Dan Clark: How Not To Live Your Musical Comedy Touring Life
Andrew Mickel8 October 2012
A chat with the How Not To Live Your Life star ahead of his UK tour...
Dan Clark is best known as Don from How Not To Live Your Life, which ran for three series (it did not feel like three series) on BBC Three. He’s about to go on tour with a proper band, put together with actual musician people from other bands like Sweet Billy Pilgrim, but doing songs with a bunch of LOLs in them.
A nice thing about Dan: touring comedians have to give about eleventy billion interviews to get their name ‘out there’ these days, so when one of them takes the time to write some considered answers to whatever nonsense questions we’ve scratched together, you have to give them some serious respect. We are hereby giving Dan his due respect. *doffs cap*
Let’s start off with a quick reminder of Dan/Don singing a song:
Lots of people don’t know you for music. How would you describe it?
It's a proper indie-rock band. But with funny lyrics and comedy concepts. The band are incredible - three friends of mine who happened to be professional musicians.
I'm lucky to have them as they're normally very busy being musicians. There's still some stand-up in the show, in between the songs. I'd say it's 70 percent music, 30 percent stand-up.
Who are good musical comedy reference points?
Jack Black's band, Tenacious D were the first to do comedy-music where the music was actually cool and not old-fashioned. They are less of a comedy act though; they're a band that has amusing lyrics, although the song 'F**k Her Gently' is one of the funniest songs ever recorded.
Of the acts that are definitely comedy before music, I would say I'm closer to Flight of the Conchords than Tim Minchin. The latter is a brilliant musician but his lyricism is more like traditional musical comedy - very witty and clever, and not a million miles from someone like Victoria Wood. My lyrics are less about rhymes and phrases - it's just very silly and probably a lot ruder.
To quote Dan Clark: ‘I have been secretly writing serious music for many years’. Please give us the most troubling lyric you can think of from your own musical past.
Oh Jesus, that's not fair. Probably something from my teens about not being understood or being heartbroken. But I don't remember. All the ones I've written in more recent years have been deliberately cryptic to avoid embarrassing emotional cheesiness.
I was a huge fan of Michael Stipe's early lyricism. Words that you have to decode or discover the meaning of are way more satisfying. By the way, that rule does not work for comedy. You want them to get everything immediately.
You’re doing indie; it seems pretty fair to say it’s a genre in trouble. What’s your three-point plan to save its soul?
Man, these are tough questions. I do think we're living in very a mainstream age. All entertainment - TV comedy, stand-up comedy, music and films - are safe, broad, middle of the road. Don't get me wrong, I love mainstream entertainment, when it's good quality. I think my own comedy is quite mainstream in some ways. But there seems to be no, or very little, alternative to the mainstream at the moment.
Why can't we have both? 12 years ago a comedy like the brilliant Hunderby (by Julia Davis) would've been a no-brainer for BBC Two. Six years ago - BBC THree. Now it has to go to a niche channel like Sky Atlantic. I mean, thank God Sky are commissioning stuff like that, but why isn't anyone else? Noel Fielding can get commissioned because he's famous, but there's no way a show as weird as his would get made by an up-and-comer in this day and age.
Stand-up at the moment feels like we've gone back to the seventies. Men in shiny suits talking about their wives. (As in their wife, singular, I'm sure these comics don't have more than one wife). There are a lot of people being entertained by those kinds of comedians and they really like them so you can't argue with that. But I would much rather see Paul Foot or Tony Law pop up on one of these stand-up TV shows than a billion "bloke down the pub" types. (By the way, when I refer to men in shiny suits, I don't include Michael McIntyre in that. He's often the poster boy of hate for that type of comedy. I happen to think he's a brilliant comedian.)
Anyway, I don't have a three-point plan. I just think we'll only see slightly more independent entertainment make a comeback when an indie TV show or film or whatever is a surprise hit. Then the industry will have the confidence to start commissioning that kind of thing again.
[Editing note: we actually meant indie music, but for the sake of having this interview completed before Dan’s tour started we thought we better not ask again.]
Don Danbury is back: what’s he been up to since leaving our screens?
Well, Don is not really back as such. I'm doing a section in the new tour show of his songs. When I toured last year the crowd always shouted out requests for Don Danbury songs from the TV show. I had no idea they were that popular. So I decided to do them with the full band for this show. We're doing about five of his songs.
What was your view on the series being cancelled? Would you resurrect it for anyone?
It's an interesting one. At the time I was totally fine with it. I had told the exec producer that if we did a fourth series I would make it the last one. I wanted to try new things, write for some new characters etc. So when the new controller came along and cancelled pretty much every comedy on the channel, including ours, I kinda felt like, "oh well, I was beginning to think about wrapping it up anyway".
It still hurts a little - it's a form of rejection. But then a few months went by and I started to feel sad about losing the show. However, we were lucky enough to get a christmas special so that we could wrap up the story.
I miss it a lot, especially working with that cast and crew. We had fun making it.
Would I bring it back? Hmm, depends on whether there's a story to tell. I think it would have to be a slightly different show or format. The complete series box set including the final hour-long special is available to buy.
Are you in the second series of Luxury Comedy? If so, how is it coming on?
I have no idea. I did speak to Noel about one particular idea, which I think is very funny. But Noel, as you can imagine, does not do things conventionally. I'll just get a call out of the blue saying "do you wanna come in a do something tomorrow?".
I think he's re-working it all a bit. There was definitely a consensus that show was a bit too weird for some, that it was too free-form and stream of conscious. I think he might be thinking of putting more structure into the next series. But I don't know for certain.
And what other projects do you currently have on the go?
I seem to have become a full time writer. I've written three pilot scripts in the past eight months (one for an American network and two for the BBC) and am waiting to hear on those. I'm writing a film, and a comedy drama. But my plan is to get back in front of the camera. I miss acting.
Dan’s on tour from the end of the month, kicking off in Nottingham on October 25 and then going Quite A Lot Of Places. Find out more at Dan Clark’s website.
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