David Baddiel: 'It’s hard to find comedy on TV now that isn’t trying too hard to be worthy and nice'

David Baddiel has a number of children's novels to his name, and now a non-fiction book on anti-Semitism called Jews Don't Count - David Levenson/Getty
David Baddiel has a number of children's novels to his name, and now a non-fiction book on anti-Semitism called Jews Don't Count - David Levenson/Getty

David Baddiel is a comedian, novelist and author of children’s books, famed for his shows with Frank Skinner, with whom he co-wrote the football anthem Three Lions with the Lightning Seeds. In February, Baddiel published Jews Don’t Count (the premise of which is that anti-Semitism is too often glossed over in identity politics; HarperCollins, £7.99). Baddiel is married to fellow comedian Morwenna Banks, 60. The couple met on the BBC show The Book Quiz. They have two children, Dolly, 20, and Ezra, 17, and live in north London.

Best comedy on TV at the moment?

It’s hard to find comedy on TV at the moment that isn’t trying too hard to be warm-hearted, worthy and nice. I love Stath Lets Flats, partly because Jamie Demetriou is from a Greek Cypriot background and is able to do jokes about people who are not straightforwardly English. It’s very slapstick, and there’s an ensemble of hilarious characters. I’m very glad Channel 4 is doing it. It’s funny with a capital F.

Favourite pet?

I am obsessed with and love cats. My dad is not naturally affectionate. He tends to channel affection through insult, mainly. But he was always very affectionate towards cats, particularly one we had called Phomphar, which is a mock-Yiddish, onomatopoeic word for purring that he made up. I’ve never not had a cat – even at university I adopted a street cat. I am in thrall to the sheer beauty of cats – and they’re much more empathetic than people realise.

Best relationship?

My best friend is my wife, Morwenna. I think the notion that your partner or spouse should also be someone you really get on with is quite new. My parents didn’t have anything in common. My dad was a very male, Welsh, working class but very clever bloke, a no-nonsense scientist, and my mum was a crazy, over-romantic refugee who fled the Nazis. But they got together when they were young in the 1960s because that was just what you did. I don’t understand how you could share a house or a life with someone unless they make you laugh.

Best moment in my life?

I’ve said this before many times, but I’ll say it again. The best moment of my life was hearing the Wembley crowd sing Three Lions for the first time at the England vs Scotland match in 1996. I say that knowing I’m supposed to say it was the moments when my children were born. It was the surprise of it – England hadn’t been playing well, and then Gazza scored an incredible goal. The DJ put it on against the wishes of the FA, who had said the song was too partisan. It was the ultimate validation.

Baddiel and Frank Skinner with tickets for the England versus Switzerland football match in 1996 - Times Newspapers/Shutterstock
Baddiel and Frank Skinner with tickets for the England versus Switzerland football match in 1996 - Times Newspapers/Shutterstock

Best thing I’ve ever written

A lot of people write to me about Jews Don’t Count. It was aimed at Left-wing progressives and what is great about the responses is that it’s helped so many people understand why anti-Semitism is “the racism that sneaks past you”. Young Jews tell me they can feel that bringing up the racism they experience against their own ethnicity is somehow not legitimate. It’s great that the book has given people a way of talking about anti-Semitism.

Worst childhood memories?

My dad made the most terrifying noises while having sex. For years, I thought there was a wounded walrus in my parents’ bedroom. It was deeply damaging. I used to go to a Jewish youth group camp called Habonim, and one of the people running the camps gave us the task of fetching a chemical toilet, which turned out to be full. I carried it halfway across a field, retching with disgust, before they informed me it was a joke.

Worst Christmas memory?

I went to an orthodox Jewish primary school (although at home we weren’t particularly strict). But we didn’t do Christmas. I had this sense of an enormous party happening somewhere else. We just used to sit at home and not do anything, which was quite depressing. The best thing was the telly – particularly the Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show, which I looked forward to enormously, and which made up for the dearth of turkey.

Worst habit?

I have a thing whereby I feel I need to tell the truth in ridiculous detail all the time. I have no inhibiting mechanism and it can come across as rudeness. Morwenna once said to me, have you ever thought about saying the second thing that comes into your head?

Worst day of my life

The worst moment of my life was my mother’s death. Not because she died, because that happens to everyone, but the way in which she died. It was 2014, and my dad had already started to get dementia when she developed a chest infection which she thought would go away. She didn’t turn up to meet my brother, who had to break down the door to find her unconscious. The ambulance was called, and my dad didn’t understand what was going on. We have a Hollywood idea of death, but this death was not like that. It will stay with me forever. My brother told my dad what had happened and 45 minutes later we had to tell him again.

Worst show you’ve ever done?

A Channel 4 programme called Stab in the Dark which I did with Tracey Macleod, a close friend, and Michael Gove, who was a 24-year-old starting out as a journalist at the time. The idea was to have contrarian, controversial ideas, but it really didn’t work. It tried to have gravitas, with me doing monologues on a circular spinning stage in the dark. It was like a parody of a self-important 1990s show.

The absolute worst

I’m increasingly horrified by humanity’s treatment of animals and I am trying to work towards becoming vegan. But I really like sausages. And I cannot bear the way posh sausages have gone meaty – a sausage should be about 60 per cent meat and the rest rusk. Not only are they cheaper then, but in my opinion they taste nicer when they’re basically a sandwich. A sausage should curl on the plate when it’s cooked. If it lies flat, it’s too dense with meat.

Interview by Madeleine Howell

David Baddiel’s latest children’s book, The Boy Who Got Accidentally Famous (HarperCollins, £6.99), is out now and available to buy from Telegraph Books