The time arranged for Alan Davies, star of QI and Jonathan Creek, to ring for this interview was 2.40. 2.40 came and went with no phone call: “Well, my watch got repaired and they’d set the time an hour behind. So I got home thinking, “right, I must do the interview.” Then next time I looked at the clock it was four o’clock!” It is reassuring to learn that Alan Davies retains some of his on-screen buffoonery in real life and it perhaps explains why he has been such a fixture on our television screens for the past eight years. He doesn’t need to put on an act.
This year sees Davies make a return to the British stand-up comedy circuit after a gap of nearly 13 years. Asked about this lengthy hiatus Davies replies, ‘I never really intended it to be so long. I haven’t done a show in the UK since 1999. That was the last time I toured.’ Interestingly, however, he has always considered himself to be a stand-up but ‘kept it quiet because I wasn’t doing any gigs!’
Davies visited Oxford last week with his new show, Life is Pain. Asked to explain the reasoning behind this rather gloomy title he was completely deadpan in his response. “Because it is. It is pain. Life is painful for all concerned and I’m talking about the painful bits in my life in order to make people laugh. But it’s also a bit tongue-in-cheek.”
One gets the impression that Davies feels that his recent return to the day job was a good decision. On the prospect of embarking upon his UK tour, he said: “I’m really looking forward to it – as soon as I came back to it I was glad. I did do a few minutes of stand-up in that theatre in Oxford as part of a benefit [in aid of Helen and Douglas House] two years ago and ended up talking about Helen Mirren’s pubes. Not my finest moment.”
Despite the resumption of his stand-up career he claims that he has no concrete plans after this tour, but does aim to continue participating in the much loved QI, a new series of which started a couple of weeks ago.
“We’ve just done J, the tenth year! It’s been good because we went to Australia [to do a live, touring version of QI] and it gave the show a shot in the arm. We thought quite hard about how to do a show there. How to keep it entertaining and punchy for a live audience. Also, we had a lot more women comedians on in Australia. It meant that when we came back we felt able to really freshen up the panel for this year. There are lots of people who haven’t been on before. We’ve had three women on the panel, whereas prior to this series we’ve only had one show where there was more than one woman on the panel, and that was a show specifically about gender. I think we’ve lurched, quite reluctantly into the modern comedy era. I’m quite pleased about that myself, I’ve always been complaining about the bookings.”
Speaking to Davies, there is a sense that he feels a tad frustrated with the restrictions that QI, and television work in general, brings with it. This return to stand-up comedy might herald a sort of second youth for him. Now that he is middle-aged he cares less what people think. He is, however, quick to acknowledge the importance of television in his career. “I’m not knocking television. Television’s been a big part of my life, but stand-up gives you the freedom to do what you want.” Exactly what Alan Davies wants to do remains to be seen, but it sounds as if it might be quite exciting.