Fresh from hosting Live at the Apollo and another total sell out run at the Edinburgh Fringe, Dane Baptiste takes his third smash hit show G.O.D. (Gold. Oil. Drugs.) on an extended World Tour for 2018. Cornfield Magazine chats to the acclaimed comic ahead of his gig at Birmingham’s Glee Club. His UK leg features 21 dates including 5 dates at London’s Soho Theatre. The show will also head to Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Estonia, The Netherlands, Belgium, Latvia, Finland and Dubai with more countries being added…


The London born stand up made comedy history in 2014 as the first black British act to be nominated for an Edinburgh Comedy Award with his debut show Citizen Dane and his critically acclaimed second Reasonable Doubts that went on to tour the UK – both had multiple sell out shows.  He has also just released his own Stand up Special for Netflix under the Live from the BBC banner. Original, provocative and exceptionally crafted, G.O.D. explores our worldwide pursuit of wealth, power and pleasure. This show is not about GOD, as Christianity has become a dirty word for most people in the developed world - it’s the new C-bomb. G.O.D is an abbreviation of the new things that humanity has come to uphold over everything else; namely Gold, Oil and Drugs. This is a show about the distractions and attractions of modern human life; and how the pursuit of the ‘Good life’ can involve a lot of evil, vice and debauchery. But is that really a bad thing? 

GOLD: Being money, stocks, bonds, funds, diamonds, jewels and all the other trinkets that we have given the status of ‘making the world go round’. We say, “Money is the root of all evil” but why is everyone ok with that? 

OIL: This refers to oils, minerals and resources that have given birth to the industrial age. Has this scientific research replaced faith and lead to a rise in atheism? Is it science we really believe in? Or is it our creature comforts and convenience? All it would take is a power cut and no NHS for us to descend back to the dark ages! But with our new conveniences, human beings are bored…

DRUGS: Coke, Weed, Pills. Drugs are part of the holy trinity of entertainment with Sex and Rock and Roll. But not all drugs come from street corners or shady dealers. Burgers have killed more people (and cows) than weed, so G.O.D looks at what we take that alter our minds in ways we don’t even realise, including love! Because it’s a gateway to harder stuff.

Now a regular face on our screens, recent credits include Live at the Apollo (BBC Two), 8 out of 10 Cats Does Countdown (Channel 4), Mock the Week (BBC Two), Chris Ramsey’s Stand Up Central (Comedy Central) Tonight at the London Palladium (ITV1) and Live from the BBC (BBC Two). 

Interview by Evie Kissack

Giving insight into his perspective on the worldwide pursuit of wealth, the inspiration behind his renowned BBC sitcom Sunny D, and his profuse envy of Don Warrington’s irresistibly smooth voice, Dane Baptiste reveals all in an exclusive interview with Cornfield Magazine. From tackling heckles, to tackling the lack of representation for black creatives in the entertainment industry, Dane is no push-over comic; a dedicated and forward-thinking figure, (with the added bonus of being a lovely guy), Dane has risen to the top of critics’ lists in recent years, which comes as no surprise to me following my compelling conversation with the entertainer. 


You’ve recently hosted Live at the Apollo and had another sell-out run at the Fringe – how was Edinburgh this year?

I enjoyed the Fringe this year, I’ve enjoyed playing there in previous years but this year I loved because I felt that I definitely wrote and performed the show that I wanted to do for myself and for an audience, not to satisfy critics. Also I could afford to eat this year as well! Which is a big thing. I had a meal every day, which was fantastic.

 
Did you manage to squeeze-in seeing any other shows or acts during the month?

I was pressed for time but did manage to see a few other acts at various different gigs, and at other subsequent festivals too.


So G.O.D (Gold. Oil. Drugs.) is set to tour 21 dates in Britain, and across the world. Can you tell me anything about your decision to choose such a bold title for the tour?

Yeah, so basically what happened was that when I started doing comedy I always used to hear comedians referencing atheism - there is a lot of fundamental atheism in this country. People have to say, ‘Believing in a God, well that’s ridiculous!’ But, people still believe in a monarchy and people still get angry and get into fights over football, and people go mental over wrestling, and people still go to Madame Tussauds, and still tell their children that Father Christmas exists…so I wanted to have an arresting title that is going to open up discussions and debate. And also, the things found within the title - gold oil and drugs - these things seem to be the biggest motivators on this planet. Even the most spiritual people spend a lot of time pursuing gold, oil and drugs, and investing in things you can’t take with you when you die.

 

The show focuses on the worldwide pursuit of wealth, power and pleasure - essentially the distractions and attractions of modern human life. How does comedy fit into these ‘heavy’ topics?

Well, I think that if you’re an observational comedian and you’re making observations about humanity one of the things that is inevitably going to come up is the topic of the motivations of humanity; what motivates human behaviour - or human behaviour as opposed to what should be instinctual – and what guides our behaviour. So that kind of thing, to use again the example of gold and oil, prior to [I would say] 2001 you’d never heard the word Islamophobia so, arguably in our pursuit of oil we now have this new word. Over the course of maybe 14 years we’ve been able to equate Islam to terrorism. I remember watching Rambo 3 when I was a kid and he was fighting alongside Muslims – there’s another film called Jewel of the Nile with Michael Douglas in it, I don’t know if you’ve ever seen it, it came on at Christmas every single year with the song by Billy Ocean ‘When The Going Gets Tough’ (big song), but people worked alongside people from other cultures, so how come all of a sudden Muslims are not our friends? I’ve never heard of anyone complaining when they’re watching Aladdin.

 
[Laughs] You’ve previously been nominated for Best Newcomer at Edinburgh Awards in 2014, and you were the first black British comedian to be nominated, which is such a great achievement. You’ve spoken before about the lack of representation for black creatives in your industry. Do you think this has changed since you first started performing stand-up?

I do think things have definitely changed. There’s a bigger call for diversity and as a result of my success a lot of people realised that mine was a voice that was welcomed in Edinburgh, and I started getting signed by a few more agents and stuff (sic), and people were a lot more open and receptive to projects from creatives of an ethnic origin so yeah – it has kind of changed. And I would also say now, that in the advent of online comedy and emerging online comedians [you have your Michael Dapaahs] whether mainstream gatekeepers have tried to ignore it or not, nowadays they wouldn’t have a choice because there’s an enormous market for it. Things have definitely changed and I’m happy to feel like I have been a part of the catalyst for that. I created Sunny D, and I’ve done a load more projects for the BBC (sic) and a few more commissions for some scripted sketch comedies as well – so it’s been great! 

 
It’s brilliant to hear that you think there’s been a positive change in the right direction in the industry. You mentioned your fantastic sitcom Sunny D – it seems to be almost a semi-autobiographical picture of your life before comedy. Where did the ideas and inspiration to create the show come from?

I think the show is a reflection of all of my influences, I knew when I had the chance to do my own show I would want to include things that have interested me growing up. Manga and Anime films, and also a lot of adult animations like South Park and The Simpsons and Family Guy have massively influenced me - this is kind of reflected in the aesthetic of the show. I needed to tell a story where I felt pride for the script because there hadn’t been a black sitcom on the BBC on terrestrial television for 20 years–

 
–Oh wow.

Yeah, so there’s an entire generation that went without a sitcom that represented them growing up, so aesthetically I wanted it to reflect a lot of my influences, and also reflect the fact that people were savvy and understood how sitcoms worked so there wasn’t a need for canned laughter and stuff (sic). But then, because they came from a generation that lacked a lot of iconography [in the media] that reflected them – I wanted it to be reflected in the soundtrack and a lot of the references. We are in a time of nostalgia where people are into, you know, clothing brands and styles that reflect the ‘90s – I wanted and use music that would spark some kind of nostalgia in the people that are watching it. A lot of the feedback has been that people are enjoying it but also wondering how I was able to clear all of those samples without paying a lot of money. I was like ‘It’s not my money!’ [Laughs]

 
It features some fantastic names in comedy, including the fabulous Don Warrington. How did you two initially begin working together?

I would say we were kind of collaborative because Don is someone who wants the writing to be very comprehensive so that he can lend himself to the role as much as possible; he committed himself to the sitcom completely. He took it and ran with it. I remember when I was younger people said, ‘Oh we know you struggle with speaking’ and I was able to deal with this and had to work on my annunciation. Seeing Don work from his diaphragm and hold an entire room – it’s quite awe-inspiring. Then it got awkward because Don is like an older heart-throb, and I’d be doing interviews and people would say, ‘Oh you’ve got Don Warrington working with you’ and I’d be like, ‘Oh yeah’ and there’d be women in their 40s saying, ‘Ohhh Don Warrington’ and basically having sex with him in the back of their heads! [Laughs] It was a massive deal to have him and to be given the chance to work with him. 

I recently watched the episode of Live from the BBC you hosted on Netflix – it featured some pretty surreal material. [Laughs] Do you find that using outlandish material helps audiences to digest the more serious social commentary made in your stand-up?

I think that’s part of it definitely. I make sure I ‘soapbox’ and get as much cutting social commentary as possible without being ‘preachy’ or making presumptions about people. I feel like the issue with comedy and discourse nowadays is that when you start using a certain type of jargon and buzzwords people can switch off, or be triggered to respond, so you have to get the point across without having to fully contextualise it along these political lines. I also feel like comedians should stand out and take comedy to places where people don’t know where it’s going. We live in time now where everyone is a comedian due to online stuff, so the less predictable you are, the better. For example, I had this black [James] Bond joke and it made audiences think it was coming to a very natural conclusion, but I thought in order for me to have a different black Bond joke I have to take it somewhere else – you’ll have to come and see that one-day! 

 
You’ve performed all over the world including Australia, New Zealand, Estonia, South Africa, Belgium, Latvia, Finland and Dubai…do you find that audiences respond differently to your material across different countries and cultures? Do you ever have to alter your material?

I wrote this show based on my world experiences so; no I don’t have to in this case. People respond differently, but it’s more if you have two regional differences, only in that respect people differ. I also find that a lot of the time people in continental Europe, for example, are more impressed to see you put together your observation because they don’t speak English as their first language, which is why having surreal material works very well - because it creates more of a vivid image for people. But, on the whole I would say that most people are very similar – they understand jokes and they understand that things are discussed and it’s really a question of slowing down and learning how to speak because I can’t talk as well as Don Warrington. And that’s pretty much it.

 
[Laughs] I know that you grew up in Lewisham and your parents moved to the UK from Grenada in the Carribbean Islands. How have both communities and cultures had an impact upon your comedy?

So far as how much each community has influenced my comedy…I would say that it means that I understand how it feels to be brought up in Little Britain. I guess it’s also about being grounded, and also I try to make sure that anything I say sticks – when my dad says stuff it sticks. My background also perhaps made me more reserved, so it’s helped in that respect. As a whole I think the biggest thing that came from my upbringing and my background was that I grew up in a household where children were seen and not heard – my parents emphasised education from a really young age. 

 

So, before you got into comedy you worked as a Recruitment Consultant, is that right?

I wasn’t a Recruitment Consultant I was in Sales Recruitment so worked with Recruitment Consultants. 


Ah I see. Had comedy played a large part in your life before you ventured onto the stage?

I kind of wanted to do it as a child but because I had no idea how to pursue it, it took a very long time before I was able to perform. I think it is an important part of Edinburgh that most people I know they don’t have to get into it as much as I was growing up I was under the impression that Hollywood was this magical place where only stars can go and creatives and performers are organically grown there – like there was a guy that goes, ‘I’ll make you star! Come in and have a cup of coffee in the morning!’ [American voice] 


[Laughs] Do you ever get nervous before you perform? You seem to have such a great level of confidence on stage and a brilliant presence and don’t seem phased by it at all – is it different behind the scenes?

I do definitely get nervous still, if you do get nervous though you seem to get a bit numb to it all. It’s not just a question of making people laugh now. I now have this experience where I have to carry a room but I am stressed about getting a particular point across or executing a good performance. In comedy, sometimes you can get 10 reasons not to want to laugh yourself, so it’s a very unique job where you can have good days, bad days and terrible days – when most people have a bad day at their job they don’t have to jump up on stage and say, ‘Hey everybody ‘lemmie tell you a story!’ and make people laugh. I guess a job in comedy is very unique in that respect, but I definitely do still get nervous and try to channel those nerves into something productive. Also I go to the toilet beforehand. Essentially, 50 per cent of my act is me not cr***ing my pants.


[Laughs] Do you have a routine before you go on stage then - apart from going to the toilet?

I keep it very boring and simple really; I go over my set backstage…I’m just getting to the point now where I don’t stress over my set. I used to plan my set, whereas I don’t really do that now. I often take it where I feel like taking it, I just judge the room. I’m trying to leave it open as opposed to sticking to a script. My ritual used to be chain-smoking but I’ve kind of cut that out so, I’ll maybe have the occasional e-cigarette and some water and then I’ll pace up and down and listen to a playlist of hip-hop tracks by artists like Pusha T – those are normally good motivators. 


I think what you said about keeping material organic is very true – the best comedy gigs I’ve been to are the ones during which comedians engage with audience members’ reactions. Do you ever get heckled, or is this something that isn’t really done anymore?

I have been heckled before, but at the same time the kind of material I write – I mean it isn’t heckle-proof – but I don’t really make statements that provoke heckles. If I do get heckled I make sure I stand behind what I say, and if people disagree then that’s fine. Heckling still happens though, and you just learn how to handle it. Heckling is one of the top three fears for everyone when it comes to public speaking or doing comedy. Where I’m from in South London if people don’t you, you may be stabbed. [Laughs] Heckles come from the type of people that are so inspirited by what you’re saying they feel compelled to respond. But people that try to undermine what you’re saying are different, I just think, ‘Well, you’re surrounded by all of your friends and feel safe sat in the audience but you’re too scared to get up on stage and do this, so I already have a higher status than you.’ I mean I’m performing to a bunch of strangers and hecklers are there with their friends, with alcohol as their crutch, so…having the confidence to deal with heckles is just something that comes from experience.

Watch the fantastic Dane Baptiste live in action at Birmingham's Glee Club 6 April 2018 HERE. Be sure to catch his critically-acclaimed Live from the BBC performance available on NETFLIX now. 

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