Doc Brown will see you now...
Published: 11 Jan 2013 09:300 comments
Guide reporter Amy Danbrowsky chatted to the rapping funnyman before his gig at South Street on Friday, January 18.
Having seen him at the same Reading venue in July last year I already knew he was good. Tears-streaming-down-your-face-thigh-slappingly good, in fact. So when I got the chance to chat to the rapper-turned-comedian I Gangnam-Style leaped from my chair to accept and my thoughts turned to why he had decided to return to Reading. He said: "It's always been a good place to visit, traditionally. That venue has an intimacy to it to suit my style. It'll be the third time there and we always come back to the places we love."
And if me turning into a chuckling mess wasn't enough to get you charging down to South Street for a ticket (hmm) then his promise of 'honest storytelling, real showmanship and proper entertainment' should be.
The 36-year-old Doc, real name Ben Bailey Smith, is a man of many talents. He not only comically raps - about the perfect cup of tea and wishing David Attenborough was his grandad - but acts, script writes, is a former hip-hop star who supported De La Soul on tour, has released four records and counts super-producer Mark Ronson as a pal. So when did he discover he was funny and what will his set be like? "Early 2008, four years ago, I got a job as a consultant on Radio Four. I worked on three or four comedies for them, as a contributing writer and worked out I knew how to make existing things slightly funnier. Stand-up was inevitable.
"Hopefully there will be mostly new and old bits in my set. It's hard to develop stand-up, I don't think people realise how long it takes, to make things pristine - so if you want all new stuff I can't guarantee it'll be funny. You have to test it - different rooms, cultures, cities, religions - and when it survives you know you have some serious gold there. It takes time."
I wondered just how nervous he gets, sat in a venue, waiting to perform his material, and he told us: "I get nervous at every single gig. Sometimes the smaller ones are really nerve-racking as there is no hiding place.
"When you are in a small room and you can see the whites of everyone's eyes, it turns up a notch. If you don't get nervous before a gig you are in trouble. In my first year as a stand-up I would swagger on like 'I am the king of comedy', and people see your body language and think who's this di*****d?" You have to be in the mind frame that death is only around the corner. You should always be suitably nervous as you can utilise this and turn it into something great on stage."
When he's not tickling others' funnybones, the things that make him laugh are "the things that feed into my style". He added: "I love stories and really appreciate and admire joke-tellers. One line experts like Jimmy Carr. The people who go for the money shots. But that's not me. If it was up to me I would watch an old man telling great stories told from human experience." On the road gigging a lot, and as a married father-of-two, he told us the best and worst things about touring. "The best part is the rewarding feeling, the adrenaline you get from the show. The negatives far outweigh the positives, though. You don't see friends and family, you work the hours people are socialising. You sacrifice your own private lives. Some comics revel in it - mainly as they are anti-social p****s - but I love hanging out and going out and I don't get the opportunity. I wouldn't give it a second thought if it wasn't my living. There is nothing I can do better." He says performing the same songs can bore him, but explains it's 'just the gift and the curse', and added: "When people have come to see me because they are fans I'll give them that stuff in an encore. I listen to people's feedback on Twitter. They tell you, man, whether they are happy or disappointed.
"Part of the reason some standups aren't funny is they live in a bizarre world, they are out of touch and can't relate to people, but there is no way out of everyday life. I have a rock star lifestyle but I also pick up the kids from school!"
Although he has no plans to release more music anytime soon, he has broken into the acting world with parts in hit BBC TV comedy Miranda, Ricky Gervais' Extras and BBC and HBO drama Hunted. He said: "I absolutely love [acting], I love that job. It's about social and personal lives. Not only do I love the job, but you're never on your own.
"There is real camaraderie. You are working towards this one goal. As much as I love the actual job and as magical as stand-up is, there is no-one to share it with, it's just you." His sister is award-winning writer Zadie Smith and his brother is Luc Skyz, also a rapper. Of his creative background he said: "Neither of our parents were creative by trade and they were just very encouraging. Every kid is creative, it's age that beats it out of us and dependancy to get a proper job. If we stayed true to childhood lives we'd all be creative. Any kind of love for a hobby they encouraged. Both of them were school drop outs, but I was never that kid whose parents told me I couldn't do something."
Tickets are £12 from www.readingarts.com or 0118 960 6060.