The amiable shaggy-haired comic will be familiar to millions as providing a down to earth foil to the perceived genius of Stephen Fry, on their long-running QI TV show, or as a crime-solving magician’s assistant in BBC drama series Jonathan Creek. However it had been quite a while since he’d returned to where he made his name – the stand-up circuit.
That is until 2012, which saw Davies begin flexing his muscles in a live arena again, after a break of over a decade. That show “Life is Pain” drew its concept from the tale of a child, whilst being admonished by a parent, responding: “life is pain!” This provided the springboard for a series of reflections on the nature of life and family dynamics, and an evolution in Davies’ comedy style.
Polished, insightful and darkly funny, it was a long way from his early more laddish stand-up. There was a strikingly honest self-analysis now infusing his return to the stage. ‘Life is Pain’ was an enthralling series of reflections from Davies.
Growing old, humiliation at the hands of his kids, trying to reconcile what happened during his own childhood and a complicated relationship with his father, these may be idiosyncratic themes for a comedy show, yet it was a solidly hilarious performance. Life can be pain, but that’s not to say the ironic, the inappropriate and the plain awkward situations it throws up can’t offer flashes of dark amusement.
The return to touring stemmed from a few of his projects not working out as planned. This made him realise if he put as much work into writing, he could produce at least six live shows. “It works better with a family life, as opposed to a filming schedule, which is quite unforgiving,” he tells me. “It’s different now. I think of it as a day out, I’m not drinking at the moment, so I don’t think of it as opportunity to cut loose whilst I’m out the house. It’s a nice way to work.”
Perhaps it’s the significant changes to his lifestyle that prompted the change in comedy outlook. On my mind is the incident outside London’s Groucho Club in 2007, when, after a few drinks, Davies playfully tried to bite off the ear of a passer-by who’d bombarded him with profanities. I wanted to ask him about this, but decided against it. We’d already taken a break in our call, a family matter demanding immediate attention, leaving me reluctant to add to the hassles of his day. Perhaps I was just feeling soft, or was I genuinely warming to the comedian? He’d already been brutally honest with me earlier on, instilling me with a certain sense of respect.
He’s only recently properly opened up about suffering family tragedy, his depression and the years of therapy peppering his real life, but it’s a safe assumption he’s a stronger and more focussed person of late. This has to be due largely to his becoming a proud father. “Kids are amazing really. Every day is different, and they’re changing all the time. There’s no time to think about anything.”
Undoubtedly there’s a strong family theme to his new show. Whether discussing how his children fail to realise his food intentions or his occasional amusement from their misadventures, there’s no shortage of hilarious recollections. Titled Little Victories, the show offers another unusual mix of soul-baring confessions. “Whatever i’m doing in my life, when I’m coming up with a show, is bound to be reflected.”
It’s a statement of middle-aged induced torment perhaps, but even if the show doesn’t provoke understanding, it’s a cold heart that doesn’t delight in children swearing, the perils of changing nappies or a grown man interacting with kids play equipment. “It’s quite personal and autobiographical now; all the material is from last year. My father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and the kids are just tossers now, so I’m not getting a lot of sleep. When I put it like that, it sounds like a misery memoir, which it’s not.” Once again it’s deeply personal, achingly funny and occasionally ironic material from a comedian that’s only just beginning to reach the peak of his abilities.
In the hands of lesser talent, some of these recollections could be tear-jerking, but Davies has little time for mawkishness. His life has changed, and is indeed still changing, bringing with it a new set of bizarre and painful circumstances. You get the idea his children will be bringing comic inspiration to Davies for a very long time yet. “I think they’re getting an inkling as to what I do now. When I was doing a show for Dave, there was a big poster for it at our local station. They probably think everyone’s Daddy has their picture on the wall of the Tube.”
Alan Davies – Little Victories comes to Dome Concert Hall, on Sat 6 Dec 2014
Image by Tony Briggs