Choosing stand-up comedy over a maths degree turned out to be the right decision for award-winning writer, presenter and performer Dave Gorman, who shot to fame with the daft yet irresistible Are You Dave Gorman? in 2001 and has since gone from strength to strength with a succession of books, live shows and TV appearances at home and in the US. We talked to Dave ahead of his show in Peterborough on 3 December, about making the right choices, the art of telling a story – and Tony Bennett...
First of all, tell us about the show you’re bringing to the city this December – Dave Gorman: Powerpoint to the People.
It is – as the title makes clear – a Powerpoint presentation. I don’t want anyone to come in not knowing they’re getting a PowerPoint presentation. However… although there isn’t any one particular theme, what happens over the course of the two hours is that it turns out to have a plot. You’re getting what feels like the usual blend of different topics, segues from point to point, you don’t know quite where it’s all going, but by the end everything I’ve said is sort of… coming home to roost. Everything is connected! It’s hopefully the kind of delightful confection that’s more than the sum of its parts.
This urge to ultimately see things woven into a narrative – do you think it comes from your early days as a writer?
Well, I was actually performing stand-up before I began writing [for Caroline Aherne’s The Mrs Merton Show]. Caroline asked me to write with her after I started doing stand-up in Manchester – and it was a very, very small scene, there was only one club in Manchester at the time! This meant that all the comics in Manchester knew each other, and they were all really friendly and helpful. A club called Band on the Wall had just launched a ‘new material’ night so I went to the promoters and asked if I could join, but they told me I was too young, at 19, and that the other performers were all old hands, they had the experience writing new material every week, and I would have to go and do my learning elsewhere. Anyway, three weeks later they called me back and said, ‘They’re not all turning up with new material, do you want to do it?’ So, I joined this gang of people – Steve Coogan, John Thompson, Henry Normal, and Caroline Aherne. Every week I was working with them, and they could see that I was turning up, that I’d written new stuff and I was doing the job. When Caroline got The Mrs Merton Show commissioned, after the pilot they realised they suddenly had to do six episodes, so they asked me to join. I still did gigs, but couldn’t do as much because I was in the office five days a week, at least, working on the show, and the point came when I realised that I needed to do gigging more often, because I felt I was getting a bit too sucked into the writer’s world. I shook hands with them all and walked away after the third series, and went off and did my own thing. But I learned so much working with a genius like Caroline – I can’t emphasise enough how helpful it is to just rub shoulders and work with people who are that preternaturally talented.
It sounds as though the writers’ room didn’t provide that real-life inspiration you need to create the material that’s unique to you – these extraordinary situations that either unravel or coalesce around you as you make various choices. How do you prepare for the chaos that seems to inevitably ensue each time you embark on a new project?
I’m rarely doing things thinking, ‘This will be material’ – that’s the tail wagging the dog. I occasionally stop and go, ‘Where’s the material?’ when I look back on where I’ve been, but I’m not doing things to create material. I’m living how I live and I’m curious, and I like going around corners – especially when I was younger. I guess that’s a bit different now because I’m married and I’ve got a kid, but when I was young and single – and being in stand-up you do have to be a real self-starter, there’s no company structure to guide you – at some point I had to make things happen for myself. I do have a lot of admiration for people who begin stand-up careers when they’re older, when they’ve got a car on the drive, a mortgage to pay and child to feed, because giving up what you’ve got is very brave. I didn’t have anything to give up because I was just 19 and I had that, kind of, foolhardy bravery of a teenager, I thought: ‘I’ll just go for it’. Now, I’ve ended up in a place where, if I’ve got a bit of money and a bit of free time, and if someone says, ‘Have you heard about this thing?’ I’ll go and find out about it – that’s just my personality!
Do you think more people should pull on those threads – would that be your prescription for living a fuller life? Would you recommend to other people: ‘Go around that corner, ask that question, get chatting to that person’?
I think it’s a really lovely way to live, and I think it’s almost always a rewarding way to live. I think there is a culture of fear, and that we’re made to feel like the world isn’t safe, but I think the vast majority of people on Earth are pleasant and lovely, and want to be helpful. However, I also don’t want to sound too prescriptive because I know that I speak from the privilege of being a white bloke – and a white bloke with a credit card, at that. So, I don’t want to say, ‘Everyone should do that’ because I’m aware that it is easier for some people to move freely in the world without fear than it is for others. Not everyone is lucky enough to have that.
Your life has involved so much that’s out of the ordinary, but is there a moment that stands out, which even now makes you stop and think: ‘Well, that was a helluva thing?’
It’s… it’s crazy, and this is going to be a very strange sentence, and it’s the sort of sentence that makes people go, ‘Tell me more,’ but telling you more won’t make it better… The sentence is the headline and it is also the entire story, and it is this: I once walked into a room and found Tony Bennett pissing.
Hmm, that would keep you up at night… Was he meant to be there; were you meant to be there?
I think the most bizarre thing for me about the whole thing is that it was Tony Bennett, of all people – he was one of the Rat Pack, for goodness’ sake! I said, ‘I’m so sorry!’ and walked straight back out again. I mean, he’s a legend – I shouldn’t even live on the same planet as Tony Bennett, he’s a showbiz god! The idea that I’ve even been in the same orbit as him, for a moment, is weird – but the fact that he was urinating when I got there…
Yeah, I do see what you mean. Like, if it was Sid Vicious – that would be on-brand. But this, it would be like catching Cary Grant urinating, wouldn’t it?
I’m actually distantly related to Cary Grant! Not through blood – you can see that none of his ridiculous handsomeness has rubbed off on me! – but he was married to a distant cousin of mine. When I was on Taskmaster, one of the tasks was to bring in a photo of our most handsome relative, and I was able to provide a photo of Cary Grant and prove that he was actually related to me.
And you won hands-down?
I mean, if I didn’t win with that one then Greg Davis must have lost his mind…
To find out more and book tickets, head to newtheatre-peterborough.com/event/dave-gorman-powerpoint-to-the-people or call the Box Office on 01733 852992.
Dave Gorman: Powerpoint to the People Sunday, 3 December 2023
New Theatre, Peterborough