Jack Dee has been away from stand-up for six years. So why is he so eager to return to touring now?
‘I want to spend less time with my family,’ he jokes in that familiar, deadpan tone.
‘I think that’s a very good reason for touring. Everyone with children will surely agree with that.
‘I think a little bit of absence from your family is actually a good thing,’ adds Jack, who has a house near Chichester with his wife of 23 years and their four children.
He continues: ‘There are far too many diligent parents out there overdoing it and putting us to shame.’
Yes, Jack is back.
In his trademark style of turning misery into mirth, Jack agonises over the slightest niggle and moans about the day-to-day annoyances that plague us all.
After spending the last six years making his acerbic BBC2 sitcom, Lead Balloon, and writing his memoirs, Thanks For Nothing, which he modestly dedicated to himself (‘without whom none of this would have been possible’), the comedian is returning to his first love: stand-up.
Jack is also the poker-faced host of Radio 4’s ‘antidote to panel games’, I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue and chairs brand new Sky Atlantic panel game, Don’t Sit In The Front Row, from later on this month.
But he has spent the past year warming up his live act. And the good news is, the show is in great shape. Although Jack admits that he was initially nervous about his return to the stand-up arena.
‘At the first warm-up gig I did after that six-year break, I felt like a complete novice,’ he reveals.
‘I didn’t know where to begin. But almost immediately it came back. I’ve been gigging all year now, and it’s felt really good.’
Jack, who has been a star for the last two decades and won the British Comedy Award for Best Stand-up Comedian, continues: ‘With stand-up, you don’t have to consult any other people. You get immediate feedback.
‘When stand-up goes well, it’s almost as if you can fly – that’s how exciting it is for you and for the audience.
‘There is so much risk involved that the tension can become very addictive.
‘During the warm-up shows, I have been thinking, “Wow, why have I been away so long?”’
However, Jack remembers why he decided to give it up.
He recalls: ‘Six years ago, I had done a very very long tour and I was tired.
‘The day you stop enjoying stand-up is the day should stop doing it. So I had to step away from it and recharge my batteries.
‘Now, I’m very glad to say, I’ve got my passion back. Touring the country doing warm-ups has been a really nice experience and has put me in a very good place for this tour.
‘What is really exciting is when you get an idea just before the show begins. Then you go on stage and the new material immediately gets a big laugh.
‘I keep putting in new stuff, so the act remains very fresh – otherwise it becomes sealed. It’s not very attractive when it becomes glib. I never want it to become set, like a play.’
So what subjects will he be covering in this new stand-up show?
‘Observations about home life and living with teenagers,’ he reveals.
‘My take on it is that adolescence should really be regarded as a form of mental illness. Once you’ve accepted that, everything makes more sense.
‘It’s very alarming when adolescence happens to your children. Most parents don’t believe it will happen to them. But overnight, you lose the person you been living with for 10 years and someone else entirely emerges.
‘Suddenly you’re living with someone who’s metamorphosed into a lunatic.
‘I deal with it by going out on tour and making jokes about it.
‘Of course, anything like that forces you to look at yourself, so other strands from your life, such as religion and drinking, come in to the show.’
Jack hastens to add that his act should not be taken too seriously.
‘There is no sense of mission or self-analysis. It’s simply funny stuff that has occurred to me.
‘I have never been a comedian who writes to a theme.
‘That’s why I never give my tours a title – I find it impossible to paint myself into that corner.
‘The only thing that keeps recurring is that the show is a rolling review of my life.’
Of course another constant in Jack’s comedy has been his grumpy persona, a fact that has led his friend and fellow comedian Jeremy Hardy to dub him ‘A little ray of sleet’.
Says Jack: ‘I really like that sense of someone who is the author of his own unhappiness and can’t see that complaining about everything is only making things worse.
‘You’re blaming everyone else for your problems and can’t see that in fact you are to blame. I’ve always found that very amusing, and it’s always been a big part of my stage persona.’
In real life Jack is a far more genial character. He explains: ‘You need to be able to step away from that persona. That’s how you can get a perspective on that attitude.
‘That characteristic does exist within me. But because I’m feeding off it, I’m very aware of it and can identify it.’
After his UK tour, Jack is heading off to Australia.
There is just one snag. ‘I haven’t told my wife Jane that I don’t want to take her with me,’ he jokes.
‘I could just tell her that I’m touring around the North of England.
‘But after a month, that might become slightly less believable. At some point I’ll have to own up to her that I’m actually in Australia. ‘“I’m sorry, darling. When I said Grimsby, what I really meant was Sydney.
‘“It must have been a very bad line.”’