Dave Gorman: Modern Life Is Goodish returns to Dave very soon, for its fifth series, with the eponymous comedian/writer/PowerPoint enthusiast diving back into the weird world around us, in search of life-affirming moments, barmy internet comments and more hefty chuckles.
After watching the first episode of series 5 a bit early, we got the chance to chat with Mr Gorman over the phone. The call was delayed slightly, because Gorman was stuck at a garage trying to sort out his MOT. Once we were connected, that seemed like a good place to start our rather long chat…
Is everything alright with your car?
It will be, but it’s not at the moment. Yeah, that’s what caused the delay. My apologies.
No worries! That kind of leads me on to something I was gonna ask, actually. Do you ever go into situations in your normal life – things like getting your MOT done – hoping that something funny happens, so you’ve got material for the show?
Um, no, not really. I think, every now and then, something happens and a light goes on in the back of your head of, ‘Remember all this. Turn the tape recorder on in your head, because there’s something in this.’ Um, but no, I’ve never tried driving into the garage thinking, ‘Right, how’s this gonna yield joy?’ I don’t… I think the minute you start doing that, you start doing things differently. And then you’re just… it’s not an authentic experience, and then the material doesn’t ring true, because you slightly forced your hand. If that makes any sense at all?
So, er, ‘no’ is the one word answer. And everything I said before no is the slightly clumsy longhand one.
[Laughs] So, the website I write for is Den Of Geek, and I would’ve come into this interview assuming you were quite a geeky guy, had I not seen – quite recently – the episode where you explain that you’re not, although people often assume that you are. Where did you think people, myself included, get that misconception from?
Um, I think because most men – especially in the media – who are about my age, and have a beard, and aren’t wearing a football shirt, are probably assumed to be geeks. And there’s probably some… that’s probably statistically about right, as well. You know, it’s always a safe assumption. And also, I sort of, I know I tick some of the boxes that people use to describe geekiness. I think I was actually really questioning whether or not… I don’t like sci-fi… but what is geeky about liking sci-fi?
When Star Wars is like one of the biggest movie franchises in the world, you’re not an outsider. It’s the most mainstream thing you could possibly like. In which case, why are we defining it as a thing that’s separate? You might as well say you’re a geek for watching The X-Factor. It’s just mainstream culture. It’s not different and weird. It doesn’t set you apart from the rest of us in anyway. That’s what I don’t get. These things have now taken over. They’re huge.
It is odd. The idea that Star Wars and Star Trek are these fringe things doesn’t really add up at all.
No, but people want them to be. I don’t know. There’s a lot of… and I wasn’t aware of this until I was having this conversation, but I’m often drawn to… we often talk about this in the production office… of, this is a world that doesn’t like nuance very much. And I’m really into and like getting into the nuance of things. I think that’s really interesting.
Um, so, in a previous episode we talked about the way Marmite is marketed. The way the phrase is used: either you love it or you hate it. And, you know, actually, it’s also completely allowable to just quite like Marmite. You don’t have to be on these extremes. It’s also possible – entirely possible – for there to be this huge spectrum of people: who hate Marmite, don’t really like Marmite, can tolerate a bit of Marmite, like a bit every now and then, and all the way through to adoring Marmite.
That spectrum exists, and I also think there’s a throwaway… I’ll fall into some journalistic tropes myself if I talk about this, and I don’t really want to… but, that kind of world we’re in at the moment likes things to be binary. It likes things to be cut off onto lines, and if you’re part of this, you’re part of that, and if you’re part of that, you’re part of this. We know whose side you’re on. We know everything you think. That’s the way it is. And, actually, it’s just all much more nuanced and interesting and detailed than that.
The thing I find very peculiar about that: there are a number of people I know, who are really really really into sci-fi. And they commit to sci-fi to such an extent that they like things that are demonstrably bad sci-fi, because it’s their genre. Because they’ve decided it’s their side. That’s the team they’re on. And I find that really really really peculiar. When they’re unfussy about it. It doesn’t matter. It could be utter shit. I can see there’s some good stuff out there that qualifies as sci-fi, it just doesn’t really float my boat. But this idea that…
There aren’t heavy metal fans that just love everything that is metal… well, there probably are, aren’t there? It just seems a peculiarly… they give into that binary definition. I’m going to define myself as someone who likes this, so if there’s something that calls itself this, I’m going to like it. I find that a really odd way round.
It is weird, although I’ve definitely been guilty of that.
[Laughs] Oh god, I feel so awful.
[Laughs] No, no, it’s fine. Don’t worry.
So, on the topic of Modern Life Is Goodish, when was the first time that you used a laptop and a PowerPoint for a comedy show? Was it [Gorman’s 1998 tour] Reasons To Be Cheerful?
No. It was Googlewhack Adventure [in 2003]. So, prior to that, I was doing shows – like Reasons To Be Cheerful and Better World, the show I did after that, and Are You Dave Gorman? – with slide projectors. I used to have two screens on stage: a slide projector showing photographic slides, and an overhead projector like you used to get in Geography lessons in school. Those acetates – transparent film that you could write on in marker pen and photocopy bit of books onto, and whatever. I used to use those for documents, and I would be running between two projectors and showing stuff on two different screens.
And then, it was only when I did Googlewhack, where a lot of what I was showing were – obviously, due to the nature of it – screengrabs from computers. And the idea that I would print those onto acetates and put them on an overhead projector was so obviously absurd. Everyone in the audience would be looking at it going, ‘There is a better way of you showing us this information.’ Um, so it moved into PowerPoint at that point.
And how did the series, Goodish, come together? Did Dave come to you looking for something, or did you pitch to them?
I toured a one-man show. Well, after Googlewhack Adventure, I stopped doing live stuff for years. Because I toured that show for about three years. I was in America with it for six months. I did two tours of Australia. Two or three trips to America. Two tours of the UK. It was just like… I was on the road for eight or nine months of the year, for three years. Doing it internationally. And I just got worn down by all the travel. And I just thought, ‘I don’t wanna do it anymore.’ And also, it felt like, because Googlewhack was a true story that had turned into this show, the idea of creating something like it was impossible. If I was to make something, invent it, and pretend it was real, then, an audience would know that I was making it up.
And they’d go, ‘Oh, maybe Googlewhack Adventure was made up.’ And the fact that that is true, and that happened to me, I feel is really important to the body of that show. And I didn’t want to shit on my own doorstep. So I kind of felt a bit paralysed, and didn’t know how to create something new for ages. So I sort of gave up doing live stuff. I did some radio stuff, and I wrote a book, and I just sort of did some other stuff for a while. And I thought I was never gonna go back.
And then I started getting bored. And started craving stand-up again. So I just started going to clubs in London. I didn’t even tell my manager, because I didn’t want him to get on the ‘Ooh good, let’s do a tour’ kind of bandwagon. So I just started going round clubs in London, and saying, “Oh can I do five minutes? Can I do a bit?” It was like starting out again. It was really fun. When you’re doing it not to make a living, you’re just doing it for shits and giggles. So, I started doing that again.
And then, one night I was doing that and my manager was in the audience. He was like, “Why the fuck didn’t you tell me you were doing this?” And he started, yeah, booking up a tour. And I’d built up a bit of material by then, so I did a tour that initially was just gonna be stand-up, when I first thought I was gonna do it. Like, just one man and a microphone stand-up, back to the sort of pureness of that. And then, there was something that I’d written that I couldn’t make work like that, and I worked out how to make it work by adding in the PowerPoint.
So what ended up happening, is I did a tour show where there was like an hour of stand-up, then an interval, and then a second hour. And halfway through the hour, a curtain would drop and you’d see that the screen would be there, and the last half hour was this big big PowerPoint thing, to throw the message home. And it was like a big change of gear, in the show, and every time the curtain dropped and the screen was there, audiences would have this sort of, ‘Oh good! Yay! We like this! We like him when he does this!’ sort of reaction.
And that was the first time I’d done… all the shows previously to that had been sort of documentaries of a kind. They had one story told over the whole evening, with evidence to prove that I was telling the truth. And it was in this show, that was the first time I did thing that was stand-up, but augmented with evidence. Rather than storytelling. Rather than a 90-minute story, it was stand-up. It was things that were bits, with a half hour section at the end.
And I knew when I was doing that tour… it was sort of like discovering a new tour. It was like, ‘Ah, this is how I can take the two things that I know how to do, and put them together and make it better.’ So, I know that’s a very long answer to your very simple question. So then, the next tour I did, was the whole show was that, a fusion of PowerPoint and stand-up, together. It was called PowerPoint Presentation, and basically someone from Dave saw that show and got a bit excited and was like, “Can you do more of those?” And that’s when we started talking about it.
And when did you come up with the Found Poem idea? Because I always look forward to those.
That, initially, was a thing I used to do on the radio. So I did this show on Absolute Radio for a while, and I did it with – well, a few other people came along the way – but initially I did it with two people called Danielle Ward and Martin White, both of whom are brilliantly funny people. And we started off, and the plan was always, ‘Let’s just find our feet, and things will occur to us, and we’ll end up with some features, but let’s not format the entire show from day one.’
The only thing we had thought of in advance was, and this shows my age… there was thing, when I was a kid, on That’s Life, the old Esther Rantzen show… the closing credits used to be a cartoon showing that everything that had happened in that day’s show. Not an animated cartoon. Just like a still image that used to scroll across and there would be the dog saying sausages, and there’d be a man being angry at the gas board, and it was all drawn bespoke by someone that day.
Martin White is this really talented musical genius, and a very funny man, and I was like, “Do you think you could write a song during the show, about that day’s show?” And he was up for it, so, on day one on the show, the only feature we had was that we were gonna close the show with Martin performing a song he’d written about that day’s show. So we did that.
And on the second week, I think Danielle turned up, and she wanted to do this like showbiz news report. And she’d written this really tightly funny packed thing. And this was like my show, and I was suddenly going, “Hang on, these two are really fucking punching on this, and I’m looking a bit lazy. I need to do something.”
So the next week I turned up and I was like, “Okay.” It seems really weird and arcane. And I think the first one wasn’t based on comments. But it was all the subjects of spam emails in my inbox, put together. And I owe a huge debt to a woman called Emma Newman, who was the producer of that show at the time. Because I was explaining to her what it was, and she said, “I know the perfect music for that: Handel, Sarabande.” And that is still the music that I use, to this day.
So when it started, it was about the subject headings of spam emails. Then there was another one, which was to do with the dating profiles of a website that was basically, ‘You can buy a Russian bride’. That was the second or third, or something. And then, at some point… in a kind of, having to do it every week and having to look for a place where weird words and insanity was rife, it sort of gravitated towards the comments section. And so it just became a thing on the radio show.
And I never thought it would work live. And then I started doing a run of gigs. And because my stuff, the screen stuff, doesn’t fit… I can no longer go to a club and say, “Oh, can I do five minutes?” Because you can’t rig up a twelve-foot by nine-foot screen in an average pub venue, and even if you could, it has to be there all night, and it takes over the room. And if I’m just doing five minutes and everyone else is working around it, it’s just fucking weird.
So, to try out new stuff and build up new stuff, I had to create my own club, which I host. And I put guests on, and while they’re on the stage I use the projection screen to sort of put their name onto it and create a bespoke backdrop for them. Across the night I probably do forty minutes, maybe an hour, of material. And when I first starting doing that, three or four weeks in, I was like, “Oh shit, I’m running out material, I don’t know what I’m gonna do.” And I just went back to one of the Found Poems I’d done on the radio the week before or something, and thought, ‘I’ll try doing this.’ It’s a bit avant-garde and weird, but I’ll give it a go.
And it fucking tore the roof off the place. It was a complete desperate move of, “I’ve run out of material. What could I possibly do to fill five minutes between this act and that act? Here’s what I’ve got in my locker. I’ll give it a go.” And it just immediately had this huge effect on an audience. And I had no… because I’d been doing it on the radio, where, you get some nice emails from people but you don’t hear laughter… you’re in a room with three people and they’d giggle, but you don’t know how it’s going down at home.
Um, so that felt like such a weird leap in the dark. As things do, in hindsight, you go, ‘Obviously that was right. It obviously works.’ But at the time, you’re like, [squeaky voice] ‘I don’t know if this is gonna work or not.’ But it did.
And in fairness, I’ve gotta say, some people fucking hate them. [Laughs] Some people get so angry about them, it’s incredible.
Do you ever struggle, going down, as often as you do, into the bottom half of the internet? There’s some pretty dark stuff down there sometimes.
I… I hate it. I can’t wait, because I’ve got two more shows to make for this series at the moment… and I can’t wait to get the final two poems done. Because then, I’m free. And I won’t look at the comments section for months. Because… it’s poison. You start thinking like one of them. Every now and then, I’m sitting there, reading them, going, [Huffs] “I’m gonna have my say!” And I almost go to type a comment of my own, and then realise, there is absolutely zero point.
One of the things that comes through most clearly, when you read them, is that none of the people – almost none of the people involved – are having a conversation. Nobody is reading anything else. It’s a bunch of people shouting into the void, because they haven’t read the twenty comments before them. If someone replies to them, they don’t read it. So it’s the most pointless communication. I know opinion is fine, but there are some things that are empirically, factually incorrect. And it’s not a conversation. I don’t know who they think they’re talking to. I find it most peculiar.
There was a great bit of research somebody did, where they – I don’t know where it was published – but somewhere online, there was an article published with a headline. And the headline said something like… it was something like gun control. One of those hot button topics in America that people will always get angry about. And then the content of the article: there are three paragraphs that suggest it is going to be a serious article about gun control, and then the fourth of fifth paragraph is just a thing saying, “Oh, by the way, if you’d read this far, when you leave a comment, just use the word ‘bananas’”. And then there’s a whole load of other stuff.
And the first fifty, sixty comments are “You can’t take our guns away!” And it’s people who’ve read the headline and haven’t read the article. And it’s fifty or sixty comments in before you get a comment at the bottom saying, “I’d quite like some bananas.” And that’s how far… like, what is the point if you haven’t read the article? Like, literally, I don’t understand who you are or who you think you’re talking to, what you’re trying to achieve… [Sighs]
There was a thing, I think it was a Norwegian newspaper, was trialling this thing where before you could post a comment you had to answer a question, and basically that would prove that you had read the article. And then that was reported in a lot of newspapers over here, and I had loads [of messages] going, “Ah, Dave Gorman would hate that! That would be the end of Found Poetry!” And I was thinking, ‘I would fucking love that. I would love to end Found Poetry. I would love for those people not to be commenting anymore. And for me to not to have to wallow in that shit.’
I don’t know if you’d be able to single one out, but which episodes do you think have had the biggest impact on people? I really liked the Innocent Smoothies episode, because you just know that people are gonna follow your lead and show up at the Innocent Smoothies offices – because their bottles invite everyone to do that.
Yeah. The things I like most are… well, the thing I like about that is that part of the joke isn’t in the show, but you know it is happening. When you’re watching it, you know that the day that airs on the telly, they’re gonna have some people turning up. And that’s amusing you, even though you can’t see it. You’re not watching it, and you don’t get to witness the punch-line of the joke, but you know it exists. And that’s a really weird thing for a comedy show. That’s basically a joke that is happening in your imagination, because you know it is going to happen in the future. And that weirdly tickles you. Well, I don’t know, it does me anyway.
I think my favourite bit… there’s two or three… in the last series, there was one where we did such a big complicated set up, where we managed to take over and make our own… you know those picture clue websites?
Like, cryptic clues of London underground stations.
And there would be like someone dressed up in Shakespearian garb, standing on the word town, and that would be Acton Town, or something. You know that sort of thing. So we had something that was a bit like that, which was meant to be clues to band names.
[If you haven’t seen this episode: basically, Gorman makes an impossible picture quiz with fake band names in order to wind up a music buff.]
And we were trying to get it in front of one man, basically. And we had successfully got it in front of him – he was a friend of mine. He didn’t know it was us that created it. It was a thing that was driving him mad.
What we had done was invite him to the show that night, and he was in the green room. And it just went over so well on the night. And, in that way I was just saying, the punch-line is happening but you’re not watching it, but you know it’s happening. I was on stage breaking up, because I knew he was in the green room. And I knew he was watching this whole thing unravel. So I had this really funny picture in my head. And I knew it was happening before the audience did, so I was struggling a little bit to try and keep up with it. The elaborateness of that set up, I found hugely rewarding.
And I think my all-time favourite… and it’s such a complicated thing to try and explain… was, we did a thing about QR codes and the story was… basically, I think they’ve sort of died a death. The QR code. No one really uses them. You don’t see them as often now as you even did like four years ago, or whatever. But we did a thing where, we talk about what they are, and why they exist and how people don’t really use them… and there was a picture of one just on a sticker that we found on a bus stop. And I’m telling them, making a story, and I’m saying that I scanned it in – and this is fucking freaky – it showed me a picture of my own house on my phone.
At which point the audience are slightly aghast, because it sort of tallies with our perception of this Big Brother world, and technology knowing too much about us, and our smartphones leaking information, and what was the point of the QR code? Who put it there? All those sort of things are in your head. And I want you to believe me, so I’m now gonna prove it. Everyone who has tickets for tonight’s show we had said to them, please put a QR reader on your phone. So, hands up if you have. Hands up if you’ve got your phone. And we picked on one person, and we left the QR code on the screen, and she scanned it, and it showed her a picture of her house. And there was this amazing tension in the room. There was fear as well as comedy about it.
And then we went to a break. And we left the QR code on the screen during the break for a little while, so people at home, if you don’t believe us, you can scan it in. And then after a bit we come back from the break, and we explain, we’ve made all this up.
It wasn’t just on a sticker on a bus stop. We put it on a sticker, we put it on a bus stop. It doesn’t actually show you a picture of your house. We put a picture of this person’s house and, with her brother’s help, we made sure she was sitting in that seat. It appeared to be a random choice, but I just chose her because I knew where she was sitting. That’s all made up.
And, by the way, people at home who scanned that in, they would have been taken to this picture. And they went to a website that said “Congratulations, you’ve just purchased a lawnmower. £342 has been debited from your credit card.” And there was a link on that said cancel, and if you cancelled it, it said you’d bought another one.
And there was something really weird going on, because the audience in the room are loving that, because they’re throwing forward in their own heads to when it’s on telly and imagining all the people at home thinking they’ve bought a lawnmower. People at home are thinking they’ve bought a lawnmower, until after the break and then they’re discovering they’re not. But they’re laughing at the girl. It’s like, everyone’s laughing. Two different audiences, laughing for different reasons, at different times. And half of them are laughing at things that haven’t happened yet. It’s all sort of odd, and layered.
And just before I go, is there anything you can tease – or that you want to tease – about the new series?
Um, there’s… I’ll do that without spoilering it for people. There’s a thing we did quite recently, in one of the last two… I’m not sure what order they’re gonna go out in… but, on the night… you get so close to the material, and you’ve lived with it for a while before you’ve put it in front of that audience. There’s a thing, and I’d forgotten how fucking mental it was.
So, there’s a story involving owning a taxi, and other ways in which taxi drivers might supplement their income. That, as I’m doing it, and I’m sort of showing little videos of the things I’ve done with the taxi. And you’re suddenly aware that the audience are actually on the edge of their seats, properly. And it’s got something that is unusual for a comedy, that, kind of, people actually go, “Oh shit, fuck, what’s gonna happen? Oh my god!” And they’re following it like a drama for a moment, which I’d forgotten was a part of how that story evolved. And then you’re doing it, going, ‘Shit, look at these people. They’re worried I’m gonna die, and I’m not gonna die – I’m here telling them the story.’ They don’t know what’s gonna happen.
And without giving too much away, owning a taxi, and other ways in which taxi drivers could make a few quid, was such a weird fun thing to tell people about. I had a real… a lot of the show comes from, it’s all sort of based on, every bit of material will at some point relate back to an experience that I have had. And I don’t draw a distinction.
I think, I always find it really weird when people say, “Ooh he’s using computers, isn’t it modern? Oooh, yeah, look.” As if that’s kind of exciting and different. And I sort of think, ‘Don’t we all use one every day now? Don’t most of us live on the internet, to some extent?’ And the idea that there’s an anecdote involving ‘This happened and then that happened, and I discovered this, and if I clicked on this it took me to here’, you then get from that, ‘I was walking down the road the other day, when I saw this, and that made me think.’ To me, they’re just completely the same thing.
But obviously a lot of the show does spring from online stuff and that experience of the world, and it means, actually, those things which are not that – being out in a cab, driving it around London – have this really odd freshness to them. And, suddenly, the jeopardy can be more real to people. Because there’s an inherent safety to anything that’s experienced behind a computer screen.
And yeah, I’ll give you one sentence from that bit. It’s not spoken by me, it’s on one of the VTs: “That was really intense, wasn’t it? That got quite brothel-y.” And I’ll leave it at that, and leave your imagination to go wherever it goes.
And just to finish, I’ll ask you our traditional Den Of Geek closing question: what’s your favourite Jason Statham movie?
[Laughs] Err… Jason, Statham, movie… I’m struggling to know if I’ve ever seen a Jason Statham movie. Um, oh, he was in Spy wasn’t he?
Yeah, um, which is probably… is that the least Jason Statham Jason Statham movie?
Er, people like it a lot.
I mean, I enjoyed Spy, and it’s the only film I’ve seen which, I think, I know Jason Statham is in it. So, I will say Spy. But it’s literally one from a field of one, which as a way of choosing a favourite feels like I’m not quite giving it a fair crack of the whip. But that’s all I’ve got to go on, I’m afraid.
Dave Gorman, thank you very much!
Dave Gorman: Modern Life is Goodish starts Tuesday 31st October, 10pm on Dave. His nationwide tour With Great Powerpoint Comes Great Responsibilitypoint begins in September 2018.