The English comedian, known for his miserable persona, and his “lemon-sucking” face, has returned to the stage after a six-year hiatus, including two gigs at the Cork Opera House.
Dee has noticed changes on the circuit — it’s more professional; the venues are better, smarter. This is not necessarily good. “The places that I least enjoy playing,” he says, “are those very fancy, new concert halls. The seats are too comfortable for the audience. You want a sort of sticky-carpet environment, with spilt beer — that’s when stand-up is at its best. I was playing in Australia, where a comedian told me he played this venue where no one laughed. It was in the middle of nowhere, in the outback. The guy organising it said, ‘That was a great gig. Thank you.’ He replied, ‘What do you mean — that was a great gig? No one laughed.’ And he said, ‘We don’t laugh here. Everyone goes along and keeps quiet. They’re listening to see if it starts raining. If it starts raining, they have to run out to their cars and start driving home. Everyone comes from about 400 miles away. They drive in their trucks. If they get caught in the rain, they’ll be stranded. Everyone goes to the gig and agrees to remain quiet during the show’.”
Dee has been keeping them laughing since his first, unlikely turn on stage in 1986. He walked on stage during the ‘open mic’ slot at the Comedy Store in London. He had no material. The guy before him had been booed-off. Dee thought he was in for a hiding. “Come on,” somebody shouted, “tell us a joke”. “No,” he said. The stubborn retort got him a laugh. Dee has fashioned a career out of being curmudgeonly. His gigs include eponymous TV shows; slots on British television’s most famous panel shows; and a winning appearance on the inaugural Celebrity Big Brother in 2001. As the celebrity advocate of Britain’s Best Sitcom, on BBC in 2004, he championed Fawlty Towers.
Born in 1961, while growing up Dee feasted on John Cleese, co-creator of Fawlty Towers, and the Monty Python crew. He met Michael Palin, one of the Pythons, at Heathrow airport while filming the documentary Jack Dee Sent to Siberia in 2002. “He was on his way to India, or somewhere,” says Dee. “I was rather pleased. I had just come back from Siberia and I was telling him how rough it was. He himself broke into that, ‘Oh, it’s tough up north” accent. I thought, ‘Great. Michael Palin’s actually done one of his sketches for me at the airport’.”
He says: “I was living in Siberia with reindeer herdsmen and learnt their way of life, and made a film about it for BBC. It’s very remote, very isolating. It’s an extraordinary way of life. Everything they have is either made out of reindeer or timber — all the skins and the bone, everything is used. They buy very few things in. They eat only reindeer and the odd, unlucky bird they shoot. It seems a very down-to-earth, quaint life, but you soon realise, and it’s something that didn’t occur to me,” he says, allowing a rare laugh, “they all hate living there, and want to live in the nearest town and get a job with Vodafone.”
Jack Dee performs at the Cork Opera House, Monday, Mar 25 — Tuesday, Mar 26.