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Following a sold out run at London’s Menier Chocolate Factory and two critically-acclaimed West End runs, David Baddiel takes his Olivier-nominated one-man show to theatres nationwide. My Family: Not the Sitcom is a show about memory, ageing, infidelity, dysfunctional relatives, moral policing on social media, golf, and gay cats.
A massively disrespectful celebration of the lives of David Baddiel’s late sex-mad mother, Sarah, and dementia-ridden father, Colin. Come and be offended on David’s behalf!
When family members die, or are lost to dementia, all we tend to say about them is that they were wonderful. But if that is all you can say about them, you may as well say nothing: to truly remember our loved ones, you have to call up their weirdnesses, their madnesses, their flaws. Because the dead, despite what we may think, are not angels.
David Baddiel can turn his hand to virtually anything. As well as being a much-loved comedian, he’s had great success as a novelist, screenwriter and TV presenter.
He’s now going back to stand-up, to take his Olivier Award-nominated one-man show - My Family: Not The Sitcom - on tour around the UK.
As its title suggests, the show is a comedy based on stories about his family - or, more specifically, about his parents - and his own experiences of growing up in the 1970s.
“My mum was mental,” says David, “an extreme personality - obsessive, sexual and very interested in golf because she had a long-term, fantastical, crazy, ‘in the moment’ affair with a golfing memorabilia salesman. She died in 2014, and at her funeral a lot of people were telling me that my mother was wonderful. That gave me a sense that no one really knew her - it’s just something people say at funerals. My mum was wonderful, but not in that way!”
David’s dad suffers from dementia. “He’s a complete nutcase and a very sweary and cantankerous man!”
Despite such brutally honest assessments of his parents, the New York-born comedian clearly retains an enormous fondness for both of them. Even so, the more he reveals, the more evident it becomes that home life was a far from ideal experience for him and his brothers. His parents certainly didn’t stop living their own lives once they had children - and when David became well known, although his mum attended his every gig, she didn’t really engage with the material. “She just liked the fame part,” he explains.
My Family: Not The Sitcom was incredibly successful at the Menier Chocolate Factory and in the West End back in 2016, earning David an Olivier Award nomination. If you were fortunate enough to have caught the show in London, you’d be forgiven for assuming that you’d already seen everything it has to offer. Not so, however. The show has evolved significantly over the last couple of years, not least because David has gleaned more information about his parents - some from people who’ve been to see him perform. “Even the niece of the person my mum had an affair with has come to see the show,” he says. “Three times!”
On a more serious note, David hopes that anybody attending the show who, like himself, has a close relative with dementia, will feel more comfortable talking about the illness afterwards. “I want people to know it’s alright to talk about it, and it’s alright to laugh about it.”
David hasn’t been on tour since 2013, when he travelled the length and breadth of the country with his show Fame: Not The Musical (there’s a definite theme in evidence in the titles of his stand-up gigs!). Although he enjoys touring, he admits to finding it quite a lonely experience nowadays. “In the very old days, I used to tour with Rob Newman and do shows with Frank Skinner - that would be more of a laugh!”
And speaking of Frank Skinner... It’s via his television work with the West Bromwich-born funnyman that David achieved real celebrity. Back in the ‘lad era’ of the 1990s, the pair scored a massive TV hit with their Fantasy Football League show. They even recorded a chart-topping song called Three Lions - the official ‘anthem’ of the England football team during the Euro 96 championships.
So after all these years, are they still close friends? “Frank lives in my road!” laughs David. “He lives 10 doors down from me. He’s always doing that! It’s a very expensive form of stalking!”
Given the success the pair enjoyed in the past, would they ever contemplate teaming up again? “We talked about doing Fantasy Football at the last World Cup but decided against it in the end. It turned out to be the right decision because England played so badly. Not ideal for a comedy show whereby you pin the response of the audience on how well England are going to do!”
David may have many a string to his bow in a professional sense, but he struggles to decide which of them he enjoys the most. “I think I’m just one thing, really, and that’s a storyteller. Everything I do is storytelling in different forms. And I’m weirdly happy with everything I’ve done. My aim when I’m on stage is to be as much like I actually am as possible. It’s not much different to coming round to my house for a chat!”
David Baddiel brings My Family: Not The Sitcom to New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, on Wednesday 28 February and Dudley Town Hall on Thursday 19 April.
By Jenny Ell
David Baddiel’s latest show has drawn acclaim from all quarters, and with good reason. As well as a candid reflection on his family life in the wake of his mother’s death, it tackles a number of taboo subjects – querying what we should or shouldn’t be allowed to laugh at – in a performance that’s both hilarious and brutally honest, often at the same time.
He warms the audience to the task by highlighting the comically irate reactions on social media – a platform now largely used for venting rage – to his (often goading) Tweets, before seeking humour in the heartbreak of his mother’s sudden death and the onset of his father’s dementia.
These are subjects he ‘owns’ and thus has carte blanche to treat as he sees fit, whether that means remembering his mother warts and all (rather than the “wonderful woman” deified at her funeral), or acknowledging that his father’s Pick’s Disease has only exaggerated character traits that were already there.
Indeed, hearing symptoms of the latter – impatience, swearing, rudeness and sexual disinhibition among them – simply prompted Baddiel to ask the consultant: “Does he really have a disease, or have you just met him?”
Making light of such a subject won’t sit well with everyone, but Baddiel argues that laughter is pretty much the only medicine, something he also uses to cope with his bizarre upbringing, not least an embarrassing mother who knew “no boundaries” when it came to discussing sex and who conducted a lifelong affair with a golfing enthusiast.
Virtually everyone knew about her adultery – largely because she told them – except his father, whose ignorance (or denial) is never fully addressed, although Baddiel, usually a stickler for the truth, admits lying to save his feelings at one golden opportunity.
That’s the only falsehood in a show where truth is undoubtedly stranger (and better) than fiction, and if Baddiel paints a harsh picture of his mother – who he even believes attended his shows to steal the limelight rather than support her son – then he shows her plenty of compassion too.
Ultimately he seems more upset at the standard of her grammar than anything else, a notion so absurd – and so brilliantly and frustratingly conveyed – it has to be true. Much like the rest of this hugely entertaining and original show.
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