Star Interview: Jack Dee

Jack Dee.
Jack Dee.

Jack Dee has been away from stand-up comedy for six years, so why is he so eager to return to touring now? “I want to spend less time with my family,” he says in that familiar, deadpan tone.

“I think that’s a very good reason for touring. Everyone with children will surely agree with that. I think a little bit of absence from your family is actually a good thing. There are far too many diligent parents out there overdoing it and putting us to shame.”

Yes, Jack is back and he couldn’t be happier about it. After spending the last six years making his acerbic BBC2 sitcom, Lead Balloon, and writing his memoirs, Thanks For Nothing, which he modestly dedicated to himself (“without whom none of this would have been possible”), the comedian has returned to his first love, stand-up.

Jack, who is also the wonderfully poker-faced host of Radio 4’s I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue, has spent the past year warming up his live act. And the good news is, the show is in great shape.

The comedian, who has been very happily married to Jane for the past 23 years and is the proud father of four children, admits that he was initially nervous about his return to stand-up. But the moment he stepped on stage once again, his love for the genre was rekindled.

“At the first warm-up gig I did after that six-year break, I felt like a complete novice. I didn’t know where to begin. But almost immediately it came back. I’ve never taken it for granted; to do it well takes real application. But I have been gigging all year now and it has felt really good.

“Six years ago, I had done a very, very long tour and I was tired. The day you stop enjoying stand-up is the day you should stop doing it. So I had to step away from it and recharge my batteries. Now I’ve got my passion back.”

Jack, who has produced six best-selling DVDs and will release his latest one in autumn 2013, never lets his material grow stale. Part of his brilliance as a stand-up stems from the fact that he is constantly refreshing his act. He said: “What is really exciting is when you get an idea just before the show begins. Then you go on stage and the new material immediately gets a big laugh.

“I keep putting in new stuff, so the act remains very fresh, otherwise it becomes sealed. It’s not very attractive when it becomes glib. I never want it to become like a play.”

According to Jack, the only downside of touring is that: “When I come home, Jane notices that it takes two or three days for me to come down from the stand-up cloud. I have been in the mind-set of constantly trying to find the funny, and it takes a while to shake that off. I’m sure she finds it very tiresome and is quite glad when I’m not around.”

One constant in Jack’s comedy has been his grumpy persona, a fact that has led his friend and fellow comedian, Jeremy Hardy, to dub him, “a little ray of sleet”.

Jack, who has also appeared on such TV shows as Have I Got News For You, QI, Never Mind The Buzzcocks and 8 Out Of 10 Cats, reflects on why this crotchety persona works so well: “I find it funny and the audience do as well. I learnt a lot from playing the character of Rick Spleen in Lead Balloon. I go to great pains to say that Rick is very different from me, but no one believes that. But I really like that sense of someone who is the author of his own unhappiness and can’t see that complaining about everything is only making things worse.

“You’re blaming everyone else for your problems and can’t see that, in fact, you are to blame. I’ve always found that very amusing, and it’s always been a big part of my stage persona.

“There’s nothing funnier than someone who thinks life has colluded against him, someone who believes that everyone has got it in for him. That’s not a rare comic attribute, Woody Allen is the master of that style of comedy. But it works brilliantly for me.”

The Jack Dee Live 2013 tour will be performed at the Royal & Derngate in Northampton on Wednesday, September 18, at 8pm. Tickets for the show cost £22. See www.