Life is pain for stand-up Alan, but touring is proving be great fun
Alan Davies has been carving out a career in television – notably as the star of Jonathan Creek, Bob and Rose and legal drama The Brief as well as the hugely popular QI. But this year he is reviving his 2012 tour Life is Pain, his first return to stand-up in ten years.
A strange scientific experiment, carried out with QI presenter Stephen Fry, might just help him with his live performances.
Alan made his first ever visit to the opera with classical fan Stephen and their breathing, heart rate and other vital signs were all measured during the performance by scientists interested in the body's reaction to what was happening on stage
He found it fascinating. "The heart rates rise and fall almost in sync for the whole performance," he reveals. "We had the same experience, stimulated by the music. Of all the art forms it's the music that moves people the most."
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Perhaps the lessons learned could be useful for stand-up?
"Exactly. What you're trying to do is have them all doing the same thing at the same time – hopefully laughing. It's about connecting a mass of people.
"When you start doing comedy, some gags go well and some won't, but you don't really now either way. You think they might laugh at one point, but they laugh somewhere else instead.
"You develop an aptitude and experience and adapt your rhythm of speech. That works for me because storytelling had been my thing. It's an organic process – keeping in bits that work well, it grows in relationship with your audience."
All this suggests that Alan, having started stand-up in 1988, is at the top of his game.
"Being successful in other fields does give you a sort of self-assurance," he says, "but stand-up is very different to everything else.
"It's more rewarding. It's you and your thoughts. It all comes out of your head. It's very gratifying when people love that. It's getting the material that's difficult."
That's why for Life is Pain Alan – who had an 18-month-old daughter and a baby son at home – warmed up by performing local gigs for five to 10 minutes at a time until he had 60-90 minutes of material.
"It's a nice way to work. I could do three shows a week and see the family and not answer to anybody.
"It's something you don't really realise when you're younger. But it's very exciting to be the one everyone in the room is looking at."
Inevitably, family life for Alan has found its way into his comedy routines – no matter how difficult that might be for Alan, whose mother died when he was six.
"I talk about my own father and his parenting; and my parenting. A fair bit is nostalgic about the 80s; stuff about mobile phones and sex toys... something for everyone!" he laughs.
"Most people might talk for two or three minutes about something that's bugging them. That's the kind of stuff that it's good to get people laughing about.
"But I also touch on difficult subjects, like my mum dying. I'm not really worrying about what the audience will like."
Is it confessional, in a way?
"I'm not sure if I find it cathartic. What I'm feeling deep down, I don't really know."
This tour is bringing Alan further west than he has ever been before. The nearest has been Bristol "although I did play Exeter once."
He's been lured by Tweet – people asked him to come and perform – and he loves the Westcountry sense of humour. He doesn't research the area, preferring to ask the audience.
"I might spot something in town, like a shop or something of local interest. That's all part of the fun of going around the place."
Alan Davies has the following Westcountry dates: Octagon Theatre, Yeovil on November 7; The Hall for Cornwall, Truro on November 11; Princess Theatre, Torquay on November 12 and Plymouth Pavilions on November 13. Life is Pain is out on DVD next month.