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Interview: Dom Joly

16 June 11 interview: James Walker

Dom Joly’s CV is so studded with career highlights and downright randomness that his current incarnation – as a media-age raconteur and author – almost seems like downtime. On his way to the Playhouse to perform his one-man show, we collared him for a chat about mental ex-classmates, skiing in Iran, and everything in between...


How did a childhood in Beirut and then boarding school in England shape you?
It was always weird, going from a war zone to a posh boarding school in Oxford where people would be talking about Pony Club. I tried to break the ice by bringing out my shrapnel collection. It was confiscated, and I was slippered. I think the whole experience left me with a feeling of not really belonging anywhere, and floating above situations, observing.
Your old Lebanese school chum Osama Bin Laden won’t be contacting you through Friends Reunited now. How do you feel about the media coverage of his death?
I think it’s been very clumsy. Like everyone, I am fascinated by the details but the attempted smears are so see-through and obvious. One day we’ll get the whole truth about what actually happened. Sadly, it will probably be in a movie with Nicholas Cage as Seal Leader One.
What was it like being a paparazzo? Do you still have any sympathy towards them now you’ve seen life from the other side of the viewfinder?
I loved being one. It was really adrenalising and fun – like being a big-fame hunter – and it really made me appreciate how easy my life is compared to theirs. There were a couple of bastards, but the majority were smart, go-getters with great stories to tell.
What’s it like to create a catchphrase of sorts? Do you regret it? catchphrase is “Hello”, so I can’t really claim to have invented it. I’m very upset I never managed to monetarise it; Paris Hilton tried to get everybody to pay her money any time they said “That’s hot,” but obviously she failed, because she’s a moron. Maybe I should give it a try – shall we say 50p a “hello”?
You’ve been more than just a big fluffy squirrel – tell us about your political experience...
I did my life the wrong way round. In my twenties I was serious; I worked for the International Herald Tribune in Paris, then as a producer for ITN in Parliament for two years as well as being a representative in the Commons for the New Statesman. Then I was a diplomat for the EU in Prague. Then it went fun; I got a job on The Mark Thomas Comedy Product as a political researcher. On the first day I was given the task of driving a tank through a McDonald’s drive-thru. I’ve never looked back since.
What are your views on the Cleggeron?
I slagged Clegg off once on Five Live, and he wrote me a very nice letter. I’ve met Cameron and he is a man with a charisma vacuum.
Is it time for the Teddy Bear Alliance to reform?
Possibly. The idea of renting three thousand teddy bear costumes again makes me weep, but it was a lot of fun...
Tell us about your book Dark Tourism…
Last year I went travelling to the sort of places I like to go to; North Korea, skiing in Iran, weekend in Chernobyl, assassination tour of USA, Lebanon etc. It was amazing. I just like to go to places that are off the beaten track - no Lonely Planet, no Starbucks, a touch of danger. In 2006, when I wrote travel articles for The Times, readers were asked to vote on where I would go each week. They would always send me somewhere horrible. There was always one nice destination on offer, but they shouldn’t have even bothered – it was never going to happen. Luckily, their opinion of ‘nice’ destinations never concurred with mine; I hate beaches, and loved the places they sent me to.
You really love your travelling, but would you draw the line at, say, Around The World In Eighty Days With Gillian McKeith? How many days could you last with her?
About an hour, and then it would involve a handgun, a hammer drill and some wire...
Having seen so much of the planet, where is home for Dom Joly?
“Whenever I’m with you...”
How does working on your own compare with working with designer/director Sam Cadman?
Very lonely and unfulfilling; that’s why we’re back together and doing a movie. Trigger Happy TV was a success because we werehaving so much fun and I think that really showed on screen – also it was very visual, which helped internationally.
Any pranks you regret?
What do you think of other TV pranksters such as Fonejacker and Sasha Baron Cohen?
I don’t watch much comedy. I’ve never seen Fonejacker but Borat was genius. Bruno, not so good.
Is Jeremy Beadle the godfather of this genre?
God, no. He was pants.
How’s the tour going?
Amazing. Very knackering and a real learning curve as it’s my first live experience, but I love getting the audience involved – there’s a lot of interaction. Expect fun, laughter, stonethrowing, guitar-smashing, good music and much nudity.
How does shouting down a large phone compare with standing in front of a live audience?
I never enjoyed doing the phone.
Welcome To Wherever I Am: An Evening With Dom Joly, Nottingham Playhouse, Tuesday 21 June.

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