Interview extra

Jack Dee, Don't Sit In The Front RowOctober 18, 2012

Jack Dee in Don't Sit In The Front Row

Having guest-hosted Have I Got News For You and as successor to the late Humphrey Lyttelton chairing Radio 4’s I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue, Jack Dee is an old hand at comedy panel shows. But his latest, Don’t Sit In The Front Row on Sky Atlantic, has a twist because the spotlight falls on the audience rather than the comedians. Each week, four volunteers agree to sit in the front row and be quizzed on aspects of their lives by comics including Frank Skinner, Sue Perkins and Phill Jupitus. The person who provides the most comic material in half an hour, under Jack’s watchful eye, is deemed the winner of the coveted Golden Chair award. TV Choice caught up with him between gags…

Is it fair to say this is unlike the usual panel show in that the comics work with the audience?
Yes, it’s quite an unusual format because the comedians are really quite exposed. They’re not sitting behind a desk and they take it in turns to talk to the volunteers and discover who has the best raw material for a comedy routine.

The ‘front rowers’ must be brave people…
Yes, they are basically extrovert, but one of my jobs as chair is that I give them the confidence to answer back. I’m on their side.

Some of the panel shows such as 8 Out Of 10 Cats and Mock The Week can be a bit macho, how is this different?
One of the nice things is that each week we have at least one female comedian and it’s a particularly good show for allowing any kind of comedy voice to be heard. So it’s not necessarily about the person who’s got the sharpest line, it’s about the person who can stand in front of someone and talk to them. The women are really good because they are generally really interested in what the people have to say rather than thinking, ‘What’s the next funny thing I’m going to say?’ They often get the best out of the front rowers.

You’re back on tour for the first time in six years, why has it been so long?
I didn’t decide not to tour, but I did Lead Balloon which took five years out of my life. I wanted to approach touring from a different direction, I wanted to do stand-up again so I went back and did little club dates and worked material properly rather than simply putting a show together. In the early days, when I first did Edinburgh, it was with stuff I’d been working in the clubs which is the best way to do it.

You have four children, are they more aware of the tour this time round?
Yeah, comedy is a big part of their world because everyone watches comedy as soon as they are 13 or 14. Also, they can come and see the show now.

Were you into comedy growing up?
It didn’t exist in that way when I was 14. There was Monty Python and Derek and Clive, they were the kind of heroes. The thing about the new comedians is that they tend to connect very well with the younger audience.

Any plans to make another show like Lead Balloon?
There’s no more Lead Balloon, but there are a couple of things that are very tentative at this stage. You drive yourself mad if you think about things too far ahead. This tour is already beginning to extend into next year and I might go to Australia with it if I can.

Sky Atlantic, Monday

Mary Comerford

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