loch Ness. He’d given up his job, bought a caravan, put it right at the side at the loch with cameras looking at. He makes his living making little tiny clay figurines of it.

‘So we waited until he went asleep and we had a huge foot on a stick then we just went around his caravan with it. It was very childish but I want to have fun.’

It was his sense of adventure which led Joly into the I’m A Celebrity… jungle, even though it’s often seen as the naff final career movie for the desperate publicity-seeker. But Joly insists he went in for honest motives, on to a show he actually professes to enjoy.

‘I went in because I’ve watched every series since it started and I’m a reality show addict anyway,’ he said. ‘I’ve always liked Big Brother, probably more, but there’s no way I’d go on that. The jungle I like because you don’t vote against each other. They’re not intent on making you fight.

‘And I liked the idea of just seeing whether I could cope in the jungle because even, though I do lots of weird travelling, I like my comforts, and there was a part of me thinking I wonder if I’ll crack up.

‘Another reason I did it was because this year, I’ve got a new two-book deal, I’ve got a film, a couple of TV things, and I thought I actually don’t need to do it. If I went in any other year, I’d be more desperate, thinking, “Oh, I need this.” But as it was, the worst case scenario was I’d go in, be incredibly racist and punch a disabled person – the it would all go tits up. But if I don’t do that, it will be an experience. If something good comes to me, great. If it doesn’t, I don’t need it.

‘And actually, it was pretty cool. I thought I would absolutely melt down and either just completely lose it with someone or run away. I coped a lot better than I thought I would and I had slightly more leadership potential than I thought. Had I done it ten years ago, it’d had been a nightmare. So I realised that, despite myself, I have matured a bit’

So, he’s been submerged in a tank of fish and crayfish , travelled to post-nuclear wastelands and oppressive dictatorships. So what does he describe as his ‘worst experience’? Getting involved in an American remake of Trigger Happy TV.

‘We’d just stopped doing Trigger Happy and we didn’t want to do it any more, we just wanted to leave it where it was, then we got this call from Comedy Central, saying, “Will you come and do Trigger Happy?” And we’re like, “No, we’ve done it, we don’t want to do another one.” And they said “Well, what about if we made a version?” And we said, “Okay, because we’ve finished with it.” And Sam and I basically agreed to be producers.

‘Then they came back and said, “We’d like you just to come in and do a couple of scenes” and literally on the third day of filming, they said “Oh, would you like see the first show?” We go, “What do you mean the first show? We’ve only just arrived.” They’d made the first show – and it was going out the next night. We watched it and literally wept. It was like someone had made a pastiche version of Trigger Happy. It was so shit.

‘It taught me loads of lessons. It thought me don’t care for money, keep control of what you’ve got. If you’re going to do something, keep creative control. It was so bad. It’s terrible. The only good thing about it was that when people see it, they go, “God! That’s shit!” So at least I hope it shows that we put a lot of work into the original.

‘We got very shy of the States after that because there, it’s so different. You’re just a cog in a wheel and things get so out of control.’

But it hasn’t put him off the Hollywood machine entirely; as he’s currently making a movie he calls ‘the Ben Hur of hidden camera’ – which has been a long time in the planning.

‘Ages ago, when we did Trigger Happy, we were offered a huge deal to do a Trigger Happy movie,’ he says. ‘We went in and said “Great, we want to do it, but we want to do just a huge, a bigger version of Trigger Happy,” and they were like “That’s great but we’ll need a storyline.” And we’re like “No, we don’t want a storyline. It’s like just a huge big silly movie.” And they said, “You have to have narrative arc.”

‘So we went on and on with this, and in the end we’re like, ‘Forget It”. I went to the BBC, then Sam went to America to be a director. Then about four years ago, Sam and I were chatting away and he said, “You know what, I’m in LA every day and everyone keeps going on about Trigger Happy. Maybe we should do the movie .”

‘Of course since then, Jackass had come out which doesn’t have any narrative story at all, and it’s done really well. So I thought, “Oh, it’s a bit late for Trigger Happy.”

‘But we’ve come up with something different on the same lines. It’s got Trigger Happy humour, not the same characters, but it’s odd and hidden camera and it’s got huge set pieces where we get 2,000 or so people in it.

‘But instead of paying vast amounts of money for extras, we’ve got 75,000 people signed up in the States to be our army. So when were in town and we need a crowd scene, rather than hiring extras, we just say, “Why don’t you come and be in the film?”

‘It’s a mix of Trigger Happy and flashmob. To me flashmob is a brilliant. I like the idea but all anyone ever seems to do with it is dance. I want to do something a bit more interesting with it.

‘We wanted to call it Big Dumb Stupid Movie. But they said, “No, you can’t put that.”

‘They’re now happy with the format because there is no format. We’ve just held back so much of the movie until we had total control, Having said that, it could still be a huge turkey. We’ll see.

‘The idea is that essentially, there’s a terrorist cell loose in America but it’s a bunch of idiots doing stupid stuff. That’s the only story and even that’s not a story. I’m quite excited about that, and this is the first time I’ve worked with Sam since Trigger Happy. So it’s very cool and it makes me laugh.’

‘We should start filming I hope towards the end of the year. But there are about 13 states where it’s illegal to do hidden camera filming, including California, and there’s a lot more legal hassle, but it will be done and it’s going to be cool.’

Welcome To Wherever I Am kicks off at the Udderbelly on London’s South Bank on April 30, following warm-up gigs in Central London’s Prince Charles Cinema. Click here for the schedule

Published: 6 Apr 2011

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