Jack Dee: 'I feel eternally guilty that I played a part in making reality TV popular'

·4-min read
jack dee - Rii Schroer
jack dee - Rii Schroer

Jack Dee is the self-proclaimed “grumpiest man in comedy”. He wrote and starred in the sitcoms Lead Balloon and Bad Move, and hosts the panel show I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue on BBC Radio 4. A long-time regular on stages and television screens, he won the inaugural Celebrity Big Brother in 2001.

His latest book, What is Your Problem? Comedy’s little ray of sleet grapples with life’s major dilemmas (£20, Quercus), sees the 60-year-old father of four offer satirical advice for personal struggles and social dilemmas.

Best way of dealing with life’s challenges?

Humour. Too often we think of a problem as something to fret over. Sometimes, it’s better to stand back and laugh at your own problems. It can lend you a certain perspective that you may not have had before, if you’re able to laugh about something. We don’t do it enough.

Treasured childhood memory?

I used to love it when my grandfather would tell funny stories. I can still tell his tales today, word for word, and I think his way of speaking sparked something for me. My elder brother was very witty and funny, so I grew up listening to their banter.

Best thing about fatherhood?

As soon as I became a dad, I understood why people struggle in life sometimes, but do it because they have a purpose. It was an eye-opener how much of a priority and a driving force it becomes in your life. It’s made me a nicer person. The older I get, the more generously disposed I am to people.

Favourite night out?

My favourite thing to do is to go to the cinema with my wife. Sometimes we go once a week. I love the immediate simplicity of arranging to go to the cinema, and the accessibility versus going to the theatre. You set aside time to see something at the cinema – we don’t do that with telly anymore, because everything is available on demand. My family and I spend a lot of time in West Sussex, and go to the independent Chichester Cinema at New Park.

The ultimate music genre?

Folk fan: Jack has been listening to Steve Earle constantly recently - Getty Images North America
Folk fan: Jack has been listening to Steve Earle constantly recently - Getty Images North America

I can spend hours listening to American folk music and playing guitar. What I love most about it is that it’s about storytelling. I’ve been listening to Steve Earle constantly recently. Any good song has an element of story in it. If it doesn’t, it can’t be a good song.

Worst thing about stand-up?

It’s exhilarating to come up with something you think is funny, articulate it on stage and as a result experience a sense of communion with the audience when they relate to what you’re saying and find it funny as well. Of course, when I started out I had terrible gigs. I’d die on my arse and forget what I wanted to say. Figuring out what went wrong and putting it right helped me to build resilience on stage, become a better performer and not see it as something to fear. The worst thing about it is spending long periods of time in hotel rooms, and travelling on your own.

Worst trip of your life?

We went on holiday to Portugal once to a bloody awful all-inclusive resort. At about 11 o’clock in the morning, there’d be horrible sunburnt blokes drinking lager at the pool bar with no shirts on. My wife looked out one morning and realised one of them was me. I was so bored I’d morphed into one. It was a hideous disaster and the kids didn’t even like it.

Worst thing about modern life?

It’s so upsetting when people constantly look at their phones. You can be talking about anything in the world, and before you know it someone has whipped out a phone to Google something. We don’t have to remember anything or retain any information any more, so we’re losing the ability. It makes me demented when people let their children play video games on iPads in restaurants.

Your worst characteristic?

What a racquet: he got frustrated playing tennis - https://www.alamy.com
What a racquet: he got frustrated playing tennis - https://www.alamy.com

I can be quite impetuous and even capricious. I’ll get really enthusiastically into something, and then drop the idea. I’ve started countless sports and hobbies that way, like tennis. I have very little sporting talent, so I got really good at having tennis lessons, but not very good at tennis. I did it every day and then got frustrated.

The absolute worst

There are very few good things about reality TV. The worst thing is that it’s so omnipresent. The new generation of contestants are camera-savvy and have been raised on a diet of reality TV, so they speak the language. It’s become semi-performative. When I did Celebrity Big Brother for Comic Relief in 2001, it was a novelty, an experiment. I feel eternally guilty that I played a part in making it popular.

Interview by Madeleine Howell

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