60 minutes with: Dan Clark

Posted by: on Sep 28, 2012 | No Comments

You may not instantly recognise the name, Dan Clark, however, you may have heard of his character creation, Don Danbury. The lovable idiot protagonist from BBC3 cult hit series, How not to live your life. Actually, you may not have heard of Don or Dan at all.

But that’s not because he isn’t funny. In fact, I would go as far as to say that he’s my favourite comedian- but I can never tell if that’s because he and his show are particularly funny or because the show feels like a hidden gem that I have all to myself.

Either way his bizarre catchphrases and daydreamed scenarios make my sides-split with laughter and my brain tick with confusion- why isn’t this guy more famous?

Dan Clark first hit screens back in 1996 as a hooded mugger in one of Only Fools and Horses most iconic episodes where Del’boy and Rodney throw on their infamous Batman and Robin costumes. Squint and you’ll realise he is in The Mighty Boosh as the pretentious ‘Johnny two hats’,  one of many surreal character’s in Noel Fielding’s Luxury Comedy, a cameo in The Bill, French and Saunders and even starred in sitcom, The Estate Agents. All of this was accompanied by a successful stint as a stand-up comedian often featuring at Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Fast-forward to 2006 and the BBC commissioned a full series of a sitcom, written by and starring Dan Clark. How not to live your life and it’s unusual protagonist was born. If you haven’t seen it, you need to. If you’re a fan of The Mighty Boosh and heavy doses of irony then head out to buy the box set of series 1 to 3 [out October 1st].

As I said previously, How not to live… truly is a hidden gem. I managed to discover series 1 during a severe bout of insomnia. Flicking aimlessly through the channels I settled on BBC3 only to find a twenty-something man struggling with some of life’s most simple tasks and having little to no self awareness- all whilst wearing his nan’s pink housecoat. What’s not to love?

Don plays little lewd songs, is looked after by baby faced Eddie (David Armand) and continually lusts after his female lodger whilst getting into some very bizarre situations along the way. Expect one liners, catchphrases and big love for all things Kevin Costner…

How not to live your life wrapped at the end of 2011 with a Christmas Special. Now Dan has gone back to his roots and is about to embark on a stand-up tour with various date around the UK. The These songs may contain jokes tour will be a mix of stand-up and musical comedy with Dan being supported by a full live band.

This week I was lucky enough to get to chat to Dan Clark at the Soho Theatre, London- a surreal moment for me as a huge fan of the show. Naturally, I was intrigued to see if Dan was actually Don minus the pink housecoat…

Is Don Danbury just Dan Clark minus any self-awareness? In fact, it was hard to see any element of Don in the man that was sitting with me. He seemed mildly uncomfortable, often avoiding eye contact and becoming distracted by passers-by on the bustling Dean Street- I guessed this was distraction technique to shy away from chatting about himself. I asked if Don is a caricature of himself: “He may be an exaggerated version of some of my worst traits”, although, “he lacks self awareness, whereas sometime I can be too self aware, and conscious of how I come across”. -Dan concluded his answer neatly saying: “I’m less like Don than people think but probably more like him than I care to admit…”

Dan then continued on telling me of a night on 2011’s mini tour where he and Ben Parker [HNTLYL musician] got a little worse for wear in the polite town of Harrogate knowing they had a show to do the next day. It was here that maybe undertones of Don Danbury and his love for ‘Samuel-Bucca’ shots started to show in Dan.

Don Danbury is a bit of a bumbling idiot: vain, deluded and has a penchant for button up collared shirts. Think Vince Noir minus the spangled outfits mixed with a bit of Frank Spencer. Yet Dan, in real life, is actually rather charming. He’s well spoken and has a hint of geek chic with his glasses and messy hair, all neatly woven together with boyish charm and a genuine love for his craft.

We pondered why How not to live seemed to be stuck between mainstream and indie and I asked Dan if this was a blessing or burden to him as a writer and comedian. “Obviously I would have loved for it to be hugely successful on the scale of The Inbetweeners or Gavin and Stacey and sometimes I even questioned if anybody knew about it, maybe I was imagining its existence?” he laughed. However Dan does seem to cherish the cult vibe of the show. “At least I know that the audience and the fans are truly affected by the show, because it is so unknown they feel like the show is theirs and they are very protective of it and offer support that has real warmth and sentiment- they seem to be genuinely excited when they come to the shows or recognise me in the street and that’s great when it happens”.

We then touched upon those die-hard fans that idolise Donald Danbury. “The show is ironic, very tongue in cheek. You get the fans that love that about the show, and they get it. But, sometimes there are the fans who idolise Don, they think he is so cool, aspire to be like him or say they have friends like him- their usually the ones that heckle me and expect me to be more ‘Don’ than I actually am”. Dan and I agreed that although Don is lovable and laugh inducing on screen you wouldn’t really want him around on a day-to-basis.

How not to live… features numerous pop culture references including: mentioning the complete works of Kevin Costner at any given moment, a fondness for Bon Jovi and geeky film refs to Die Hard, Top Gun, Pretty Woman and Cocoon to name but a few. “I neither like nor dislike Bon Jovi- they’re not my favourite, I just thought it would be a funny band for someone to be really into, but I like ‘Living on a prayer’ as much as the next person [he laughed]…besides, he has a funny name when said in full, ‘Jonathan Bon Jovi’ is just funny isn’t it?” But Kevin Costner is a different story- “I do genuinely enjoy his films, the better ones anyway”.

Continuing our chat in the red booths of the Soho Theatre I ask Dan how he came to be a comedian that dabbles in music- “Is it a secret desire to be a rock star?”  Dan answered playfully, “Maybe…” With the rise of comedy acts like Flight of the Conchords and The Mighty Boosh I wondered weather Dan found inspiration in these kinds of shows. “Definitely. And Tenacious D captured my attention too. Their lyrics are funny so it works as comedy but also Jack Black has an amazing voice. At one point musical comedy was considered a bit of an embarrassment but it has become something new again.”

As the title of the tour suggests Dan’s stand-up show will be heavily music based. “I know a lot of musicians, so now I have put together a great band- I’m really thankful for their work, it sounds great, they’re all so talented. I’ve written loads of new songs and will also perform a section featuring the songs from How not to live your life”. He seems brimming with enthusiasm, which is lovely to see. You only have to head over to YouTube to see how his comedy music is so well received. These are serious pop tunes with credible chords and melodies, it just so happens that the lyrics are giggle inducing.

For me Dan Clark is a quintessentially British comedian. Observational, ironic, occasionally self-deprecating and a little bit rude. How do these qualities translate around the UK and overseas? “One of my best shows was in Birmingham, and the Mancunions are a laugh too. It seems to be relatable wherever I go- although I haven’t been to Ireland yet and I’ve tried to launch How not to Live… in America four times now- its either too risqué or not enough”. And as for Europe, “How not to live your life has loads of fans in France and Poland. I think sometimes other countries don’t mind if their protagonist is a bit horrible or selfish [as many critics have suggested Don Danbury is] whereas in Britain we want endearing qualities and someone that represents ourselves”.

It seems that Dan Clark has been simmering under the surface in the indie-underworld of comedy for some time now. He sits comfortably in the cult and quirky sector but when there is a conveyor belt of mediocre stand-ups and sitcom stars gracing our screens it’s hard to figure out why someone as talented and driven as Dan sometimes fails to burst the bubble and take over the mainstream.

After an hour of chatting I sense that Dan needs to leave but perhaps is unsure how to break it to me. I did have more questions, but that’s to be expected when you’re speaking to someone who has a career that is a curious dichotomy of achieved success and a lack of recognition. He had been a genuine delight to chat to- funny but not a show-off as comedians are sometimes expected to be.

I fully recommend you purchase the box set or grab a ticket for the These songs may contain jokes if you are looking for your new favourite comedian who has been around long enough to be excellent at what he does. Although, as much as I want Dan Clark to be successful and fully recommend his shows, we did, when chatting, touch upon the idea of everyone finding out about your favourite band and how the songs somehow then lose their sentiment when you start hearing them everywhere you go. I wouldn’t want that to happen to Dan Clark. Then again, at Gossipdrip we reckon you can never have too much Don, or Dan for that matter…


Buy tickets for the tour here and look out for the complete How not to live your life boxset October 1st 2012.