One of the most unique, true stories in comedy form is heading to Australia this September, written by British comedian David Baddiel. His career began with BBC comedy classics such as The Mary Whitehouse Experience, Newman and Baddiel in Pieces, Football Fantasy League, and writing the football anthem ‘Three Lions’ (the reason for all of the #itscominghome hash tags at the World Cup).
For the first time, David Baddiel is bringing his show My Family: Not A Sitcom, with his trademark brand of truth telling; part TED Talk, part standup comedy show to Australia. I spoke to him about the process of writing a show based on his family, and his career highlights as a comedian.
“I found it (My Family: Not a Sitcom) easy to write, because I am very confessional and truth telling naturally. The show is a big exercise in telling the truth and it’s very opposite to what happens when people die, or your parents get older or ill: you start treating them with kid gloves and then their memory with kid gloves and saying the were an angel- the show is the opposite of that,” Baddiel said.
“It’s a show that extremely tells the truth about my parents, but somehow ends up being a celebration of them by doing so. It’s very un-judgemental, it’s very funny, it celebrates the f**ked up, crazy way in which I was parented. Because everyone really was parented in a f**ked up, crazy way, in the 70s when I grew up. A lot of the show is about my mum having a very public affair with a golfing memorabilia salesman, and because of that, turned our lives over to golf. That’s a very specific experience, but people come up to me after and say it really reminded me of my childhood, even though no one has had that experience. Everyone has had weird shit in their childhood. It’s a great big piece of truth telling, but that isn’t difficult for me, keeping things in is difficult for me,” Baddiel explained.
He’s been doing the show on and off for two years, on the West End in London before touring it through Britain, Canada, and now Australia.
“The show has definitely evolved and gotten better. I first started it in a workshop, but then it evolved quite quickly and became a hit show. I don’t like doing the same thing every night, and when I was doing it on the West End, I kept on changing it just to keep it alive, and gradually it’s become the show that it is now. I think it is probably the tightest show that it’s been. I also put new stuff in, because its all true; it’s all based around true stories about my parents and my childhood. If I find stuff, like around my dad’s house, and I find something that I think is funny or relevant I put it in the show,” Baddiel said.
He doesn’t reveal much about the way the show unfolds or the structure of the show, laughing that I’d just have to come see it to find out.
“The structure is very organic, and lots of stuff that you hear about in the first half comes back in the second half. I use a screen – the screen is very important. It shows lots of images and footage of my parents. It’s just funny images. For example, my mum was born in Nazi Germany, and she was given a name – all Jewish children had to have certain names in Nazi Germany, you chose the name of your child off a list – and I show that list at one point,” Baddiel explains.
“So, it goes from that, to images of my cat trying to have sex and failing … it’s very audio visual, it’s kind of theatrical, but it is very stand-up-y because it’s still me, completely being me, on stage and telling you the truth. It’s a weird mix of TED Talk, theatre show and pure stand up,” Baddiel laughed.
He’s found the experience a bit cathartic but also a way to remember and celebrate his parents for who they were and are and keeping their uniqueness alive.
“I’ve been doing this a long time, and I feel like I’ve achieved that, but I think also a lot of it is about holding on, to some extent. My mum died very suddenly. At her funeral, I noticed a lot of people telling me she was wonderful, and I thought, that completely erases her out of existence. My brother came to see the show, and he was very uncertain about it, but he said it felt like she was in the room. If you tell the truth about someone, including the negative truth about someone, their flaws and their madnesses and their weaknesses, they come alive much more than if you just say they were wonderful. Partly, the show is about reclaiming who my mother, and my dad were and are,” Baddiel said.
While it sounds wild, rude and downright funny, Baddiel doesn’t intend the show to be offensive.
“In two years, even though the show is about my mother’s infidelity, and at one point I talk about my mother masturbating and make jokes about my dad’s dementia, I have never had anyone find it offensive. I begin the show talking about social media, and I do that because I show some of the examples of when I’ve done jokes and people have gotten angry and offended. I talk about the culture of offence that we live in now. The reason I do that is A) it’s funny and B) I can say, right people being offended now, I’m going to outflank them now by talking very honestly about my own family, and who should be offended about that? Me – and I’m not. It’s a way of saying, “Who is going to tell me not to do jokes about my own mother and my own father?”’
David Baddiel wanted to be a comedian but didn’t know how, so he followed his inspirations of Monty Python, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore to Cambridge and the comedy troupe the Cambridge Footlight.
“I ended up running the Cambridge Footlight! When I came out of it in London in 1986, the old days of people coming out of the Footlight and having a career in comedy had completely ended. I went on the London circuit and did stand up for five or six years before I ended up on British TV. I was doing comedy at university and it was great to have a platform to do it, but it didn’t propel my career in the way that it used to”.
David Baddiel has done a lot of stuff, to say the least: he’s worked on radio, TV, toured comedy, written children’s books (which he’s writing a movie version of The Parent Agency) and four adult novels, and written a very famous song which recently re-entered the UK top 40 in 2018. With a new children’s book coming out soon, and his tour coming to Australia, he reflected on the highlights from his career so far.
“I wrote a movie called The Infidel, I really love it, and it was great to be at the premiere of the movie … I’ve done too many things, but I’ve been really lucky, that everything I’ve don,e evenly if it’s not wildly successful, I’ve been proud of it, and it’s been enough of a thing to make me think, “Yes, this is great”’ Baddiel reflected.
“I wrote a football song – I used to do a football comedy show. I think the most memorable moment was, that song, ‘Three Lions’, being sung at Wembley Stadium by the whole crowd, and that happened every game in 1996. The first time it happened when we were playing Scotland, it was a totally spontaneous moment. The DJ put the song on, and suddenly 90,000 people joined in and all knew the words. Neither me, nor Frank Skinner, had any idea that everyone knew the words and they’d taken it so to heart in the footballing nation, and that was an amazing moment,” Baddiel said.
His film, The Infidel, also became a musical in the UK in 2014, to some mixed reviews.
“One of the things about the musical was, it was written by me and Erran Baron Cohen (Sacha Baron Cohen’s brother). It’s one of the last times I remember my mum, as she died very soon after that, being incredibly happy. She loved turning up at all the stuff I did. My mum really loved the spotlight herself and she loved having a famous son. So I have a very strong memory of her hobnobbing with Sacha Baron Cohen and all these big British stars at my musical, and it’s a very happy memory,” Baddiel said.
“The musical might be coming actually … I’m not sure what’s happening now, I’m not the producer, but the producer tells me that they’re trying to reopen it in London next year, with a new cast and a new structure. I hope it happens, I actually … don’t prefer it to the movie, but I feel like I fixed parts of the story, and parts work better than the movie in some respects. The songs are brilliant; Erran Baron Cohen is a great composer. So I’d really love it to come back – it’s a feel good musical about Muslims and Jews and ethnicity, and it’s a good thing to have a musical that deals with that stuff, even thought it’s complicated,” he said.
A diverse storyteller, writer and comedian, My Family: Not A Sitcom will play only five shows across Brisbane, Sydney, Perth and Melbourne. A unique and true comedy experience not to be missed, tickets and more info: https://www.frontiercomedy.com/davidbaddiel
BRISBANE: The Tivoli, Thursday 13 September at 7.30pm (as part of Brisbane Festival)
SYDNEY: Seymour Centre, Friday 14 September at 7.30pm
PERTH: Octagon Theatre, Monday 17 September at 7.30pm
MELBOURNE: Alex Theatre, Friday 21 & Saturday 22 September at 7.30pm