One of Britain’s brightest comedy talents and frequent Ricky Gervais collaborator, Doc Brown, is performing his first China show this month. He tells Time Out what’s in store
As well as coming here for an evening comedy show, you’re in town for the Shanghai Literary Festival. What will your role inolve there?
I’m going to be hosting a couple of events with authors, I don’t know which ones though yet. I guess authors like to hide behind pages so it’s handy to have a personality out there.
Then there’s a comedy gig in Zapata’s – what can we expect?
I’ll put together as varied a show as I can. My usual style is a mix of anecdotes and spoken word storytelling comedy. There’ll be some singers and dancers on the bill as well, a bit of a variety show.
Will you tailor anything specifically for Shanghai?
I always do things differently. I’ve been to India, Malaysia and Singapore to perform, it’s always nice to just describe things you’ve experienced over there. It’s boring to do the same thing. But I wait until I’m at a location before writing anything, I prefer to have a walk around and speak to local people so it comes from an honest place.
How was India?
Walking around for a bit gave me ten minutes of comedy stuff, just relaying it back. The first thing that struck me was the personal space issue. People walk very, very, very close to you, I couldn’t get used to that. In London that would be increasing the risk of homicide. And the cars honking… a whole family and a dog on a motorbike… and I was performing to a 100 per cent Indian crowd.
You’re on a lot of British TV shows at the moment, is live comedy taking a back seat?
I dip in and out, I used to do it for a living and it’s really tough to do every day. How can you always be in the mood to make people laugh? It’s great that I’ve got this luxury position, whereas before I’d be doing eight or nine gigs a week, sometimes ten. You sharpen your sword in terms of the skill but it becomes hard to energise yourself. But the novelty of being on stage in Shanghai will be exciting.
Can you remember the first time you died on stage?
I was performing in front of loads of reps from the National Union of Students, the events bookers. I used to just wing it, I never wrote anything down. That night I just lost track of what I was saying, jokes that didn’t even finish, it was a nightmare. I went to Liverpool for that – it was a long journey home. The worst was about a year ago. I’d played Wembley for Comic Relief and was still shaking from that 24 hours later, when I played a benefit gig for human rights lawyers. There was no introduction, just a 40-minute speech on human rights atrocities around the world. I shuffled on then the waiters started serving people food. I sounded like a heartless monster and lasted about four minutes until I said, ‘Do you think I should go?’ and a woman in the front said, ‘Yeah, I think that would be for the best.’ Horrendous.
You’ve acted with Ricky Gervais, when he was playing David Brent in a Comic Relief special and Derek in his series of the same name. Which of those characters is best to work with?
It’s such a different experience. Brent is always trying to irritate you and Derek is always trying to hug you. On Derek the vibe on the floor is incredible. They encourage you to improvise and just shoot stuff. Brent is all about being provocative and pushing buttons.
At a Brent live show Gervais described your relationship as like Chris Martin from Coldplay and Jay Z’s. Agree with that?
I think my character, Johnson, would. He certainly sees himself as a rapper on the same level as your Jay Zs and your Snoops.
There were rumours of huge Brent gigs. Any truth in that?
It’s whether it makes sense as an act. Obviously Brent is a failure. For the comedy to work you have to look at that. It’s up in the air – Ricky is undecided. As it stands we’ll do our thing in smaller venues and take it from there. We’ve penciled some stuff in for June, it’s not confirmed, but we’ve planned a few more dates and hopefully we’ll film a few bits and pieces too. The album is pending. If it happens I’ll definitely be on it. I’m really proud of [Comic Relief show collaboration rap/reggae song] ‘Equality Street’.
Finally, how about playing the Great Wall, like Wham! did?
That would be unbelievable. You can just picture Brent in a loose-fitting white shirt unbuttoned to the belly button, arms out in a Christ-like pose, wind blowing his shirt like a cape.