-by Ken Plume
To most of the American audience, the name Dom Joly will most likely spark no response.
Well, let’s change that.
To audiences in the UK (and some of the hipper viewers in the US), Dom Joly is best known as the creator and principal dada anarchist behind the Channel 4 hidden camera show Trigger Happy TV - which is best described as guerilla improv.
He followed it up with a move to the BBC and the meta chat show This Is Dom Joly, in which he interviewed guests through a concussed haze. He then returned to Trigger Happy territory with the globe-spanning World Shut Your Mouth.
He’s also morphed himself into a globe-trotting host of travel documentaries (nipping on the heels of Michael Palin), beginning with the one-off special Dom Joly’s Excellent Adventure, which saw him traveling back to the country of his birth, Lebanon, before heading into Syria (with best mate Pete at his side) to try and find a Syrian cave upon whose wall he carved his name into during a childhood vacation. What other documentarian would drive through Syria while blasting “Don’tcha” over the car stereo?
In Dom Joly’s Happy Hour, he and Pete hit the road again, circumnavigating the world while documenting the drinking habits of cultures from Europe to America to India. (Okay, honestly, it was really just an excuse to get a network to pay for an elaborate drinking holiday, but the end product totally excuses his base, self-admitted motives).
He recently fronted a series called The Complainers, which sought to examine the British reluctance to declare “enough is enough”, and is a frequent guest on panel shows, including Have I Got News For You, Would I Lie To You, Never Mind The Buzzcocks, and more. He’s also regularly on radio, podcasts, and writes a column for The Independent.
He’s just a busy guy.
And an interesting one.
Here’s a little look at the show that started it all, Trigger Happy TV…
And now here’s our chat…
KEN PLUME: First of all, I heard you did an episode of QI…
DOM JOLY: Yeah, I did a QI, yes.
KP: I believe the Christmas episode, right?
JOLY: I think it was the Christmas one. It was very weird. There was lots of hats and log fires going on…
KP: Well, I hope it was the Christmas episode, then…
JOLY: (laughing) Yeah…
KP: It would be rather awkward otherwise. I’ve noticed that, in the past couple years, you’ve definitely increased your appearances on the panel shows…
JOLY: Yeah. I’m not really a panel show sort of person. I never really enjoyed them. But actually, I’ve got a bit more… comfortable with them, I suppose is the word. Because I’m not a stand-up comedian. I’ve never done stand-up or anything like that. I never really enjoy doing that sort of thing. But actually, recently, I have enjoyed them a little bit more. Especially QI, actually. It’s the best one I’ve done, just because it’s one of the few shows I’ve done where you sort of completely forget there’s an audience and you actually are just enjoying the conversation. I mean, being with Stephen Fry is always quite exceptional.
KP: Is it something you definitely would like to repeat on the future series?
JOLY: What, on QI?
JOLY: Oh, definitely QI. I mean, it’s just right up my street - just sort of talking nonsense about weird things is perfect.
KP: Now, what was the first panel show that you had done?
JOLY: The very first one I did was Have I Got News for You, which is when I was doing Trigger Happy, and they asked me, and it was a kind of… it felt like a kind of acceptance, you know? You’ve made it to a certain level to be asked on Have I Got News For You, because that was always the big show for me. So I was so excited to go on it, and I’d always watched it - and I’m a bit of a politics junkie, anyway, because I used to be a journalist, so I kind of quite cockily thought, “Oh, this’ll be easy.” I’m just sitting there going, “This is gonna be great.” And I turned up and I didn’t really know what a panel show involved, and I just sort of sat down for the warm-up and it was fine and everything was good. Then I remember them introducing everyone, and I was just backstage not at all nervous, and I sat down, and I remember the theme tune starting and literally disappearing into a black hole and just sort of suddenly realizing where I was. I don’t think I said anything for the first 20 minutes and in the end, Ian Hislop passed me a note saying, “You’re really going to have to say something.” And I was just fiddling with this pencil, just like moving it back and forward. But they were very kind, actually. They edited me in the end so that I managed to say a couple of things by the end. So it wasn’t quite as bad as it could have been.
KP: You know it’s rather awkward when Ian has to prompt you to say something.
JOLY: Yeah, I know…
KP: This was back towards the end of the Angus (Deayton, HIGNFY’s first host) period…
JOLY: Yeah. Angus was still there, that’s right. I think it was 2001.
KP: So, would you say that - at that point, anyway, when you were doing panel shows - it was sort of almost an autopilot you would go on?
JOLY: Well, the thing is, it kind of depends what panel shows you go on, because some panel shows are very political. I mean, Have I Got News For You is quite political in the sense of the people that are on it every week, and I think they kind of have to be edited equally so that they all look funny. So, as a guest, you’re kind of there as fodder. Whereas other ones, like QI, it’s up to you what you do on it, really. If you’re good or you chat away, then you kind of get given more time. But yeah, mostly I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. Everything I did on Trigger Happy, most of the time it’s kind of made up on the spot and I’m in control of it. So I always find it very odd being on something that… well, it’s just a bit show bizzy. I’m just not very show bizzy. I’m kind of… I hate to use that word “guerilla”, but I kinda always feel a bit guerilla and not really fitting into comedy because I’m not a standup, I’ve never been to Edinburgh, never done anything like that. So I always feel slightly odd when I go on those shows with proper stand-ups and… I don’t know, I just don’t feel like I fit there, basically.
KP: Well, obviously you’re a quick thinker on your feet. You’ve certainly survived well within that environment…
KP: I’ve noticed a couple of times that you’ve mentioned “standup comedian” being obviously, in your mind, a definition of something. How do you define that sort of performer, in your view?
JOLY: Well, it’s not that… It’s just that, because I’ve never done standup, I’ve always felt… I mean, I don’t know if it was rightly or wrongly, but I felt when Trigger Happy first came out, normally people who do a show on television have kind of established a bit of a pedigree, and they’ve been doing a bit of standup or they’ve done Edinburgh or… you know, and they build and then suddenly they go on television. I was really lucky. Trigger Happy literally was the first thing I ever did, you know, having been a journalist, and it just appeared. And I remember at the time stand-ups going, “Who the hell is this guy?” Like, “Where does he come from?” So I’ve always felt a bit like I haven’t paid my dues, you know? But on the other hand, when you put stand-ups on television, it doesn’t really work that well. It’s the same thing. It’s a completely different job. I couldn’t go in front of a crowd. So I feel awkward in the standup sense - in that when you go on a panel show, I think - as a standup - you’re kind of used to talking to crowds. You feel comfortable in front of an audience. You’ve got set lines that, if you have to go back to them, you know are gonna be funny. And I don’t have any of those. I suppose I’m always astonished on panel shows, actually, how much people do prepare - whereas I always just assumed you went on and winged it. Which is what I always do with everything. And I think recently, if I go on one, I do try and get as much preparation as possible. But I’m just too lazy, really. I don’t really prepare very well. I just like trying to spin off people.
KP: You went back a few years later and did another Have I Got News For You after you had a lot more experience doing that sort of thing. How different was the experience?
JOLY: I didn’t have that much more experience. I think it was still only about my fourth panel show, the second one, but I think I was a lot less cocky, and I was a lot more nervous. And I think, because I was nervous, it made me really think about the news… I mean, you know, I read newspapers and watch TV anyway, the news, so I’m kind of aware of what’s going on, but with that week I kinda tried to guess what they were gonna talk about and, I suppose, I also had slightly more stories. When I first went on… you know, they do a lot of, “So this interesting happened to you.” In 2000, I’d just started - whereas since then, I’ve had quite a few odd things happen to me. So I think I had more to talk about. And because it was a guest presenter, it was kind of… Angus was kind of untouchable. He was very good at what he did, and you sort of felt you couldn’t really have a stab at him. Whereas the guest presenter is much easier, and you just… you know, you kind of joshed with them. So that was easier.
KP: Going back to Trigger Happy, when you talk about that sort of coming out of the blue, there were a few things you did prior. You did a Paramount Comedy Lab prior to that, right?
JOLY: Well, I did a year of doing sort of what was called “interstitial”, where they basically just paid me to go out and film weird stuff, all sorts of weird stuff, and then they put it in between, you know, Friends and Frasier, or whatever, just to kind of put bits in between the actual shows. And that was invaluable to me, because normally in television, you know, you kind of… you might do something on radio or you might do something on stage, but the first thing you put out on television is normally your practice, really. But I’d had like a year with a camera just doing loads and loads and loads and loads of stuff - a lot of it complete rubbish - and just occasionally thinking, “Well, that works.” So by the time Trigger Happy came round and Channel 4 saw lots of little things we were doing, I kind of was quite honed. I was good at being self-critical. It wasn’t just, “Oh my god I filmed something; it’s got to go on television.” It was kinda like, “That’s rubbish. That’s good.” So I think I was a bit tighter than I would have been.
KP: So you’ve got a camera, and you’re out there doing this guerilla material. What’s the learning curve, going out there? Because what you were doing at that time, during the Trigger Happy period, was rather fearless material…
JOLY: I think… my main thing was I couldn’t understand, because I didn’t have any background in it. I used to seek various people I like - like, Dennis Pennis was a big influence. I don’t know if you know him…
JOLY: And I remember watching that, and I think the first thing was that we literally arrived just at the time when cameras changed. So you didn’t need to hire a film crew to go out and film silly pranks - you used to have a limited amount of time because you’ve got to pay the film crew. The year I started it was literally about the first year where you could go into a shop and, for a grand, buy a camera that was easy to use and good enough to put stuff on television straight away. And so that allowed us just to… you know, I did it with a guy called Sam Cadman. It just allowed us to literally just go and film and film and film. We didn’t have to worry that we had to pay a crew, so we could do lots of stuff ourselves. And then I think the thing I really learned after a bit was that there is no right and wrong in comedy. I don’t believe anything’s unfunny. If you find something funny, then that’s funny. It’s just you’ve got to hope that what you find funny other people find funny. And I think I was really lucky because when I met Sam - who I made it with - we just both had exactly the same sense of humor. And so we just were doing stuff… I learned to do things to amuse us. So even the style of Trigger Happy that people used to talk about… There was the slightly shaky camera. That was only because Sam was laughing. And that was really good. We were just trying to… I was trying to show off to Sam and make him laugh. And I suppose what I learned was you’ve just got to trust that. The moment you try and think, “What will people find funny?”, then I think you fail. You’ve got to just do what you find funny and hope that other people find it funny. So I think it was confidence, a little bit, is probably what you learn.
KP: Are there any particular bits from that period that you can look back on and think, “I over thought that…”?
JOLY: Loads. Terrible, big, cartoon jokes. I had a long series where I was trying to do a cat chasing a mouse around London. And it was kinda funny, but we’d build big props like a big one ton weight that was hollow and drop it off a roof and land on the mouse. And it was all just… I don’t know. Also, I learned… we had someone in charge, though, who kept insisting we put cartoon music on the dog, on the sort of costume jokes, and it was just so wrong. And in the end, I put on my own music. Which unfortunately was never shown in the States because it was library music. But the one we used here was proper good music. And that’s why I really knew that great music was gonna work with really silly stunts and stuff. But I just think a lot of it was down to keeping it short, really. You know, we used to put everything we filmed on telly, and then you just think, “No no no - it’s all about minimum amount of stuff. Minimum amount of stuff.” So we didn’t want anything more than a minute.
KP: Now would you generally cycle through things quickly, or would there be particular ideas that you thought, “You know, I’m gonna get this to work somehow…”?
JOLY: No. Really quick and bored, really. It was very low attention span. The reason it really worked was Sam, who was the camera guy with me, he’s basically a sort of obsessive compulsive and attention deficit disorder, and basically he’s just very, very… everything has to be perfect. Whereas I’m very much like, “Right, let’s do this,” and then I’m bored ’cause it’s not working. So we work quite well together, because I’d rush things on and he’d try and say, “No, let’s do it again.” But it was very organic the way we’d come up with stuff. So we’d drive around and we wouldn’t really know what we were doing, and then we’d see a milkman and we’d think, “Oh. Milkman. We haven’t done a milkman.” So we’d go off to a costume shop and find a milkman costume and then go and just start doing milk stuff, and normally something funny would happen. And then we’d think, “Oh, that’s good…” and then we’d do that until we were bored of it. But we were also quite curious, which meant it was very difficult… I think a lot of shows just fake a lot of stuff, and we were determined that everything had to be bang on and had to be the first time, and if it was the third time it wasn’t as funny. And I think we kind of stopped ourselves doing stuff much quicker, in some ways.
KP: It’s a very intense thing to try and do these sort of pieces where you’re maintaining whatever the character and situation is within a public that doesn’t know what you’re doing…
JOLY: Yeah, it’s a nightmare.
KP: How difficult was it for you not to break during this?
JOLY: Not to what?
KP: Not to break during those scenes…
JOLY: What do you mean, not to crack up?
KP: Not to crack up, right…
JOLY: Oh, god, it was easy, actually. It’s the one thing that everyone always says, and it’s really funny - I never, ever crack up during a scene, because it’s kind of so embarrassing doing what you’re doing, and you’re it in a weird costume and you’re doing everything that, in a normal world, you just wouldn’t do, and approach people and make an idiot of yourself, and the only thing that’s saving you is, in your head, you know that you’re doing this for a reason and that it’ll be funny because you know. And if I suddenly cracked up halfway through a scene, I’d kind of suddenly become me, and then I’d suddenly become incredibly embarrassed. It would just be like suddenly waking up from a dream and you’re naked in a sitting room with a whole lot of people. So I’d never, ever do it. The only time I’ve ever cracked up was in the very first Trigger Happy. I was dressed as an old sea captain and I’m in some port down in Somerset and I’m talking to these two old ladies about how my dog and my wife and everyone’s been lost at sea. And I couldn’t believe… they were the first people we met. And literally we dressed up as this sea captain and I thought I’ll just wander into the village, start chatting, and we’ll kind of develop what the character is. And the first two people we met were these old women, and all they said was “Oh yeah, oh yeah,” to whatever you said. Because I literally said, “I’ve just murdered a man.” “Oh yes.” And there was just one second where I couldn’t believe it and I cracked up. So I turned it into me crying. So there’s a little bit where it looks like I’m weeping slightly. So that was my only way of getting out of it. If I giggled I’d pretend to start weeping. So it’s very rare for me.
KP: And how often would you say that a situation got dangerous?
JOLY: Never really very dangerous. Actually, weirdly, the States was a lot more dangerous than here. Just because, always at the back of my mind in the States - I just thought the worst that could happen in England is someone would give you a slap, but always in the States you’re just thinking, “Is this guy carrying a gun? Has he just been released from somewhere?” And I just always have this horror of some headline - “Minor English comedian gunned down in Arkansas dressed as a squirrel.” So I don’t know - you’re never quite sure there. And also, I can kinda read people in England really well. You get to read people really well. You just kinda know what they are. The moment you go out and talk to them, you just have no idea what people can be like. But the moment you look in their eyes, you can tell whether they’ve killed, basically. And just occasionally you’d go and there’d just be those dead eyes looking at you. And you just go, “Oops, sorry, I’ve got the wrong person…” and wander off. So I was pretty good at avoiding complete lunatics, basically. I’d just walk away normally. Just occasionally you’d get quite aggressive people but I think it’s quite easy to calm down aggressive people in England. For some reason. Especially if you’re in a costume.
KP: Well, I’m curious… and I’ve talked with quite a few other comedians in the UK about this, but I’m curious as to, when you come over to the States - either to work or just for leisure - what is your perception of going and working in the US? You mentioned a little bit about how you could read people more in the UK than the US. What is your perception of the US, as a place to work and a place to visit?
JOLY: God, this is a huge one. I mean, I love the US. It’s always been… I think it’s still… I’ve been to over 100 countries now, and I think it’s the most exciting place I’d ever go to, just because everything about it is kind of different in the sense that within one country, there’s so much diversity. And there’s something exciting about going there. When I went there to work, that was like, I couldn’t believe I was actually being paid to go and do something in America. I do have a flip side to that, is that because I was born in Beirut - although I’m not Lebanese, I’m now on some list of potential terrorists. So every time I come to America, a red light goes above the passport guy and I get taken to a room and I’m held for about three hours and interviewed and asked questions like why do I speak French. And then someone always gives me an anal frisk for no reason whatsoever. I’m not joking.
KP: Maybe they just saw the US version of Trigger Happy.
JOLY: Yeah, possibly. I don’t know. Well yeah, I agree, I should have been imprisoned for that, but that was not my fault. But that’s another story. But yeah, so I kind of… I tend to avoid going to the states if I can, because I just hate the hassle I get at the airport. But once I’m there, I absolutely love it. And I think the problem… I’m kind of… we’re just thinking at the moment - Sam, who I made Trigger Happy with, now lives in LA, and he’s a director in LA, and there’s been a lot of people talking about how they love Trigger Happy to him, and we’re actually putting together a Trigger Happy movie at the moment which we’re about to pitch in LA. And my worry is whether we were gonna film it in the States or in England, because why it works in Britain is kind of because the reaction of people in Britain is different. We kind of have this thing of… a fear of embarrassment, and a terrible… If you approach someone in England, they don’t react - they kind of back away. That means you can do anything, really. They’re just like, “As long as you don’t stab me, I’m fine.” Whereas in the States, when we did things like the big mobile in New York, they’d just turn around and go, “Hey, shut the fuck up.” And there’s a much more direct thing, so it’s kind of more difficult. But also there’s just things that I can read in England, and we can sort of subtly satirize - you’re not even trying to satirize anything, but it’s just part of you which I think it’s very difficult to do if you haven’t grown up in a country. So I think it might be different in America.
KP: Well, what I find curious is that there’s a set amount of locales that UK comedians or UK performers coming to the US - who want the “US experience” - go to…
JOLY: Well, actually, that’s very very interesting you say that, because one of the main things Sam and I have been talking about is that obviously when you come and film, you go to New York, you go to Miami, you go to San Francisco and LA, you basically do… to me, America’s two countries. When I first arrived, I couldn’t see who voted for Bush, because you go New York, Miami, San Francisco, and you’re like, “Well, everyone’s normal here. They’re great. Who votes for Bush?” And then I did a drive through Alabama and Mississippi and Louisiana, and you’re like, “Ah, I get it.” So to me, America’s two countries. It’s like a big circle with all the coasts, and then there’s a kind of inner circle - which is where the crazies are, in my view. So our idea is that if we film a kind of American Trigger Happy, I wanted to do it in real America - like, places that we don’t always see. So we wanted to go to Alabama and Charleston and just kind of weird inland Texas, and do stuff in the center of America that no one ever sees… Well, they do see, but it’s not the kind of flying to LA stuff.
KP: The other location I was going to mention is that people always go to the south. And you never see anyone go to…
KP: Right. Minneapolis or Wisconsin or Idaho or Iowa or Illinois…
JOLY: Yeah, well, we’re going to Montana, if that’s any good.
KP: You’ll have difficulty finding people.
JOLY: Yeah, I know. And the other place I’ve always wanted to go to, so we’re going to, is Maine. Just because I have a lot of lobster jokes.
KP: Well, in Maine you also get that sort of cultural mix. They’re almost our Canadians.
JOLY: But that’s exactly it, and that’s what we’re trying to do with locations, is to get one of each kind of American stereotype - even though each state is kind of its own country. But to do it in places that you don’t normally see - and also aren’t that TV savvy because, again, you go to LA or New York and everyone’s just like, they’ve got a lawyer when you’re trying to get a release form off them.
KP: Well, I would recommend you try Appalachia in the western half of North Carolina.
JOLY: I’ve been there. I filmed a thing there. I went to about 10 miles from where they filmed Deliverance…
KP: Well, that was the moonshine episode of Happy Hour…
JOLY: Yeah. A very, very scary place, but I loved it.
KP: You should hit Dollywood while you’re out there.
JOLY: I really wanted to go to Dollywood, yeah. Is that near there? I didn’t realize it was near there.
KP: Yes. It’s sort of right on the border of Tennessee and North Carolina.
JOLY: Well, I have a friend who’s American who’s from West Virginia, and her mother is a born again who speaks in tongues and she keeps inviting me over, but I don’t know if it’s my bag
KP: If you do, one of the most fascinating and terrifying journeys that I’ve ever taken is on a road that goes down the Appalachian mountains, called the Blue Ridge Parkway.
KP: And basically has all of these odd stop offs like the coal mines of West Virginia, the sort of Cherokee gambling reservation in North Carolina, Dollywood, the Smoky Mountains…
JOLY: It’s got everything.
KP: And they have you know massive aqueducts that run through it to service this rural America, to bring some kind of civilization. But it’s one of the oddest drives you could ever take.
JOLY: I’d just like to drive all over the states constantly, but unfortunately my wife wouldn’t let me. She’s Canadian and wants me here.
KP: What’s the longest time you’ve ever spent in the US?
JOLY: Well, for filming it was about two months, when I was doing the American Trigger Happy - which is just such a long story and such a disaster I’ll not go into it - but that’s when I kind of first got flown around lots of different places. Seattle and Miami and stuff.
KP: But that was flown around and not driving around, right?
JOLY: That was flying, yeah. My best drive time was basically when I was making World Shut Your Mouth for BBC1, and we kind of went Miami all the way to New Orleans and then across to Vegas up to Reno and then through the Joshua Trees and the Mojave desert into LA. That was the best road trip thing I’d done. And then in my year off between school and university I lived in Washington, DC for six months, so I kind of did a lot of traveling around there as well.
KP: Is this when you still thought you were going to pursue a political career?
JOLY: Yeah, that’s when my first career started. I started well. I was going off to work for some congressman - you know, the usual sort of political internship. And I ended up working in the women’s department of Banana Republic on M Street.
KP: So can you still fold a pair of Chinos?
JOLY: I can fold a pair of Chinos really well. That’s one thing America taught me. Actually, Banana Republic is one of my favorite reasons for visiting America. We just got one here. I love Banana Republic. It’s sort of posh Gap, so when you’re approaching 40, I can really start shopping there with pride.
KP: Have you bought your first Panama hat?
JOLY: No. Well, I’ve got a Panama hat because I’ve just been in Nicaragua and I thought it would be quite fun to do a sort of Graham Greene type thing. So I bought a Panama hat and went out there with it but I lost it after the first day. It was a bit rubbish. I don’t really like hats.
KP: Well, next time will be the pith helmet.
JOLY: Yeah, a pith helmet would be great. That’s actually become very fashionable in Africa at the moment. And it’s a sort of ironic, you know, anti-colonial thing. Sort of young hip Africans in Nigeria and Kenya, they all go nightclubbing in pith helmets, which I long to see.
KP: What is on your current hit list? Obviously you’ve been trying to hit just about everything…
KP: What’s still on the to do list?
JOLY: Well, I kind of want to be Michael Palin, is what I’m aiming for at the moment. I mean, obviously, I haven’t managed Monty Python, but I saw him in the street the other day… because I’m doing a little travel journalism, and I think I’m about to drive from London to Sydney in a bus in September, which is kind of like a huge trip. So I’m really looking forward to it.
KP: There’s some watery bits that might be difficult.
JOLY: Not too many actually. You can do it all the way to… well, obviously the English channel is one, but we’ve got a tunnel. And then it’s over land all the way to East Timor, and then it’s just a ferry ride from East Timor to Australia. But otherwise, it’s all overland. Through Iran. Used to go through Iraq, but that’s kind of not an option right now.
KP: Well, it is if you want to be a little adventurous.
JOLY: Iran’s good enough, I think. Because you guys are about to nuke it anyway, so I’m just hoping that I can slip in before it goes.
KP: Well, we have a couple of months, hopefully.
JOLY: No, I think Bush will do it as a sort of farewell address. As he’s actually saying goodbye…
KP: What do you think; he’s going to bring the button out with him to the podium?
JOLY: Yeah, he’ll just say goodbye. But no, I saw Michael Palin in London about three weeks ago, and I was in a car and I saw him and it was quite a tight street, and the temptation to just pretend to sneeze and turn the car and smash into him and just think, “Right, that’s it, I’m ready now. I can take over.” But that’s kind of what I want to do. There are three things - I’m trying to do this, the travel journal, but try and do it in a kind of spoofy way, because there’s a big debate at the moment about how TV is all faked, and there’s been a lot of problems here in England.
KP: Oh yes, I’ve seen the columns…
JOLY: It’s insane. All TV is fake. Otherwise you’d watch cooking shows and you’d have to watch for 40 minutes while something cooks in the oven. It’s ridiculous. But the one area of TV they never talk about is travel journalism, which is just the most fake of all. You know, you only ever arrive at Sunset, and Michael Palin always does this thing where he’s kind of rushing and he has to get a train at 1:00 to take him to Egypt, otherwise he misses it. And he gets to the train just on time and then there’s a beautiful shot of the train leaving and you’re like, “Well, who’s filming that?” I just love all that sort of stuff, and it’s slightly this feeling that when you go abroad, everything is just amazing and like totally holy, and you can’t say, “This place stinks.” It’s really weird, but it’s not very real. So that’s kinda what I’m interested in.
KP: I always just assumed that they had really bad producers planning that timing out.
JOLY: I don’t know. I don’t know what they do. I’ve just been in Nicaragua where they said to me, “We found a volcano where everyone snowboards down. Would you be up for that?” And I’m like, “Well, I’m more of a skier really,” and they said, “Oh, don’t worry, we’ll ship some skis out.” I personally spent five hours trying to get the only pair of skis ever to be imported into Nicaragua, because they think it’s some cocaine, gringo smuggling thing. So I get the skis, we get all the way to this volcano, climb up it, and it turns out they don’t snowboard down it. It’s just, like, a couple of local idiots tobogganing, and they’re still cutting themselves up. And I’m standing at the top of this volcano in skis. So I tried it, and I went about three meters and then rolled down the whole thing. It was just unbelievable.
KP: You’re standing at the top of this volcano. You’re in skis. There’s no point where you can just say, “You know what? No.”…?
JOLY: Very weirdly, of all he things I’ve done, that was the one moment where I literally am standing on the edge and this camera’s there, and I just have a moment where… normally I’m just, like, I’m totally up for this. I just thought, “This is absolutely insane.” There’s been no health and safety, and I’ve seen this somewhere on telly before, in kind of “When TV Idiots Go Bad”, you know? And that was nearly the moment where I went, “You know what? Let’s forget this.” But I just… I don’t know. You just have to do it, really. I was pretty sure I wasn’t gonna die. And I thought, worst case scenario, if I break stuff it’ll be a good news story. So that was the only one where I really thought, “Hmm, maybe not.”
KP: But it’s got to be an awkward moment when you think, “You know what? I could be part of a clip show for years to come…”
JOLY: (laughing) I’m constantly part of a clip show. But yeah. Well, the worst thing was, just as we were climbing up this volcano, my guide - who, you know, assumes I’m an experienced volcano skier - is going, “Yeah, you know, you have seen this before on the television.” I go, “No, I haven’t.” They go, “There’s this really famous clip where this guy is on a mountain bike and tries to break the world’s bicycle record going down this particular slope. And he gets to 180 miles an hour in his mountain bike and the bike snaps and he’s in hospital for nine months,” and I’m like, “Oh really? That was here?” And he goes, “Yeah yeah yeah. Very funny. I was here.” And I go, “Oh good, good. Looking forward to that.”
KP: Well, I’m sure he had the tape to show you later.
JOLY: Yeah. (laughing)
KP: So, what’s your thought halfway down the mountain, as you’re careening?
JOLY: I’m thinking, “This is not what I was hoping, but it’s gonna make great television,” because it was so bad that I know it’s gonna be funny. But on the other hand, in my mind, I was hoping for a sort of heroic, beautiful ski down where everyone will be like, “Jesus Christ, he can really ski.” So, you know, it was good in the end because it’s kind of… the director came down and he was just thrilled, you know?
KP: Do you feel it’s sort of a bizarre thing when, in those kind of moments, you start thinking, “I hope this is good TV…”?
JOLY: Well, that’s all you’ve got left, really. That’s pretty much what goes through my mind almost all the time at work, is that I’m not really enjoying myself but I’m just thinking, “As long as it’s good TV, it’s good.” And you kinda know it is, so that’s alright. It’s when you’re doing something you hate, and you know it’s gonna be shit TV and it’s not even gonna make the final cut, that’s when it’s really depressing because you think, “There’s no need for me to be doing this.”
KP: Now is there any… not just a segment, but a project that you can describe as such that you just knew going in, “This is gonna be shit…”?
JOLY: I don’t know. No, I haven’t really taken… I mean, it’s funny; I did a chat show when I moved to the BBC after Trigger Happy. To me, it was really obvious that if someone had a hit show, what they tended to do was move to the BBC and then make a chat show with their name on it. A kind of Letterman thing. And just go on a huge ego trip. So, to me, it was really obvious when I moved to the BBC that I was gonna make a chat show called This Is Dom Joly, and it was kind of gonna be someone called Dom Joly - but it wasn’t me, because I was wearing glasses. And it thought that was a really obvious disguise, so everyone would know I was being ironic. And the idea was just have this terrible show where he just stumbles on and talks to bands in really crass questions, and asks shit questions. And I remember, as we were making it, I was talking to Sam and just saying, “You know, some people are really good and then they just make really shit shows. And I wonder whether they’re aware while they’re making it that it’s a turkey.” And Sam is like, “No, you’d definitely be aware.” And then we just got slated for this show - like slammed - saying, “Is this the worst chat show ever?” And part of me was thinking, “Well, that’s kind of what we wanted.” I wanted people to watch it and think, “I can’t believe how bad this is,” not realizing it’s real - because no one realized it wasn’t real and they just thought it was the worst show ever. So that was probably the worst thought through show ever. But I really enjoyed making it. It was kind of… I mean, I’m not going to say it’s in anywhere the same league, but the idea was a kind of - before Curb Your Enthusiasm - it was like it had video diaries of my life, and following me around demanding that, you know, when I’m selling my house that there was a celebrity premium on it and… I mean, all sorts of weird stuff and cameos, but it wasn’t nearly as well thought through as Curb Your Enthusiasm, which is total genius, but it was kind of in that vein.
KP: So what’s the current status of that? That hasn’t seen a DVD release, has it?
JOLY: No, that was never a DVD. That was on BBC3. It launched BBC3, and pretty much buried BBC3. There were two series of it. And I think it had moments of… probably some of my favorite moments, actually, but it was all about anti-television. I wanted to call it Dead Air, but they wouldn’t let me. And I should have called it Dead Air, because then they’d have understood it. Dead Air with Dom Joly. And the whole joke was gonna be that I start the whole series with me coming on and saying, “I’m at the BBC, I’ve made it,” and starting to sing a song called “Sympathy” from the 70s - that I loved - and then a light hits me on the head, and for the rest of the series I’m in concussion. That’s how it was gonna start, but they wouldn’t let me do that, so the whole show went on without the start so people didn’t realize I was supposed to concussed - they just thought, “Jesus, he’s an asshole.”
KP: Have there been discussions about a DVD release for it?
JOLY: Oh no, god, this was years ago. This is four years ago. I don’t think there’ll be a DVD of that. BBC was deeply embarrassed of it…
KP: Everything makes it to DVD eventually…
JOLY: Well, I hope it’ll make a DVD, because I think there are some really good bits. But I don’t know. The BBC hid it very well.
KP: I’m interested in the idea that - because obviously Trigger Happy started on Channel 4…
KP: What did a move to the BBC represent? Because it seems odd to me - you would think there’d be more money outside the BBC, but all the big contracts and the big money seems to be at the BBC…
JOLY: Well, it was… there were two things. The reason I moved to the BBC was because I’d done a second series. I didn’t want to make any more. I wanted to kinda stop Trigger Happy when it was good. And Channel 4 said, “Oh, we really want you to do a Christmas special,” and I kind of said yes to that, but I still didn’t really want to make them. And then we did that and then I said, “Right, now I want to kinda do some other stuff.” And in hindsight I should have been smart and just said, “Look, I’ll do you a Trigger Happy every three years, but meanwhile let me do some other stuff.” But I was just like, “I don’t want to do another Trigger Happy,” and they were like, “We want you to do Trigger Happy,” and so I just was thinking, “Well, I don’t want to do Trigger Happy,” and suddenly someone from the Beeb turned up and took me out for lunch and said, “We’ll give you a three series deal and you can do what you like and we think you’re brilliant,” you know? Just total schmooze. And I was like, “Cool.” I mean, because I didn’t want to do Trigger Happy, but also there’s just something when you’re British about the BBC. It’s kind of… my mum doesn’t really understand what Channel 4 is, but BBC she’d understand. She’d be able to tell her friends, you know, “Yeah, he’s on the BBC.” It just sounds a bit more official. So it was kind of that, really, and I just thought, “Great, we’ll go to the BBC. It all sounds very exciting.” And then I got there and it’s just… it was like moving into the movie Brazil. It’s just this huge, huge bureaucratic organization where - when you arrive and you’re hot - everyone’s talking to you and everyone’s responsible for you, and then the moment things start to look bad, you just can’t speak to anyone. When I finally left the BBC I was there two years. My third series ended, and there was nothing. I just sat there in my office - which I’d had painted red - for two weeks, and nothing. No one heard, and I rang my agent and I said, “What’s going on? Are we meeting something?” He said, “I have no idea.” And in the end, I literally just… I had to just pack my stuff and… I mean, no one said anything. I could still be living there, I think. So I just went downstairs and I just thought, “This is a great paparazzi shot, with me just putting all my posters and occasional awards into the back of my car,” and I just slammed the boot and literally I just looked around and then I drove off. And then I’d forgotten something, and I came back the next day and I put my pass in the door and it didn’t work. It wouldn’t let me in. It was just extraordinary.
KP: Well, that’s good. At least they’re quite quick and responsive when you decide to leave.
JOLY: But that’s the point. I think they didn’t want to tell me to leave, but obviously someone said, “He’s gone, he’s gone,” and they switched it all off.
KP: It’d be great if the Joly Alert went up through the building.
JOLY: Yeah. It was a huge conga going around the building.
KP: So the last series for the BBC then was what, World Shut Your Mouth?
JOLY: That was World Shut Your Mouth - which again, I’d loved the chat show and I’d done two series of it, but I realized that no one had understood it and, you know, it probably was crap. I don’t know. I mean, I liked it, but so I thought, “Well, I’d better give them a banker, you know? So I said, “I’ll make basically a Trigger Happy type show, but I want to call it World Shut Your Mouth because I want it to be more global - because, basically, I just want to travel.” So it started the best joke, I think, in the history of television, as far as I’m concerned, for its sheer pointlessness. I wanted to start each show with me in front of one of the wonders of the world, and so I’m at the Taj Mahal and I’m standing there at dawn and it’s just beautiful and there’s just one other person, a real person there, and I’ll just walk up next to them and stand and we’ll both look at the Taj Mahal for a bit, and then I’ll go, “Ah, Taj Mahal.” And they would say, which they did, “Yeah, it’s just amazing, isn’t it?” And there’s a long pause and I just go, “That is shit.” And basically I managed to get the BBC to pay me - in one trip - to go to the Great Wall of China, the Taj Mahal, the Pyramids, the Grand Canyon, the Guggenheim, and the Coliseum. Two days in each place just so we could go and film me saying, “That’s shit.” And that was on the BBC license payer’s money. That was my greatest achievement in television. So I just thought, “You can’t fail with that.” It’s such a great beginning. And I thought World Shut Your Mouth, in a lot of ways, was stronger than Trigger Happy, actually. But it was BBC1, 10:30, prime time, and it got three and a half million every time, but it just - they didn’t want another series, and I don’t know why, actually. And it’s never been shown again. I still think that’s my favorite show.
KP: It also seemed that World Shut Your Mouth was subtler…
JOLY: It was more about… it was kinda the darker side of Trigger Happy. In hindsight, actually, World Shut Your Mouth should have been run on Channel 4, because it was more… slightly weirder. And Trigger Happy, which was much more kind of just big fluffy costumes and stuff, should have been the 6:00 in the evening, Saturday BBC1 show. But I’ve constantly done shows for the wrong channel - like Happy Hour, which I loved. But it was a kind of spoofy, weird travel show. It was definitely not Sky 1. They just thought, “Great, he’s doing something about alcohol.” But I did alcohol because Sky said, “We need you to do something that will interest the channel.” So I’m like, “Well, that’s tits or alcohol for you guys, so…” But anyway, one day I’ll get it right.
KP: You’re talking about moving Trigger Happy to film…
JOLY: Well, just we’re thinking of doing a Trigger Happy type project. I wouldn’t call it Trigger Happy. We’re going to call it War of the Flea. Which I just think is a great name. It’s the name of a book in the 50s, to describe guerilla insurgency and the fact that one flea scratching a dog does nothing, but if you have a thousand fleas scratching the dog it’s worse than the bite of a tiger. So it’s kind of the idea of this kind of irritant basically just popping up everywhere and annoying people.
KP: And the title will sell tickets in America…
JOLY: Do you think?
KP: You know what, you should put a 2 after it.
JOLY: Yeah, well, it had… That’s right. War of the Flea: It’s Back.
KP: Do you view TV as something that holds less interest for you at this point?
JOLY: No. I love TV. I have no interest in doing films. I mean, obviously if someone offered me a film I’d do it, but I’m not an actor or anything, so the only reason I’m thinking of doing a movie for Trigger Happy is that I’m very happy to do another Trigger Happy here but no one wants to do one. Channel 4 feels that they don’t ever go back to something. And because they own the name Trigger Happy, I can’t do that anywhere else. So I suddenly thought, “Well, actually, I’ve got loads of big ideas and stuff,” and so did Sam, so we thought, “Well, before we get too, old let’s make a big movie.” Because at the time when Trigger Happy happened, we were offered a huge movie deal and we said no because, to us, what happens when you make movies from TV stuff is kind of like that first Ali G film. It just was really watered down shit, and I just had this idea of sort of the big mobile guy would have a love interest. It would just be crap. So we were like, “No, no, no - we can’t do that.” And then, of course, the Jackass movie came out and it was just one huge Jackass episode. And we were like, “Fuck, we could have just done that.” Just a big Trigger Happy, you know? So that’s kind of what we’re doing with the idea we’re doing now, is we want to do a film which, you know, most movies normally have sort of two big set pieces, and our idea is this is just a movie with 100 big set pieces. That’s it. No story.
KP: Yeah, but I think that’s what movies are moving towards anyway. You might as well just push it over the edge…
JOLY: I just think movies are something that should be an hour and a half long and you go in and love it. And that’s it. The only reason these are movies rather than TV stuff is because they’re kind of bigger setups. They’re all kinda big crowd setups, so we want two-three hundred people in each scene. But you know, there’s no reason… I love television. I think television’s far more interesting to me than movies. I hardly ever go to the movies.
KP: Well, after you skirted around the disaster of the US Trigger Happy…
JOLY: Well, I haven’t skirted around it - I’m just too angry to ever think about it.
KP: I’ve read your statements in the past about it. You made the decision based on certain factors and you would have made it differently, but your decision was right at the time…
JOLY: Well, it’s basically that I’d finished doing Trigger Happy, and for that reason I’d gone to the BBC - and suddenly we get this offer from the States. And, in hindsight, I should have just said, “Great, I’ll go out there and we’ll make a show…” You know, as everyone else has. What Little Britain seems to be doing, and everyone did. But, you know, I just had a kid and I had a family and I didn’t want to go to the States, and also I just didn’t want to make more Trigger Happy at the time. I thought, “There’s loads of other things I’m going to be doing.” But then they came back and said, “Well, we’ll only make it if you’re in it, and you can sort of do a little bit of producing on it.” And I thought, “Well, that’ll be alright. I’ll go out and have a look at it,” and the guy I talked to from the production company at Comedy Central who had decided they were gonna make it seemed okay. And then the moment I got out there it was just like… I remember watching the first rushes of the stuff they’d made and it was like someone had made Trigger Happy on acid, really. I mean, it was just random music, and I met this asshole from Comedy Central who’d been brought in. And what I didn’t realize is while we were actually filming, they were literally sending the rushes to LA. They were assembling them and it was going out as we were speaking - whereas the understanding I’d had was we’d film it all and then I’d sit in the edit, which is where I’m good. The whole thing was unbelievable. And I remember them showing me the first episode they’d cut together, and it was… I mean, it was just… I just wanted to weep. It was in some studio in New York and there was just this long silence at the end and they go, “What do you think?” and I’m like, “That’s just awful.” I mean, it was kind of like… it was a joke. It was almost like someone had spoofed it. It was like, “Let’s get some shit fluffy costumes and random indie music and…” It was just awful. There were a couple of good ideas in it, but it was just terrible.
KP: Well, I remember watching it at the time going, “I can’t stand this.” And the sad thing was it turned me off ever investigating, until a year or two ago, the original Trigger Happy.
JOLY: Have you seen the original one with the original music?
KP: Yes. In fact the DVDs are sitting right over there.
KP: And that’s another thing that I find quite remarkable, is sort of the care and attention you paid to choosing the music for the series.
JOLY: But Trigger Happy is quite funny if you strip it… I mean, it’s all about the edit. There’s a lot of stuff in there that’s pretty average. It’s kind of just filler stuff or visual stuff, but if you put the right music on, I mean, everything. We did it from the first idea to the delivery at Channel 4 - no one touched it. We just did it totally on our own, and that’s where comedy’s great, you know? If you really love what you’re doing. The moment you kind of get lazy or you hand it over to a committee, it’s fucked.
KP: The great thing about… you know, you can sit down with Trigger Happy and you can watch it, and it feels like a whole piece.
KP: It doesn’t feel like somebody threw a bunch of clips together.
JOLY: Oh no, it’s not. But even the video is annoying, because actually the real works are the half hour shows. And we had to make a best of because we couldn’t afford to use all the music in the shows.
KP: Well, luckily the half hour shows are available on the internet.
JOLY: Oh, are they? Good. Yeah, the shows are the real ones that we spent time doing so everything’s paced and… you know.
KP: Now has that ever been a movement to readdress with Channel 4, in this age of “everything’s gotta be on DVD.” to actually do full releases of the episodes?
JOLY: Well no, not really. They’ve now got this thing - Channel 4 On Demand - so you can buy them all online. I think Channel 4 are more interested in selling them there than putting them on a DVD.
KP: Maybe you could do some kind of podcast commentaries that people can synch up with the copies of the half hour episodes.
JOLY: Yeah, I can’t remember. I think we did commentaries for the DVDs. We didn’t for the half hour shows. But the problem still is the music. To clear music is just so expensive, but it just doesn’t make it worthwhile for anyone financially, which is just so annoying.
KP: If someone were to present it to you, would you even think about doing another American show?
KP: If you had the choice, what would you want to do as sort of your entrée into the US? And does that appeal to you still?
JOLY: I think I’d kind of do a… I think I’d do a sort of cross between a char… I think I’d have a couple of characters kind of arriving in the States. So I’d do a cross… it’d be like a sort of Trigger Happy, in the sense that it was meeting real people, but dressed as characters. And just kind of do a travel across the States, or some sort of road trip across the States. I don’t know, really. I still think I’d love to make a great hidden camera show in the States. It’s just there’s so much more that you can do out there than there is here. There’s just more variety of stuff from beach to snow to… just geography-wise, gives you ideas for jokes and stuff.
KP: I’ve also seen the Excellent Adventure documentary you did with your friend, Pete…
JOLY: Oh, I love that.
KP: It takes a certain person, a certain performer, to have a knack for doing a travel show and making travel interesting beyond just looking at the video…
JOLY: Well, that one we were particularly lucky though because it was quite… you know, the alcohol ones were just piss ups, but that one was quite moving for me. (laughing) Because that was going back to my roots, and also it’s just a place where people don’t think you go on holiday, Lebanon, so…
KP: Well, you know, when you talk about, you’re almost sounding dismissive of Happy Hour. Which I think is unfortunate, because travel shows… say the Michael Palin shows, Michael Palin shows are all about the grandeur of certain places…
KP: Or the eccentricity of a place. In an almost caricatured form. I thought what was nice about what you did with Happy Hour was that you took it for what it was. You didn’t try and dumb it down and you didn’t try and gussy it up.
JOLY: Yeah, because when you travel - I mean, most of the time it’s shit and it’s uncomfortable, and you kind of remember the glossy bits when you come back. And that’s what I think people never do on travel shows. And, also, I love traveling, and I love being abroad, but I think people are kind of scared that if they say they don’t like somewhere that they’re being racist or something, and it’s just crazy. And, you know, why you can take the piss out of a Frenchman but you can’t out of an Indian is ridiculous.
KP: Or what you so wonderfully did with your handlers in various countries…
JOLY: Well, they were the… that was the real Happy Hour. That really taught me…well, this might be completely unethical… but it was, if you have anyone that can help you in a foreign language, it’s fantastic because you can give them any joke you want in the subtitle. It was just great.
KP: You’re also self-aware enough to play with the form…
JOLY: Yeah, but I’m a bit too much, sometimes. I kind of think, “Chill out, it’s all a bit too in-jokey.” But I just love that. I just love all the things like that.
KP: I mean, that’s why I would love to see you do sort of your tour of the US…
JOLY: Well, so would I, but I don’t know how I’d do it yet.
KP: How long have you been friends with Pete?
JOLY: Pete and I have been friends since we were… it’s so funny, actually, because everyone thought Pete was an actor, and he was a plant. The idea came… I don’t know if you’ve seen The Long Way Round, with Ewan McGregor and Charlie Borman…
JOLY: Sky kind of commissioned that show, our show, on the back of that, thinking, “Oh, we like celebrities traveling with their friends.” I would have chosen Pete anyway because, unfortunately, what we never got into… one of the series we were gonna start… because Pete actually lives in Newfoundland, of all things - because he married a Newfoundlander who’d been in Europe for only three weeks. He got her pregnant and then she basically just took him back to Newfoundland, and he’s been stuck there ever since. Which is the asshole of North America, although it’s quite a weird place to visit. So we were gonna kind of explain that Pete lived out there and is an artist. And because he’s English he’s about the only person that’s ever moved to Newfoundland rather than leaving. He’s kind of a local celebrity, and he’s now just won some art prize. But when they said, “Have you got a friend?” I just thought, “Well, actually Pete is exactly like Charlie Borman.” He’s a bit sort of dim and curly haired. But, of course, he turned out to be absolutely brilliant because we literally didn’t argue once all the way through. Because we are proper, proper close friends. So it was quite nice. I finally got a new catchphrase. People would just come up to me and say, “Up yours, tiger…” - which was really nice. Because we had a long discussion before the show that, for reasons I can’t even remember, we’d call each other “tiger”, and it all just sounded a bit gay, and I just said, “Look, we can’t honestly call each other ‘tiger’ on telly. It’s just gonna look really bad.” And he said, “Yeah, you’re quite right, tiger.” So I’m like, “Really, we can’t.” But after about two days, we just gave up. So I don’t know, it was a bit weird.
KP: What I love about Pete on Excellent Adventure is that - as that sort of perfect traveling companion - he wouldn’t question your decisions for long…
JOLY: Yeah… (laughing)
KP: After a certain point, it was just, “Oh, we may get shot? But you know what? Let’s do it.”
JOLY: Yeah yeah yeah. No, Pete’s wife was terrified. She was… because we were gonna do a Happy Hour… The only thing that’s ever been vetoed is we were gonna do a Happy Hour in Iran, because I just thought it’d be really funny to do a show about alcohol where you never, ever saw a drop of the stuff. But she absolutely refused to let them go to Iran, so we couldn’t do it. But, actually, I then went to Iran recently - skiing for a piece for the Observer - and I’ve never been more drunk in my life. Because they all make their own booze, basically, and they call it “pizza”. And they have a “pizza” guy who they ring up who comes along and delivers plastic bottles of moonshine, basically. I mean, Tehran is a… You know, it’s an alcoholic state.
KP: See, if only we’d send a copy of that piece to Bush…
JOLY: I know. He’d love it. Well, he’s given it up now. He’d probably bomb them anyway.
KP: Going back to Lebanon in Excellent Adventure, how would you describe the differences between now and what it was like when you were growing up in the early 70s?
JOLY: Not many, actually. I mean, the difference was that the center of Beirut has been rebuilt in this kind of mod colonial way. There’s a bit where we’re smoking hubbly bubblies and stuff in the middle of Beirut. That’s kind of the shopping center which has actually been built quite tastefully in what used to be the front line. And when I grew up - from 1935, onwards, I was on the Christian side. I wouldn’t have been able to go there because you couldn’t cross over the green line, which was the kind of demarcation zone. But really, it hasn’t changed that much at all. The Lebanese still refuse to accept they’re Lebanese. They all think they’re French and they all drive round in BMWs and they’re incredibly rich and there’s always… amongst all this rich stuff going on, there are kind of little pockets of incredible poverty, and it’s why Lebanon’s always screwed up is that it’s just this real divergence between the really rich and the really poor. There’s no medium ground. And occasionally people just get pissed off. And also, there’s a whole generation of people who have grown up sort of having power by having guns, and it’s very difficult to just have peace and suddenly say, “Right - you guys, piss off.” And they can’t. But it hasn’t changed that much. Apart from it’s been maybe a lot more overgrown and a bit more polluted, but it’s still one of the most beautiful countries in the world.
KP: You’ve been around Africa, as well…
KP: How would you describe the feeling in countries where there’s still the lingering feeling of their colonial periods?
JOLY: I don’t know about the colonial period. I have this thing about totalitarian countries. One of my favorite books ever is by PJ O’Roarke, Holidays in Hell, and I kind of love the idea of going to places that are supposedly dangerous - or not a place to visit because, firstly, they’re about the last places in the world that you can visit that still are proper travel, in that there probably isn’t a Starbucks around the corner and things are actually… you’re actually experiencing things rather than just sort of following a whole lot of backpackers around. But I don’t know… I just think there are less and less places to go in the world that you can properly go to that are unspoiled, and that’s why I like going to those sort of places.
KP: Is there any place at this point that you wouldn’t go?
JOLY: That I wouldn’t go?
JOLY: Well… no. I mean, Iraq I wouldn’t go because I’d kind of be depressed to go, I think, but I wouldn’t have a problem going to Iraq. I really want to go to North Korea. That’s kind of my… top of my list. I’m off to Libya in a month.
KP: Well, you saw the speech. North Korea’s now a happy place.
JOLY: Yeah, and Bush just let some stuff over as well.
KP: We officially love North Korea now.
JOLY: Yeah, you’re now close friends. That’s good.
KP: We’re going to be sending over some video games…
JOLY: Excellent. That’ll help them.
KP: And a few packages of DVDs…
JOLY: And invade Cuba.
KP: Well, slowly but surely. I guess it looks like Cuba’s opening up now.
JOLY: I haven’t been to Cuba, and I really want to go to Cuba because the moment Castro actually dies, that’ll be it. It’ll be the invasion of the property developers. But, I mean, it’s already happening, but…
KP: Well, once you had the internet restrictions being dropped…
JOLY: Yeah. Actually, I’m quite interested in internet restrictions. Iran was very weird. When you go on… it was the first time I’d had proper internet restrictions. I went on Google and tried to find BBC News, and it’s just this really ominous sign comes up saying this access is denied to this website. And I’m off to Beijing for the Olympics. I’m writing for the Independent, and again they’ve had to… they’ve got a special area around the Olympic Village where, apparently, access to every site is fine. But if you go further away then you can’t get anything. It’s gonna be really fascinating.
KP: Theoretically, I would assume that they’re going to be using some kind of Wi-Fi within those areas…
JOLY: I think they have a special Wi-Fi. I don’t know. That’s why I’m fascinated. I have no idea how they’ll do it.
KP: So, I’m wondering if you’re gonna have people trying to steal that signal and boost it…
JOLY: That’s what I was thinking. I was thinking there’ll be a whole lot of kind of rebellious students coming nearer and nearer the Olympic Village and kind of sitting… piggy backing…
KP: Wearing those Wi-Fi boosting tee shirts.
KP: When you were in Iran, did you encounter anyone who evaded the system? Because obviously there are ways to get around those internet blocks…
KP: Through proxy sites and such.
KP: Did you see that sort of information underground at work?
JOLY: Yeah… Yeah. Basically, how it works in Iran is that any sort of middle class intelligentsia or kind of students who are trying to rebel, they all hang around… it’s very kind of 1920s, because there aren’t any pubs or bars. They all hang out in coffee shops, so it’s very kind of coffee shop revolutionaries. And you kind of imagine coffee shops to be these beautiful old Oriental places, but actually they’re hideous little smoke filled chambers in shopping malls, and they all sit in there, and almost all the coffee shops have a secret Wi-Fi satellite dish that kind of gets stuff out of Iraq, weirdly, or Turkey. So yeah, people huddle in there and get it, and then if the religious police come round everyone kind of closes their laptops and smokes away. It’s totally surreal.
KP: So, do you think it’s just a game that’s being played with both sides knowing what’s going on?
JOLY: Oh, definitely. I mean, I went there skiing because, again, I’d seen a picture of a woman in full chador skiing, and I was like, “Where the hell’s that?” And it was Iran. So I went there, and until two years ago they segregated the whole mountain. It’s an hour from Tehran, and they put a big fence down the middle of the mountain, and the idea was that women skied on one side and men skied on the other side. But the problem was there were only male instructors. And so some of the women I’d met, who were very westernized, very bright Iranian girls about 30, they were all saying how they all had to change their name to male names and dress up as men, supposedly, to get ski lessons when they were kids. Everyone knew they were girls, but they kinda let it go. And even the segregation of the hill now they’ve given up because they said, “Mullahs can’t snowboard,” so all the religious police would just be at the bottom, and they can’t go up and check. It was just crazy. It is a kind of game, but it’s also… they all play the game and they know how to do it, but deep down, although it’s funny and probably quite fun, it’s deeply depressing that this kind of backward thing is running a country like that, because they’re amazing people.
KP: Do you feel sort of a tipping point in that attitude within the generation that you were encountering?
JOLY: Yeah. Well, the thing is now that travel is much… you know, in the old days, you couldn’t travel very much. And I think they were much more fighting it. But now if you really tip and you just get pissed off with it - Most of them go to university just outside LA or in Oslo, and so they kinda come back for the summer, these kind of middle class kids, and I think they can handle it for a couple of months because they see all their friends and they kinda live a different life. But I think for parents and people staying there it’s kinda just… they’re institutionalized.
KP: How would you compare that to… because obviously you’ve gone into some former war zones, like Nicaragua…
KP: What was the feeling, then, going into those sort of locations where it’s not so much a cultural issue that’s kept the people at a certain level, but more the decades of conflict?
JOLY: Nicaragua was totally different in that it’s just a really unlucky country. It’s a huge earthquake zone. Managua was completely destroyed in 1972 by an earthquake and the dictator at the time, the US backed dictator Somoza, just didn’t bother to rebuild anything. So Managua is not really a city in a functioning sense. And then it’s got a line of active volcanoes which Nicaraguans seem to find it absolutely obligatory to build their cities on, and then they get wiped out, and then they build on it again, and you’re just like, “Why don’t you just *not* build it on volcanoes?” I don’t know if it’s to do with Latin machismo or whatever, but… and then, of course, they’ve had political unrest for about 60 years. But it seems to be coming out of that now, actually. They’ve been sort of peaceful for about 15 years and there’s really a feeling… I think Nicaragua’s going to be one of the kinda new places, because it’s pretty empty. It’s got some amazing cities. I went to their one beach resort called San Juan del Sur, and it’s where surfers have really discovered Nicaragua because it’s got an amazing surf. And the first night I was there I go to this little beachside restaurant and I go and sit down and I’m having a drink and there’s this American guy stumbling around on the beach completely drunk, and he’s got one shoe on and a sort of headlamp, and he’s like, “Where’s my shoe? Where’s my shoe?” We’re laughing at him, and after about ten minutes he comes in through the restaurant… and it was Matthew McConaughey. So that’s obviously where, you know - once he’s made a shit movie he thinks, “Great, I have two million. Let’s go and blow it in Nicaragua.” But he needs shoes.
KP: Well, once you’ve got Matthew McConaughey, that’s a sign that you’ve normalized as a country.
JOLY: That’s what I think. I think once McConaughey is surfing with you, things are looking up.
KP: Maybe we need to send him to Iran.
JOLY: I think he needs to go to Iraq first. And then quickly to Iran.
KP: We should just start a campaign to send Matthew in.
JOLY: With his goofy drawl.
KP: Shoe somewhere, just stumbling around…
JOLY: Yeah. Just sort of out in a good ol’ Texas way…
KP: Just so the people know they’ve got nothing to fear from Americans.
JOLY: (laughing) “Bush wouldn’t kill me!”
KP: “They sent McConaughey in and it’s all good.” So is there any place that you’ve actually felt for your safety?
JOLY: There’s a town near me in England called Swindon…
JOLY: You joke, but actually it’s very weird. I’ve been to the most threatening places in the world, but I’ve never really felt threatened apart from an occasional roadblock where there’s a soldier with a jittery thing, but it’s kind of, you know, nothing’s really gonna happen. Whereas, honestly - I’m not joking - there’s just something unique about England. Any kind of small town, market town, after 10:00 in the evening… I’ve just been filming in a place called Weston-super-Mare, which is far from super, and it’s just one of those horrible, depressing English seaside towns that were probably quite cool in the Victorian times, but…
KP: The birthplace of John Cleese…
JOLY: In fact, you’re very right. That’s where he was born. But not his home. He left as soon as he could.
KP: Yes, like most people.
JOLY: And actually, he’s now in Santa Barbara, isn’t he? It was kind of like Santa Barbara, but just a lot worse. And so it was great. We were filming down there, and I’m filming a sort of golf DVD, and I’m dressed in old golf gear, and there’s like four of us and the crew - so it’s not a big production - and we’re in this kinda pedestrianized zone. No one around. And we’re just filming this little scene. The first guy just wanders into the take and he looks around and, in all seriousness, he goes, “Is this the new Indiana Jones movie?” But not as a joke. Like, he thinks this is the new Indiana Jones movie we’re filming. And then the sound man gets his boom taken by a cross-eyed man who’s going, “Is this a radioactive brush?” So we had to get out of town before the sun went down and it’s just… it’s a scary, scary place.
KP: On Swindon - is this the same Swindon you were taken to when you had your recent illness?
JOLY: Yeah, that’s right, actually. I had pneumonia.
KP: Rather bad case, it seems…
JOLY: Well. it wasn’t that bad. because bad cases you die.
KP: Well, when you have that as a demarcation for bad….
JOLY: It was weird, but they took me to hospital because they thought I had meningitis, so actually I was so relieved I didn’t have meningitis that pneumonia was kind of like a bonus. But it was great. I lost a stone and a half, so that was the plus side of it. And, actually, the people of Swindon didn’t kill me in their hospitals, which I thought they would. So it was all alright, actually. But no, that was a bit of a shock, actually.
KP: Well, after they read the article, then they realized that they should have killed you.
JOLY: Then they realized who they’d had, yeah.
KP: I hope you don’t get sick again.
JOLY: Yeah, so do I. Well, if I do I’m going to go Cheltenham. I’m always nice about Cheltenham.
KP: I’m sure you’ve already got a “Do Not Call Swindon” bracelet…
JOLY: Exactly, yeah. (laughing) I need that tattooed, like, with my blood group. “Do not resuscitate. Do not take to Swindon.”
KP: I was reading the comments you made last year in the lead up to the mayoral race in London…
KP: And your thoughts on Ken Livingston and Boris Johnson. Do you still hold to those views on both of them?
JOLY: Well, the joy for me is I don’t live in London anymore. I’ve got a place there, but I don’t have to suffer all the stuff they do. I loathe Ken Livingston. I mean, I really do. Of all the people… I did him for Trigger. Weirdly, I did both him and Boris Johnson for Trigger Happy. Boris Johnson was just himself and kinda thought I was Ali G, and we couldn’t use it. But Ken Livingston was… actually, though, he behaved quite normally and said I should be arrested when I’d beaten up a gorilla behind him. He’s kind of held it ever since and he still gets angry occasionally on radio phone ins and calls me a cunt - which he did, which I was quite pleased with. But I just think he was… I really, really genuinely think he was very bad for London. I think he was very corrupt. I think there’s something about being a mayor where you’re kind of not really a politician and you just get very corrupt very quickly, and I’m very pleased he’s gone. I don’t know whether Boris Johnson will do anything good for London, but I think he’ll be entertaining, at least.
KP: You’ll have to check out the “Boris for President” website.
JOLY: It won’t be long, I tell you.
KP: Oh no, there’s one.
KP: Yeah. BorisForPresident.org.
JOLY: He was born in the States, wasn’t he?
KP: Yeah, New York City.
JOLY: So he’s eligible.
KP: Theoretically if he’s maintained a residence in New York, then yes.
JOLY: Unlike McCain, who was born in Panama, I think.
KP: Yes. So, you know, we could trade. We’ll send over John after November. Get him in as mayor of Swindon.
JOLY: I tell you what - Boris Johnson, president of the States, that would be fabulous. He wouldn’t even be able to find Iran to bomb it, but he’d find ancient Greece.
KP: Yes. “I’d like to tell you about the Romans…”
KP: Are there any plans for a new series of The Complainers?
JOLY: I didn’t enjoy The Complainers. The problem with The Complainers - I know I grumble about every show I make - but with The Complainers, they came to me and it was a really good idea, because everyone’s grumbling in Britain at the moment, saying it’s shit. And it kind of is. And they were like, “It’s called The Complainers, and basically the idea is we just get all the things that annoy people and we go out and get a bit of revenge.” And I thought, “That’s brilliant.” So I said yes to it. And then when I got there, we just waited for two months because Channel 5 seems to change whoever’s in charge of it every three months, and so whoever had commissioned this had gone, and the new person came in, looked at it, and said, “No no no, we don’t want a comedy. We want a serious investigative show.” And so half of us were being pushed to do… literally trying to bring the government down, and the other half just wanted to go and hit traffic wardens. And it kinda ended up… the best thing someone said about it is it was like Michael Moore in Northamptonshire.
KP: It was like TV Nation in the UK…
JOLY: Yeah, well, I loved TV Nation. I thought it was amazing. But TV Nation - at times, Michael Moore really annoyed me, but at least it had a real focus. And the problem with this show was like, they did all the hidden camera stuff and didn’t even involve me. I’m like, “Hello? Isn’t that what I should be doing, more than these weird kinda long stories?” Everything we should have done should have been about things we were complaining about - and actually a lot of them, I just thought, “No one’s complaining about that.” So I think Tuesday I’m gonna get the new series commissioned, and I’m producing it this time. And basically it’s just gonna be really simple. It’s just we’re gonna take a kinda poll of the hundred things that annoy people the most, and then we’re either gonna try and deal with them or get revenge. And it’s gonna be that simple. And I think it’ll be really good. Because despite itself, it did really well. Because I think people just like the idea of complainers. I just thought it was a bit of a confused show, and it’s gonna be much more focused next time.
KP: I think people just like the idea of you doing work.
JOLY: Yeah, well, so does my wife. (laughing)
KP: How often do you get presented projects that you turn down flat?
JOLY: Every day. The Complainers is the very first thing that I was ever proposed that wasn’t mine that I did, and I was very pissed off for that - because I am a control freak to an extent, but because I genuinely care about what I make. I really don’t want to just make stuff for the money. So it did really annoy me, because it was so obvious how it should have been made, and it wasn’t. So that’s why I’m doing a second one, because it’s very rare you get the opportunity to look at something and think, “That was shit,” and then get given a second chance to repair it, which is what we’re doing on this. So I’m quite excited about it, actually, as it’s really clear. But I get offered all sorts of things. Mostly weight related. I just got one yesterday. I got offered the role of the young Pavarotti about a year ago. Offered the role of the young Harry Secombe. And what did I get yesterday? Some big BBC1 primetime show called 10 Things You Didn’t Know - and this was all about weight loss. So it’s like, “Look, fuck off. Go and ask Gervais.” (laughing) “I had pneumonia. That’s how I lose weight.”
KP: You’ll be playing Santa Claus before you know it.
JOLY: Yeah, I know! (laughing)
KP: Besides being overweight, what do you feel is the perception that people have of a “Dom Joly project”?
JOLY: What, of me?
JOLY: I think loud and shouty is the main thing. Which actually is the one thing I’m really not. I mean, I am on camera, but I’m not really that loud and shouty. I used to be really loud and shouty, but there’s a weird thing about becoming successful or well known or whatever, is that I kinda felt I had less to prove. So when I go places I don’t… in the old days I’d kinda walk in and, “Hello, it’s me,” and just sort of try and impose myself, and now I don’t need to do that. So I find it very relaxing. So someone’s like, “Oh look, it’s Dom Joly.” They either hate me or like me, but there’s nothing much I can do about it. I don’t know what they think. Genuinely, I hope that the one thing… I think a lot of people think, “Oh, we thought he was going to be, like, really really huge after Trigger Happy,” and I wasn’t, and I think some people think, “Oh god, he fucked it up.” Whereas the majority of people I meet seem to get the fact that I’ve never yet done anything for the money, and I haven’t sold out. Whatever sold out means. Not that I’ve had some great artistic credibility, but I think I’ve done everything that I’m proud of, so far. I’ve never done anything for the wrong reasons. And that’s been a problem, really, because I think it stopped me from doing lots of stuff, but at least I’ve never done anything really bad yet.
KP: Is there anything that you can look back on and think, “Well, you know, I really should have done that…”?
JOLY: Well, there’s one thing I did fuck up on. I got called by… I mean, I’m not an actor, but I got called by Danny Boyle in the middle of Trigger Happy, and he was casting for 28 Days Later. And he said he was a huge fan, could I come in, and I said, “I’m just not an actor.” And he said, “Well, yeah, but I want you to play this part. It’s the baddie. I think you can do it.” And I said, “Well, I know I can do it. Look at Trigger Happy. You know I can do it. But if I have to come in and audition, I’m gonna be shit. I’ve never auditioned in my life.” He said, “No no, you don’t have to audition, but just come in and meet the producer and the writer.” So, of course, I went in and they made me read a piece out, and I was just awful. You can see Danny Boyle just, like, totally embarrassed, and then sent me a letter saying, “I know you could have done it, but they weren’t so sure.” So that was my big movie break that could have happened. So I’m not really interested in doing other people’s lines, that’s the point. What really I get off on is kind of having to think on the spot. That’s what I really, really get excited by. And that’s what Trigger Happy was all about. It’s just walking up to someone and just thinking, “Right, how can I make this into a funny, controlled situation,” and I get a real buzz out of that adrenaline. But I don’t think I would out of just reading someone else’s lines.
KP: So what would it take for you to do a scripted piece?
JOLY: For there not really to be a script. I mean, my dream piece would be Curb Your Enthusiasm, because I kind of think they worked a bit like I do - but obviously far more successfully, in that they probably have a page written out of what they need to get out of this scene and where it’s going, and you all kind of understand the characters, and then you riff and make it better and better and sound naturalistic. That’s what I’m really into. Or the kind of Spinal Tap type approach to stuff.
KP: Well, hopefully you’d do a better job at it than Jack Dee did…
JOLY: What, Lead Balloon?
JOLY: I’ve never seen Lead Balloon, actually.
JOLY: Is it terrible?
KP: The awkwardness of it is that it just such… it fails to capture what Curb is, but it’s so desperate to be Curb.
JOLY: Yeah, that’s what I felt. That’s why I didn’t really want to watch it. Because either it was gonna be so good I’d be bitter, or it was so bad I’d be upset. There was gonna be no medium ground.
KP: You can see the strain of them trying to get it right.
JOLY: The thing about Curb is that, what I’ve learned, is that it works because everyone’s having fun in it, I think, and it kinda just feels… you know it’s good. They’re making each other laugh. Whereas the sort of… I haven’t seen Lead Balloon, but the things that attempt to be Curb are… they’re almost like students of it, and it’s like, “Just forget the studies. Just try and have fun and make each other laugh.” That’s what it’s about.
KP: It sort of reminded me of the sort of vibe I got off of the show Nighty Night…
KP: Which was just so relentless in its depressive nature that you get to a point where you go, “I’m tired.”
JOLY: Well, it was kinda like Chris Morris in The Last Jam. It was like, “Okay, any humor is pretty much gone now. This is deeply, deeply upsetting.”
KP: Now you’re just acting out…
JOLY: You’re just acting out in group therapy.
KP: How do you feel about the article writing that you’ve been doing over the past few years? How does that fit into how you view your career…
JOLY: Well, I’ve never written anything for television or radio or… you know, I’ve never written anything I’ve done on television. It’s all made up, literally, on the spot. And yet I love writing. It’s the one thing that Trigger Happy kind of did, was open doors for me and allowed me to… you know, someone offered me a column and I kinda thought, “I know I’ve got this column because I’m on telly, but they’re not gonna keep me unless I can write.” And I’ve been writing it for seven years now, for the Independent on Sunday. It’s kinda weird. It’s like this weekly diary. And it’s great. I find it totally liberating. I can write about anything I want. So I can write about, “I’ve been in Nicaragua,” or I can write about the man who breeds 50 foot chickens next to me. It’s kind of totally what I want it to be. And then I’ve done more and more travel writing, which I love doing. I just love writing, because it means I can do it from anywhere in the world. I can be at home, see my kids, and I really enjoy writing. I can really escape in it. And then I do a spoof column whose name I can’t reveal because no one’s guessed it yet, but I’ve been doing it for two years for the Independent. And that’s really good fun once a week, and that really winds people up. That’s my favorite column.
KP: Have there been any discussions to do a book collection of the travel pieces?
JOLY: I’m just about to sign a book deal, actually. I just got a new agent and we’re just talking about next week, and I’m going to do a book called Totalitarian Tourism, which is basically gonna be my attempt to do Holidays in Hell - which is still the greatest book ever. So I’m just gonna go to six or seven… I mean, my dream TV show’s already been made, which is Holidays in the Axis of Evil, but it was done by someone with no talent, sadly, so it was really dull. And I just think, “How can you fuck that up?” It would just be so much fun.
KP: Why do you feel you can’t do it now?
JOLY: Well, just because it was such a good name and Britain’s such a tiny place, so they kinda think, “Oh, that’s been done.” “But it was done really badly..” And they’re like, “No, it’s been done.”
KP: But why this sort of parochial feel that, you know, you’re only shooting for the UK? Why not look at a broader audience?
JOLY: Because I don’t know anyone anywhere else. (laughing) You know, I live in the Cotswolds. I don’t really take many meetings in LA. I’m longing to do something like that, but I’m genuinely… I’m just a bit… I’m not lazy, I’m just… I don’t know what the word is. I just need someone to ring me up and say, “Do it,” and if I love it it’s like, “Fantastic, let’s do it.”
KP: So that’s all it takes, right?
JOLY: Really, genuinely. I think the most common question to me is, like, “How can you do all this stuff when you’re so busy?” I’m on Facebook a lot. And, like, “How can he do this when he’s so busy?” Like, “Yeah, I’m real busy.” I mean, the whole reason I do my job is so I’m not that busy. Because I do it… you know, I wrote two columns this morning and that’s it. I’m going to watch Wimbledon this afternoon.
KP: So, really, that’s all it would take - a phone call.
KP: So let’s say if someone were to get off the phone doing an interview with you, make a few phone calls, get some people interested in talking to you about getting a project going, that’s all it would take for you.
JOLY: That’s all it would take.
KP: Let me write this down. So, are we making a gentleman’s bet on this?
JOLY: Honestly, it’s very weird because I get asked this quite a lot, and I sort of joke about it and I think, “I don’t know. I’ve always waited for someone just to ring me up and say it, but it just never happens. What would I do? Do I go to LA and I wander around with a sign saying, ‘I want to make TV?’” I’ve no idea how you do it. But the problem is no one’s ever known my work in the States because the American Trigger Happy had crap music and then, of course, the American Trigger Happy itself pretty much killed it all off.
KP: Well, I can tell you - I’ve never been to the UK, and I know your work…
JOLY: Well, that’s good. If you could just have another one, we could have a club. You’ve never been to the UK?
KP: I have never been to the UK.
JOLY: You’re slightly obsessed with English comedy. You know Nighty Night. It’s very impressive.
KP: I have a lot of friends in the UK. And it’s not terribly cost effective to travel to the UK at this point.
JOLY: No. Or much fun, actually.
KP: Well, I’m afraid I’d get knifed.
JOLY: Well, you would. Trust me.
KP: It seems like… what has it been, the past couple of years?… Where all of a sudden it seems that crime is taking this tremendous spiral upwards in the UK?
JOLY: It’s only going to spiral upwards, and I think knife culture has become much more prevalent. But, actually, it’s always been like that. I was just reading a paper… it’s not that I read old papers, but I was reading a paper from 1968, and there were huge problems with razor gangs in Glasgow. So it’s kind of a fad thing. But actually, Happy Hour nearly made a serious point - I stopped it quickly - but it is very odd that in of all the places in the world we went where people got drunk to the extent of death, in Russia and Germany and Mexico and everywhere, there was nowhere where I couldn’t just wander out at 11 at night in a city and I’d just feel completely fine. I mean, possibly - you walk into a dodgy area, you might be worried about a mugger. But, I mean, not really. Whereas England, genuinely - in the five towns within ten miles of where I am, I would feel really nervous at 10:00 at night, because someone would definitely come up to me… not just because I’m me on the telly, but to just say, “You looking at me?” and then just start a fight. There’s something very inherent… we like fighting in England. And I don’t. So that’s why I’d like to come to the States. I don’t want to fight.
KP: Do you think that fighting is alcohol created, or just a natural state that the alcohol brings out?
JOLY: I think there’s probably something a little bit natural within us. Is it because we’re an island? I don’t know… And feeling like, “Oh, no one’s ever beaten us…” although everyone actually has, but we just don’t realize it. And definitely alcohol fueled… we definitely drink… we just can’t handle our drink. We drink to get drunk, rather than drink to have fun.
KP: It was touched upon in The Complainers, the sort of British reserve…
JOLY: Yeah. But it’s definitely reserve. My theory behind being drunk is that we’re so kind of nervous and socially inadequate, that it’s about skin contact. If you get drunk, you either fight someone and you touch skin or you get a shag if you’re lucky. Either way, it’s the only way we can kinda make contact with people.
KP: So you’d say that, 11:00 at night, you feel safer on the street in New York City than a street of London?
JOLY: Oh, New York City? Piece of piss. I feel safer in the streets of Tehran or Managua or even Baghdad than 11:00… London’s actually really not too bad because it’s so big. But somewhere like Swindon or Oxford or any kind of small place - you know, kinda market town where there’s nothing for people to do, so they all just hang out round the kebab stand at midnight and then just all fight each other…
KP: Where are the smaller “safe haven” areas? You moved out of London. You’re obviously not living in Swindon…
JOLY: No, I’m in the Cotswolds, so I’m kind of in the middle of nowhere.
KP: So you’ve essentially moved out to the rural area.
JOLY: Yeah. I’ve done my sort of New England move. My Connecticut move - except without the huge house. And without the lovely flat in Manhattan.
KP: So if you were to choose a foreign location to live, lets say for a year, where would you live?
JOLY: San Francisco.
KP: On the hill?
JOLY: Yeah. Well, I’d have a little Vesper, but I love love love San Francisco. I love north California. I’d probably live in Oregon, actually, if I had a choice. I haven’t been there yet, so I can’t quite say that with conviction. But there’s something I find amazing about crossing the bridge in San Francisco and going up Highway 1. I just was absolutely… I’d be very happy there. Also I’m off to Canada, because I married a Canadian. I’d never have gone to Canada otherwise. And I’ve got a place on Lake Muskoka, which is three hours north or Toronto. It’s kind of the Canadian’s version of the Hamptons, but it’s a bit shit. But I love that. And there are no English at all, which is the best thing. Basically, I tend not to travel anywhere where there’s a direct flight from England. I know there’s one from Toronto, but…
KP: But you’re getting awfully close to the Quebecois…
JOLY: Well, actually, I love the Quebecois. I did a piece on Quebec City last year, and I think Quebec City is the most underrated city in North America. I mean, it’s absolutely beautiful. It’s very European. You don’t need to visit Disney if you don’t want to go to Europe - you can go there. And the food is just astonishing. It’s kind of like nice French.
KP: But you speak French…
JOLY: Yeah, but that’s nothing to do with Quebec, trust me.
KP: There’s still a bridge. If you speak no French…
JOLY: Honestly, most Quebecois you meet… I mean, I have better conversations with my dog. I mean really, it’s such extraordinary French. It sounds like a man’s being strangled. But yeah, it does help a bit.
KP: I spent some time in Montreal, and it was the most dismissive atmosphere towards anyone who did not live there and speak French.
JOLY: I like Montreal less, actually. Everyone seems to like Montreal. I find Montreal a bit too American, really. I mean, you know, you go there for something different, and it’s kind of wanting to be American. But no, I really like them - but I agree that speaking French does help. They kind of accept you a bit more.
KP: So, besides Swindon, what’s the one place that you would never want to spend time in?
JOLY: Well, I’ve just been there, weirdly, this weekend, and I’ve just written my column about it. Weston-super-Mare.
KP: So it is Weston-super-Mare.
JOLY: I think Weston-super-Mare is the single most depressing place I’ve visited. Weston-super-Mare or Coventry. But Coventry has the excuse that the Germans leveled it in the Second World War with the firebombs. So at least they have some sort of excuse - whereas Weston-super-Mare was completely untouched, and it’s just the land that time forgot.
KP: Is it the people? The atmosphere? What is it that…
JOLY: It’s just this… there’s something about what we do to seaside towns. Because we build big seaside towns, and then we forget that our weather’s rubbish - so no one’s ever gonna go to the sea. And so it just ends up sort of horrible penny arcades and it stinks of urine and there’s depressed donkeys. It’s kind of like Coney Island but times ten. And it’s just everything’s peeling and faded and it’s all empty, and the people are all cross-eyed. I mean, it’s really no joke. It’s just there’s something very very odd about it.
KP: So, never gonna go back?
JOLY: I will never go back to Weston-super-Mare, no. There are many other ugly places to visit.
KP: So are you ready for them to burn you in effigy?
JOLY: (laughing) Well, I wrote… I got in a lot of trouble over Swindon, and I’ve just written an even worse column which is coming out this Sunday about Weston-super-Mare, so I’m pretty sure there’ll be a huge wicker man of me burning by Sunday night.
KP: So at what point are you just gonna have to move? Because you’ve pretty much trashed every place in the UK…
JOLY: Well, I think that’s my plan, actually. I wrote a golf book last year because I realized I was starting to play golf, and I was so rude about everybody that they don’t really let me play anywhere now - so that’s kind of got me off golf, which is good. So I’m just hoping soon that the government will actually pay for me to leave, and then I can go and live somewhere nice and hot.
KP: So your preference is the Pacific rather than the Atlantic…
JOLY: Well, I’m really selfish. I’d live in four places. I’d probably have a little place in Morocco, San Francisco, and have a place in Muskoka - I absolutely love that. And then… I don’t know. Somewhere hot. But I don’t know where, really.
KP: Now, if things stabilized, would you spend any significant time back in Lebanon?
JOLY: No. My family’s there. And I hate them. My sister runs the family company that I was supposed to take over and… you know.
KP: We didn’t see much of that in your Excellent Adventure…
JOLY: Well, that was the… if only you knew the weirdness of that. My sister refused to be filmed, as did my father - as did my whole family, basically. So when I went out there, there was a fantastic bit where we’re filming at this seaside restaurant where I’m trying to give them my photograph, and I went there because that’s where we’d always go every Sunday. And suddenly my entire family turned out without knowing I’m there. There, sitting at the next door table to me, is my dad who I haven’t spoken to for about 10 years, my sister who’s taken my rightful job and who I don’t really get on with, and various other people. And the director’s going, “So these are your family?” I go, “Yeah.” They go, “So can we film them?” I go, “Unfortunately not.” So we’re having this totally weird conversation with me and Pete, with all my family listening in, and the one interesting thing in the whole country and we can’t film it - because it would have made incredibly awkward TV.
KP: I’m assuming there was a nice conversation after that bit of filming?
JOLY: No. It was pretty awkward. I mean, they don’t really understand what I do at all. They don’t really see TV as a career. They think it’s a sort of punishment. I think they have no clue. I don’t think they’ve ever seen a program I’ve made.
KP: On purpose?
JOLY: Probably. Well, they don’t watch TV. They kind of live in the 1950s, really.
KP: Are they big Mr. Bean fans?
JOLY: I think they probably are. I think they probably think that he’s the height of sophistication, actually.
KP: I think, at this point, you’re just going to have to work with Rowan Atkinson.
KP: Just to get known outside the country.
JOLY: Yeah, I know. I’m gonna have to bite the bullet. It got worse last week when I was filming this golf DVD. Some woman came up to me and goes, “I don’t know who you are, but my daughter says you’re the new Benny Hill.” And I’m like, “Oh fuck that.” Then I looked at his DVD sales and I was alright.
KP: So what is the golf DVD that you’re doing?
JOLY: Oh please. It’s just another low in my career. It’s Dom Joly’s Golfing Goofs and Gaffes.
KP: Oh really.
JOLY: That’s the stage I’ve got to.
KP: Was this your idea?
JOLY: No, someone came to me. And actually, I did have lots of good ideas for golf. So I just thought, “All I have to do is do some stuff in between clips.” And I had a lot of hidden camera golf gags that I never used, so I just did those. They were great fun.
KP: So this is obviously a direct to DVD.
JOLY: Christmas special.
KP: Is this going to be the big sell at Tesco this year?
JOLY: Do you know what? It just might. Because I’d laugh at these things every year. And actually, I did a spoof documentary of what my life was going to be like, called Being Dom Joly, which was kind of eight years ago. And in it, one of the big jokes was that I was gonna end up on the celebrity charity golf circuit playing with Ronnie Corbett - and there I was making Dom Joly’s Golfing Goofs and Gaffes just thinking, “Fucking hell. What happened?”
KP: And no Ronnie Corbett.
JOLY: And no Ronnie Corbett. He couldn’t be bothered.(laughing)
KP: Well, maybe you need to be a little more discriminatory when these things come in.
JOLY: That’s one of the few things I’ve done because I needed to pay some school fees. But actually, I did it because I thought it was gonna be funny, and it was funny. So I’m not embarrassed by it, because it is funny. It is a sell through, but I’m very pleased with the stuff we filmed, so it’s alright. And I got to visit Weston-super-Mare. So, really…
KP: It’s kind of like an investigative recce…
JOLY: Don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it.
KP: Now you’re knocking it in print.
KP: So you got a second series of The Complainers coming up…
KP: You have the golf video…
JOLY: Yeah. DVD.
KP: DVD, sorry. Is that what the producer told you to keep saying?
JOLY: Yeah, he’s here right now he’s got his hand up my arse.
KP: So what else is on the agenda for this year? Obviously the columns are still ongoing…
JOLY: I’ve got my columns ongoing. I’ve got a possible show, which I’m just waiting to hear about, which is driving from London to Sydney. It’s going to take 92 days, which is gonna be kinda cool. And then I’m writing a book - written by my fictional character in the Independent - which is hopefully gonna be the next Bridget Jones, because he now takes Bridget Jones’s place there. And I don’t know… That’s about it, really.
KP: And you’re doing a podcast for Cobra beer?
JOLY: Yeah. You got me.
KP: It almost sounds like you’re trying to ignore the fact that you’re doing a podcast for Cobra beer.
JOLY: No no, I’m very proud of that.
KP: Is the travel challenge podcast over and done with now?
JOLY: Well, that was just a one-off thing for the Sunday Times. And again, it was just one of those very weird things where they said, “We’ll fly you around the world and do these exciting things.” But I just thought, “Really, how exciting is it listening to a man canoeing?” But they paid me and it meant travel and doing really weird things, but I always thought that was one thing that really didn’t lend itself to a podcast. But I thought, “Well, they must know better than me…” And they didn’t, actually. We’re supposed to do another lot this year, but they’re going to make them vodcasts now, where they video them as well. So you just think, “Well, in the end, doesn’t that just become a really cheap TV program?”
KP: And the answer is “Yes,” and you’re doing it rather cheaply.
KP: They finally found a way to get you cheap.
JOLY: Yeah. And I’m not dumb. Basically, I’ll do anything if it’s something I want to do. Most of the things I do I just sit there thinking, “God, if only they knew I’d pay them to do this.”
KP: So what is the status of… I noticed your website hasn’t exactly been updated…
JOLY: Well, I never did a website. Someone set it up for me. I’m just too… I couldn’t work out how to upload anything or anything, so I’ve become obsessed with Facebook. So everything I do is on my Facebook page. All my photos are up there, all my columns go up, and I change my status every day. But unfortunately, I’ve just reached a huge problem - I’ve reached 5,000 friends, and that’s the limit on Facebook. So I don’t really know what to do now.
KP: I guess now you’re going to actually set up a website.
JOLY: Yeah. I can’t, though. Facebook’s so easy. I can just… if I’m on the train I can do it. I’m really good. I’m on it every day. I reply to stuff. I’m really accessible, and that and it works for me. I can put all my photos up, all this stuff. But I don’t know what I’m gonna do now. I’ve never been very good with that sort of thing.
KP: Do you have any plans to do your own personal podcast?
JOLY: I was thinking about it, because that’s one of the reasons I did this Cobra thing was because I know Danny Wallace really well and he does a radio show, and his podcast was doing really well, and he asked me to do it, and I thought, “Well, I’ve never done this before, so I might as well have a look at it.” And actually, it really doesn’t seem very complicated. So yeah, I am thinking about it.
KP: Well, you’ll have to let us know, so we can actually let people outside the UK know that you’re doing these things.
JOLY: Yeah, you know, I’m not very keen on that, though. (laughing) I don’t trust foreigners.
KP: I can tell. I’ve seen your programs.
KP: It’s a healthy distrust, though.
KP: So when is your next trip to the US?
JOLY: Next trip to the US? I don’t know. Well, I do. I’m going to Canada on July the 7th for a month, and then I’m going straight from Canada to Beijing for the Olympics, and then I come back here for a week, and then I’m going to LA for a week to have an extraordinarily huge amount of meetings with financiers for this Trigger Happy type film.
KP: What would you do if someone came to you with a scripted piece?
JOLY: I would look at it and get very excited and show it to my friends in the village and say, “Look - this is from America. They want me.” I don’t know. I honestly would love someone to suggest something that they thought I’d be good at, because I’m just a bit lazy. But very excited…
KP: Well, it’s certainly been a pleasure speaking with you. And I intend to win the bet. Did we actually make the bet yet?
JOLY: (laughing) Listen, anything that gets me out of the house and away from Swindon.
KP: Weston-super-Mare’s going to come after you.
JOLY: (laughing) Yeah, that’s what it will be called - The Dom Joly Weston-super-Mare Show! (laughing)
KP: I’m writing that down.
JOLY: Yeah! Where are you based?
KP: I’m in North Carolina.
JOLY: Ah, there we go, I knew it. I knew there was an edge to your “always going to the same places” type conversation.
JOLY: I was nearly with you. I was in South Carolina.
KP: That was close, but it’s not quite the sort of void of North Carolina.
JOLY: Yeah, but it’s not bad. Come on. I made the effort. How many other comedians are doing that?
KP: It’s not Weston-super-Mare, I’ll grant you, but…
KP: Now I’m going to have to do a sort of cultural exchange and experience Weston-super-Mare for myself.
JOLY: That would be fantastic. I’ll get my moonshine guys to do a house swap with people in Weston-super-Mare.
KP: That’s what you should do…
JOLY: That’s a great show, actually. There it is - Hillbilly House Swap.
KP: A transatlantic hillbilly house swap.
JOLY: Meet My White Trash.
KP: I’m going to take this as a promise.
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