'Comedy will help us rebuild' - Jack Dee says ahead of Buxton Opera House dates
Jack Dee’s live tour, “Off the Telly”, was cut off in its prime when the pandemic hit the UK last spring.
He takes up the story.
“It’s been such a surreal journey. I had just got the tour started and was playing to bigger rooms, having spent the past six months travelling around Britain doing church halls and arts centres getting it right. Then the curtain fell on the tour because of lockdown.
“That was annoying. People just don’t think about people like me in the pandemic, do they? It’s all about the doctors and nurses!”
This is typical of Jack’s wonderfully acerbic sense of humour, which audiences can enjoy plenty more of when he brings his tour to Buxton Opera House for two nights next week.
After 18 months cooped up at home, we are all desperate for a rollicking good night out, and that’s exactly what Jack provides.
The stand-up says, “it’s a way of life we all took for granted. When it’s taken away like that, it’s horrendous.”
Which is why Jack can’t contain his excitement about returning to the stand-up stage. “Before I did warm up shows for this tour, I got really excited, but I was also daunted and mildly intimidated. I thought, ‘what am I going back to? Are we all going to be so beaten up by the whole experience of the pandemic that it will be hard to enjoy life again?’”
In the event, however, “people realised very quickly that this is what we need and this is what makes life worth finding vaccines for. Otherwise, if life is going to be rubbish anyway, why bother with a vaccine?’ As soon as I got back on stage, I was immediately re-energised. It was a lovely feeling to be back.”
As human beings, we all thrive on these shared experiences – and we have really missed them. According to Jack, “we get such a strong remedial effect from going out, whether that’s having a drink with friends or being able to see a live show in a theatre or a club.
"That is the lifeblood of what we do. It’s incredibly important and helps us cope with the harder things that are going on in life. We’ve had 18 months of not being able to do that, and the effect has been insidious. It has created a vacuum and the vacuum has been filled with hysteria and panic and less creative solutions to our worries.”
Jack, who has also enjoyed a TV career on programmes such as The Jack Dee Show, Jack Dee’s Saturday Night, Jack Dee’s Happy Hour and Jack Dee Live at the Apollo (“in fact, I’ve probably appeared in every TV show with my name in the title”), goes on to underline the therapeutic qualities of communal events. “It is liberating and helps us remember something about ourselves that we’ve had to suppress for the past year and a half.
“It’s like when the Berlin Wall came down and we saw all these East Germans with miserable faces suddenly realising what they had missed. We were starting to get like that. It creeps up on you and you’re not aware of what you’re missing.”
Having a good time
Jack outlines what subjects he will be addressing in the new show. “At first I thought everything would need to be seen through the lens of Covid. I was saying to myself, ‘how long is this going to go on for? At this rate, Covid is going to go on longer than one of Robert Peston’s questions!’”
However, Jack adds: “I was over-thinking things. People are actually more concerned with going out and having a good time. So in the show I make references to Covid – it would be odd not to – but I move on relatively quickly. I am aware that every comedian will have material on Covid and I don’t want to be the guy who overdoes that. At some point, people will think, ‘let’s move on’.
“Of course, there is a very serious side to it, but that’s not really my remit. It was a very scary time. The most alarming thing for me was when ISIS recommended that their people don’t go to Europe because of the virus!”
It is true that comedy is always a tremendous release in such tough times. “It’s been very tragic,” Jack says, “but part of our coping strategy is to be able to pick ourselves up and laugh about it. Comedy is a great way of helping us put things into perspective.
"Comedy can also be a very good thing to help us rebuild and get back to something a bit more normal. There have been some farcical elements in the way Covid has been dealt with, and we owe it to ourselves to look irreverently at those.”
Jack doesn’t feel nervous about the approaching this subject in “Off the Telly.” “I’m not one for gnawing my nails and trembling about things. If an idea makes me laugh, I’ll share it with the audience, and usually my instincts are right.
“Of course, it’s a global tragedy. But so was the First World War and that didn’t stop us making sitcoms about it. That’s how we are as a species. We are sophisticated enough to take two views at once and know that one doesn’t insult the other.”
Jack, who has also co-written and starred in the sitcoms Lead Balloon and Bad Move, will be focusing in “Off the Telly” on the way in which the government has handled the pandemic. “It’s very disappointing that we’ve had so many crass examples of hypocrisy. I’m too much of a libertarian not to want politicians to have a private life. But sometimes you think, ‘hang on, this is more important than that. If you’re asking us to do this, you have to do it as well. You have to set an example.”
Tickets for Jack Dee’s new show “Off the Telly” which is coming to Buxton Opera House on October 20 and 21 are available from Buxton Opera House by calling the box office on 01298 72190 or book online at www.buxtonoperahouse.org.uk.