'I'm in the Inbetweeners movie... and I fucking milk it' | Kirsten Lester meets Greg Davies

'I'm in the Inbetweeners movie... and I fucking milk it'

Kirsten Lester meets Greg Davies

Greg Davies is no diva; backstage on his current tour, all he asks for is a supply of substantial snacks. ‘I find the best pre-gig stimulant to be excess, so the quality of any particular show is entirely the responsibility of the person in charge of stocking the fridge,’ he explains. ‘If I appear lacklustre, it’s because I’ll only have had a bottle of water; if I’m hilariously funny it’s because I’m out of my mind on E numbers, fat and caffeine.’

It’s no surprise Davies requires a few pick-me-ups, as his first UK solo tour Firing Cheeseballs at a Dog is taking in a mammoth 93 venue. ‘To be honest, I can't believe anyone comes to see me,’ he says modestly. ‘There is a part of me that thinks they are all on my mother's payroll; I couldn’t help but notice that she’s sold her house and is now living in a hedge.’

Family’s important to Davies and he’s quick to point out that while he seemingly slates them so publicly in his act, he hopes this conveys what a close unit they really are. Watch him on Dave’s One Night Stand this Thursday, where he returns to his home town of Wem in Shropshire, and you’ll see him introducing his former stomping ground by way of some fierce bickering with his sister.

‘My sister is a great friend and my family are wonderful for providing huge swathes of my act and then forgiving me for telling thousands of strangers. I think some of my parent’s friends thought I’d gone too far when I last played in Shropshire, and I don’t blame them; I think it's unusual for a family to rip the shit out of each other the way we’ve always done.’

Davies hails his dad as a big influence. ‘My dad is one of only four people I know who will tell me straight if he thinks something I've done wasn't up to scratch. He is also the funniest human being I've ever met so I take his criticism on board.’

Davies broke into comedy relatively late on, after 13 frustrated years as a secondary school drama teacher. What took him so long?

‘Teaching was an act of grotesque cowardice. All I’ve ever wanted to do is attempt to make people laugh and unfortunately I did this throughout my teaching career at the expense of children's education.

‘A sweet and misguided child once nominated me for the prestigious teacher of the year award. On the official form she had simply written, "He's a good laugh and he don't make us do no work." The head teacher was crying with laughter when showing me this, which I think might reflect pretty badly on him also.’

Despite Davies being as popular in class as he’s proved to be on stage, he admits that making the transition from teaching to comedy wasn’t easy.

‘There was a period of a couple of years when I was doing gigs in the middle of nowhere then driving for hours and registering a class of children. I’m certain that I failed in my attempt to appear professional back then both as a comedian and a teacher.

‘I’d often have moments when I wondered whether it was all worth it, but they only serve to highlight what a good job it is I didn't attempt comedy earlier. My skin was barely thick enough in my early thirties - or now come to think of it.’

Given that performing was the only thing he ever actually enjoyed at school (with the exception, he says ‘of a battered jam sandwich called a Thunderbird created by one of the dinner ladies’) it’s no surprise that Davies finally made the leap, but it wasn’t straight onto the stage. It was writing for a kids’ cartoon at CBBC that ultimately gave him his first break.

‘I was very lucky to get offered that job since it enabled me to phase out the teaching, while getting better at stand-up. I certainly couldn't have earned a living at that stage otherwise.’

He also did a course run by Logan Murray which he says was the first and probably the last, time he actually wrote down and learned any kind of stand-up. ‘I find most of the routines that have lasted in my show came from a germ of an idea and then were developed exclusively through live performance. Sitting in front of a laptop usually just results in a blank screen and my losing feeling in my arse.’

Davies went on to become a continuity announcer for the Paramount Comedy channel (now Comedy Central), which he describes as brilliant fun. “They pretty much let me say what I wanted, so a programme rarely received a sensible plug. The only time I ever got told off was when I repeatedly suggested that Sex And The City was rubbish, something that I still passionately stand by.’

Davies indulged his silly side performing as one third of the sketch group We Are Klang alongside Marek Larwood and Steve Hall, and then came his infamous TV role as Mr Gilbert, the somewhat deranged head of sixth form on E4’s The Inbetweeners. So how did he land the part?

‘I was in a pub with the writers when they got a commission for the pilot and in their exuberance they offered me a role, which I recorded and then had made legally binding.’

Did they give him a certain degree of freedom in terms of Mr Gilbert’s character?

‘The writers have always let me dick about with Gilbert's speeches but I rarely changed them as they were so well written in the first place. Every time I went on to set in Gilbert's horrible outfits throughout the filming of the three series, the show’s co-writer, Iain Morris would shout, "Can we get Greg into wardrobe, he can't wear his own clothes." So you can see, my help wasn't needed; hilarious.”

Davies may have been able to draw on his previous experience as a teacher for the part of Gilbert, but that’s where any career crossovers end. ‘Working on the show was tremendous fun, but I always manage to compromise my enjoyment of any filming experience by having the line-learning capacity of a dog.

‘Playing Gilbert was a bit like scratching a super-itch though, which stopped the reoccurring dream of me exacting revenge on one particular child I once taught, called Kevin.’

After three hugely successful series, The Inbetweeners film is now being made, the details of which remain a closely guarded secret. Can Davies divulge any information at all?

‘I'd be killed if I did. All I can tell you is that I'm in it briefly - and I fucking milk it.’

Davies admits that outside of his Gilbert persona, he is ‘the least scary person in the country’. Certainly during his current tour, he comes across as something of a widely gesticulating gentle giant. The 6ft 8in, 42-year-old is also clearly comfortable in his own skin, striking a naked pose with a top hat perched on his head for his official tour poster. Was that his idea?

‘It was taken by the brilliant Richard Hardcastle and after two hours of attempting to get the right image, the creative process was as follows:

Me: (sigh) “I could take my top off?”

Rich: (pause): “Yeah.”

Me: (takes top off)

Rich: (pause) “Why don’t you put this hat on?”

Me:(pause) (puts hat on)

Rich: (pause) (takes picture).’

Davies admits the same confidence doesn’t always stretch to his performances. He says he used to get so nervous before appearing on TV panel shows like Mock the Week and 8 out of 10 Cats, he was incapable of speaking. ‘Now I merely gobble Class A drugs and drink turps in the build-up to them, and as a consequence barely remember any of my appearances.’

These days, Davies is a familiar face and finds he often gets recognised in the street – with mixed reactions. ‘Young people shout, "Gilbert, Gilbert....legend." Older people click their fingers and say, “You're that bloke... ummm... you're...who are you?”’

Once Davies has finished touring, there’s no let up as he says he’ll be ploughing all his energies into writing and acting. And that’s the thing that strikes you most about him; his endearing capacity to gain pure, unabashed delight from his work. When asked what part of his job he enjoys the most between stand-up and acting, he replies: ‘Both. I want to gorge on both strands of my job the same way I gorge on crisps. This job is wonderful and don’t let any comedian tell you otherwise.’

Published: 9 May 2011

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