Dave Gorman: interview
A revitalised Dave Gorman tells Time Out about rejecting bad TV shows, turning his back on stand-up and how he got back in the saddle - literally.
With his shows, 'Reasons to be Cheerful', 'Googlewhack' and, most famously, 'Are You Dave Gorman?' the writer and comedian Dave Gorman changed the face (and format) of modern comedy. His multimedia storytelling performances, based around his own extraordinary adventures, created a blueprint which many comedians have happily followed.
How does it feel when you hear of other people's work being referred to as 'Gorman-esque'?
'It's a weird one. The first time I saw that term in a newspaper I thought: Most of your readers won't have a clue what that means. I'm not arrogant enough to assume that everyone has heard of me. There's other people, like Simon Munnery, who've been doing really innovative, amazing stuff for years who are often not credited with the influence they've had. So, it's peculiar to see your name being used as an adjective and not theirs- it's mental.
My work wasn't even that groundbreaking. People have told stories before. Maybe it's just that I was the first person to realise that using an overhead projector might help, I don't know.'
But you were one of the first people to create the 'high concept' comedy show…
'There were a lot of themed shows around before me but they tended to be ones where people came up with a title first and then just used it to top and tail their club sets. For that reason I'm really proud of the fact that I've never done a show called “Gorman Wisdom” or “The Gorman Conquest”. My shows were genuinely about me doing something that I was passionately interested in, not about me simply doing something in order to make a show out of it.
After the success of “Are You Dave Gorman?” I'd get emails from people saying things like: “I've got an idea for a show for you. What you need to do is go to every European country and meet the Eurovision Song Contest winner who scored the highest points for them and then interview them on top of the highest mountain in that country.”
The problem is that's just a contrived pile of cack. It doesn't mean anything to me. That wouldn't be real. It would be shitting on my own doorstep, because it would tell people that that's what I think the other ones were as well. When actually they were true and real and happened for other reasons.'
Your latest tour, 'Sit Down, Pedal, Pedal, Stop and Stand Up (Only Without the Pedal, Pedal Bit)' is your first return to straight live stand-up for a few years. Why did you stop?
'The turning point for me was when I was doing “Are You Dave Gorman?”. I was really proud of it and thought I'd hit on something I wanted people to see but, at the same time, I was still doing stand-up on the circuit as well.
Then, one night, I met a nice couple who had come to see me do a spot on a bill somewhere. They thought that what they'd seen was more or less what I did in my solo shows so they wouldn't need to come to that as well. This made me frustrated - people didn't understand the difference between my stand-up in clubs and my solo work.
So I made a decision at that time to stop doing stand-up. I know that makes me sound a little like a self-regarding arse but I really wanted people to come to see the shows I was putting so much effort into.'
So why start doing it again?
'In 2009 I started to go to see more stand-up again, catching up with old friends and enjoying it. And I realised, actually, the reasons I'd stopped doing it no longer exist. Audiences are more sophisticated now when it comes to comedy. On three consecutive nights I could do a book reading, a stand-up show and a storytelling performance and people would be able to discern which was which.
So I thought: Stop being an arse, stop being a pretentious dick about yourself and telling yourself you're not a stand-up. If you want to do it, you can. And it's been great.'
The show's title comes from a long distance bike ride you'd planned…
'I was thinking about cycling that iconic journey from Land's End to John O'Groats. But when I found out they weren't actually the most southerly or northerly points of the mainland, I decided that I'd find out what really were, as well as the most easterly and westerly points, and cycle to all of them. I reckoned it was going to be about 1,500 miles, so I put a bit of time aside in my diary for the autumn.
However, when I started doing the odd little stand-up gig here and there my agent suggested I should go out on tour in the second half of the year. I told him I couldn't because of my bike ride. Then he said, “Couldn't you put the two together?” and it all clicked into place. That idea engaged me, it would be a fun way of touring. So we planned it, a gig every night on the route, no matter where we were. That meant occasionally doing a gig in a hotel function room to 20 people in the Highlands or in an old railway station in the middle of nowhere. It was non-commercial and exciting.
The whole experience was wonderful and made me enjoy my stand-up all over again, hence why I extended the tour but without the riding bit.'
And this is a straight stand-up show, isn't it?
'Yeah. It isn't the tale of the journey or anything like that. It's just jokes mainly and some things get tied-up at the end to make it feel like a composite piece but it's not one story. Besides, it couldn't be a show about the ride anyway because otherwise the first night of the tour would have been really short and shit.'
Have you always had this spirit of adventure that appears to drive you creatively?
'I just want to enjoy myself and to be engaged in things. I find it confusing that other people don't. Besides, if I hope to entertain people by telling them about my life, don't I owe it to myself to try to live an entertaining life?'
Dave Gorman's 'Sit Down, Pedal, Pedal, Stop and Stand Up (Only Without the Pedal, Pedal Bit)' is at Hammersmith Apollo, Sat Feb 20.