This was originally published in Fest magazine here
Alan Davies is a rare breed of celebrity. One of the most recognised faces in British television, he shuns media attention; preferring to spend time at home with his wife and two young children. But 2012 sees a big change for the curly haired comedian as he embarks on his first standup tour in over a decade – a fifty-something date extravaganza that will take him up to the end of the year.
So why the sudden change of heart? “I was pushed back into live comedy by a friend of mine who’s a promoter in Australia. When we went over there to film QI Live, I thought I’d have a go at doing some standup again. Initially, I worried I’d never think of anything funny, but by the end of it I was quite pleased with what I had.”
The trip down under in late 2011 gave Davies his first taste of a solo stage performance for a decade: an experience that validated his desire to return to standup. “I never intended to take such a long break – the years just sort of slipped by,” he muses. This has certainly become a recurring theme for a number of his contemporaries, including Harry Hill, Jack Dee and Eddie Izzard, who are undertaking tours after what has been, for many of them, a 10 year standup sabbatical. “You can’t resist it,” Davies explains. “Once you try it and get that feeling again, you think: ‘I must get back into this.’”
The road to this year’s festival has been a long one for Davies, and one not without its frustrations. His most recent drama, Whites, was cancelled by the BBC last year after its first series; a decision he calls “the biggest disappointment of my career.” But as one door closes another opens, and this provided that added push for Davies to end his standup hiatus.
Like many of his peers, his absence on the live circuit has been well compensated for with a strong presence on the small screen. After shooting to fame as the titular role in BAFTA winning drama Jonathan Creek, the funnyman was “in the right place at the right time” when a spot on the QI panel opened up in 2003. “It’s been a privilege to be a part of it, and sitting next to Stephen Fry makes me feel very lucky – a lot of comedians would happily take that gig. I did have a wobble with it when I wondered if I should continue as it’s on so much, and I worried I’d never get cast in anything if people constantly saw me in that. But going out to Australia gave us a shot in the arm, and using new comedians renewed it for everyone.”
The Fringe is offering a kind of redemption to the 46 year-old, who is looking forward to the no holds barred nature of his standup show. “After a long time in television, it’s quite nice to have the freedom to talk about what you want!” A long-time fan of the festival, which he labels “the best arts event bar none,” this year will mark a more relaxed approach to his performances.
“With Life is Pain, I’m more comfortable talking about things that are personal to me. I think that comes from being 46 and not 26, which is how old I was when I took my first one man show to Edinburgh. I’ve passed up that sense of ambition and being worried what people think of me, as back then I was really worried about the kind of impression I was making. That can really affect the kind of comedian you are.”
Having mastered both live and televised comedy, books and radio, is there anything else left for him to do? “I’ve been saying this for years, but I’d love to do more films – something with running around and car chases. You don’t get many 46 year-olds doing that…” he laughs. And after Edinburgh? “I’ve got no work after the tour, so effectively, I’ve got about a 40 year holiday!”