FIND­ING HIS FEET

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Television - QI,

Ihad quite a trau­matic child­hood and a prob­lem­atic home life. Mum died of can­cer when I was six, leav­ing Dad to raise me and my older brother and younger sis­ter. None of us re­ally liked each other, which was rather dif­fi­cult. We were a be­reaved fam­ily and ter­ri­bly af­fected by my mother dy­ing, yet no at­tempt was made to talk about it. My fam­ily would use me as a scape­goat for their feel­ings. I be­came the black sheep, while the ele­phant in the room was that we were all in ter­ri­ble pain and fail­ing to deal with the sit­u­a­tion. But the badly be­haved per­son they per­ceived me to be was com­pletely at odds with the per­son I was out in the world. I was quite happy as soon as I got out the front door. I was up for a laugh.

I re­mem­ber that get­ting a laugh out of my mum made me feel good, but it never oc­curred to me to per­form or do com­edy or any­thing else un­til I started do­ing it aged 16 at col­lege. Be­fore that I wanted to be a sports re­porter and write about foot­ball. Ar­se­nal were my team but the idea of get­ting on and play­ing for Ar­se­nal was such a pipe dream — I had more chance of be­ing an astro­naut. I wasn’t good enough to play for any team, never mind the pro­fes­sional teams. I tried to play for Loughton Boys when I was 13 and went to train­ing ev­ery Wed­nes­day, but in the whole sea­son they never gave me a game … not even as a sub­sti­tute.

But once I got started on my col­lege course, which in­cluded drama, my path was set. It was a com­plete rev­e­la­tion. It was re­ally nice to find what you wanted to do and have enough ap­ti­tude that you could le­git­i­mately pur­sue it with­out seem­ing crazy.

I was work­ing on sit­com ideas when Jonathan Creek’s pro­ducer spot­ted me. I al­ways think you get your lucky break be­cause you’re putting your­self in the place you want to be any­way.

Still, it’s in­cred­i­ble that it’s still go­ing, 20 years on; I hitched my wagon to a good one there. And if I hadn’t done that, then I wouldn’t have been of­fered the Abbey Na­tional com­mer­cials (which were some­thing of a poi­soned chal­ice that I took purely for the money in 1997, thus sev­er­ing all ties with the al­ter­na­tive com­edy cir­cuit in that mo­ment). Af­ter 18 com­mer­cials, they were so suc­cess­ful they had to change the name of the bank once I fin­ished!

The best thing, though, is the ad­verts were all di­rected by John Lloyd, who be­came a friend and some­one I’ve a lot of ad­mi­ra­tion for. While we were do­ing the ad­verts he came up with the idea for QI. So with­out Jonathan Creek, there’d be no QI. All these things join up.

I RE­MEM­BER THAT GET­TING A LAUGH OUT OF MY MUM MADE ME FEEL GOOD

Start­ing a fam­ily wasn’t some­thing I thought about un­til it hap­pened. When you’ve lost your mother, you have se­ri­ous is­sues around loss. It can be very dif­fi­cult to be with some­one you feel close to and then leave; it kicks up a lot of stuff. So some­times I was un­able to ex­tri­cate my­self from re­la­tion­ships that weren’t good for me. That was cer­tainly the case be­fore I met my wife, Katie [Maskell]. But you are the per­son that you are. There’s no point beat­ing your­self up about it. Still, it’s a use­ful tool in life to be able to iden­tify parts of your per­son­al­ity rather than just crash through a se­ries of un­ex­plained ac­tions with­out un­der­stand­ing them. Once I met Katie it all felt dif­fer­ent.

Then a baby seemed like a good idea, but even un­til it was born I hadn’t thought it through prop­erly. Now the strength of feel­ing I have for my three chil­dren is ab­surd. It’s at this point in my life that I think I might be closer to the kid I was be­fore my mum died. As a lit­tle kid I was al­ways muck­ing about and I liked joke books, com­edy shows and funny peo­ple. I still think funny peo­ple make the world go round. I can’t read a novel with­out hu­mour and I can’t un­der­stand how peo­ple speak out loud with­out try­ing to tell a joke.

I think my younger self would re­ally like QI. It’s like an un­ruly class­room full of an­ar­chic peo­ple wil­fully bend­ing the rules. He’d get a kick out of that. He might like Jonathan Creek. The stand-up? It’s harder to say. I don’t know if he’d be im­pressed by any of it, though. If I was play­ing cen­tre for­ward for Ar­se­nal and scor­ing 30 goals a sea­son, then I think he’d be re­ally im­pressed. Wed­nes­day, 8.30pm, ABC.

Alan Davies; in Jonathan Creek, left; and with Stephen Fry on top QI

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