As he releases his latest stand-up DVD, What It Is, Mr Dylan Moran spared us some time for a rare interview…
I’ve watched your DVD a couple of times now, and I’m wondering: why did you go to Sydney to do it?
I shot it here with some excellent people, actually, who did a fantastic job, but when I looked at it again, I didn’t like my performance. It wasn’t varied enough. It was kind of like in one vein. It wasn’t a bad show. I just did it a particular way and it felt a bit like one song over and over.
I wanted more variety in it, and then I had a chance to do it again in Sydney. The thing was being taped anyway as they were putting it in cinemas [over there]. It was an opportunity to shoot it again, and I was happier with my performance. There was nothing wrong with the way the thing was made in Britain. It was just my performance. That’s why.
You take your tours all over the world. Do you end up tailoring it much to different international audiences?
You know, you just learn the Swedish for grandmother! It is like that, that’s what you do. Audiences are audiences, but there are surprises, still surprises.
I’ve got this show now in the West End: quite a few have come from Sweden, quite a few from Germany, quite a few from Estonia. Those people are fantastic linguists anyway, and they’re wonderful audiences.
Do you prefer playing a six week residency as you are doing in the West End now, to travelling around?
There are definite pros and cons. The obvious advantage is that you’re not moving around all the time which is a pain in the ass. You do get a bit stare-y and wall-eyed going into one place and saying the same thing all the time, as you think that you only said it five minutes ago. You’ve got to keep yourself on your toes by changing it around a little bit. Because otherwise you may as well phone it in, and I don’t want to do that.
When it comes to putting a DVD together, you seem to get very involved. Your discs in the past have been very, very tightly edited. Are you very hands-on with it?
Well, yeah. The editing is really important, you know. There wasn’t a whole lot to cut out of the current tour, because I’d deliberately edited it beforehand. I worked on this show more before, so I pretty much knew what I was going to deliver. But yeah, I don’t want to watch loads of reaction shots of audiences laughing, and then the guy and the girl up there with her hands on her hips smiling. I don’t want to see that.
There’s an emerging formula to stand-up DVDs, which yours doesn’t seem to fit. The bit that got me was you included a bit near the end where you give short shrift to someone taking photos of you with their camera phone?
Well, yeah, it’s live! That’s the whole point of it. It’s what you were saying before about how it’s become more formulaic, although I can’t say I watch a whole lot of them. It can look like a light entertainment programme on TV. I don’t want to see that anyway.
There are lots of live DVDs that seem to take the live elements out of it, that somehow seems to defeat the object?
Well, yeah, that’s what I think. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head there, because I want the thing to be live, I want it to be a bit dirty!
Do you miss the anonymity of the earlier parts of your career, where you could walk onto a stage and people wouldn’t be expecting the guy from Black Books, or someone they’ve seen on a DVD? That you could just hit it all again from fresh?
Yeah, well there’s a certain rapture in that, all right, because people didn’t know what was coming. I remember once standing up there in my coat, I was doing a gig at a club in London, and people started shouting out “Big Issue” before I’d even opened my mouth! I was glad that they considered me to be strange and possibly a bit weird, down on my luck or whatever. Because it means you can mess with people’s expectations.
That’s something that comes across with your stand-up: that you present an image, but when you really look at what you’re talking about, it often tends to be important stuff. You don’t talk about trivia for the hell of it?
Well, no. I talk about whatever’s on my mind, what strikes me, what I’m thinking about, you know? I think that you want to get the man.
People have a very biographical focus on people now, on people who make things or do something. They want to know where you’re from, what was your childhood like and all that shit. But the thing is, if somebody’s work is worthwhile, you’ll get what’s important, and you’ll get their view. I’d much rather know what somebody’s view is.
But the thing is, when you’re making something that’s a challenge for yourself and a reward for anybody’s who’s going to enjoy it, is what’s your tech, what’s your approach, what’s your method?
Because that’s where the fun and enjoyment and the pleasure of the thing is. The difference between Miles Davis playing a trumpet and anybody else playing a trumpet, you know? So you listen to Miles Davis, and you get a pretty good idea of how he feels about certain things, I think. Certainly, the subtlety of what he feels. And what he feels and what he thinks is not going to be different to what a lot of other people feel and think. It’s just that he’s got the tech, as I’m calling it, to put it out onto the air.
On a similar point, what do you think about lots of the rubbish that follows modern day comedy now? If we take it by the book, I’m supposed to ask you about lots of personal things, blah blah blah, you’re supposed to tell us about the horrible things in life that have got you to this point. Do you just feel that people want to know too much rather than just turn up for a comedy gig?
I think they’re just looking in the wrong direction. If I tell you that my kitten died when I was 8 or that one time I got lost in the park, or I realised at 21 that my life was going in the wrong direction, or whatever it is, it’s not important. Because the thing is what is important is what’s in the work, what’s coming across in the work. That answers all those questions before they’re asked.
You’re inevitably talking to people about who you are. You try and talk about the world, but people are always putting themselves in between themselves and the world. What you try to describe is what’s common to everybody. But being human, you inevitably end up describing your view of it, more than the world. You know what I mean?
Absolutely. And yet we have magazines that are inevitability trivialising people down to 20 words…
Yeah! It’s a sausage machine. You’re going to get sausages out of it, but nothing else. It’s like when people say “Well, if you want my opinion”, as if they actually ever give you anything else!
Comedy has got much bigger business over the past five to ten years. There are panel games, there’s Live At The Apollo, and yet you’ve steadfastly stuck to pure stand-up. You’re not interested in the other stuff that much?
No, I’m not. That’s the short answer, but there you go! I’m just not. I don’t want light entertainment. I want heavy entertainment.
By the fact that you can do six weeks in one venue, and keep filling it, you’re finding that when you get down to it, that’s what audiences want too?
Yeah. That’s the flipside of people knowing who you are, and not knowing who you are. I guess that’s why people come along, and a lot of them will be people coming back from other times when I’ve been out. There are a lot of people out there, so not everybody wants this dusted down, sanitised TV form. They want to hear somebody doing it for real.
One thing that’s always struck me about your work is your terrific mastery of language and vocabulary. Have you ever considered writing a book?
Well, yeah. I write all the time, but you just want to be careful what you put out. That’s all. You want to have the confidence that you’ve done what you need to do to it, because otherwise it’s an exercise in vanity. You just have to be careful about it, so that’s why I’m being slow about it.
Is it more TV stuff that you’re writing at the moment?
There are a couple of things I’ve messed around with. There are sketches on the disc that I’m considering doing more with, but I want to see how they go.
I like that you didn’t present them on the disc in any context whatsoever!
Well, we shot it in one afternoon, everybody did it for free. It was just some friends, we painted a couple of walls and we got a table.
I don’t know what’s going to happen with that. I wrote something that began a long story about this character who finds himself as a transitional head of state, a microstate, unnamed in and around Europe. But yeah, I’m working on a few things!
I won’t go through all the usual Black Books questions, as I suspect you got those a lot…
I do get asked a lot! It’s great, because people obviously enjoyed it. God, I’m amazed! It was just a TV comedy, and people do remember. I am amazed after all this time people are still saying when you’re doing the next one.
I do want to finish on one utterly trivial question, going against everything we’ve talked about so far. Which is what’s your favourite cake?
Oh, well, that’s a good one! Let’s see. It’s so complex! There are so many levels. I’m actually thinking about it now! There’s a lot to be said for a nice pecan pie.
You’ve been watching When Harry Met Sally?
No, I haven’t! Is it in there?