Interview with Dom Joly By Carl Jones
He knew he’d become famous the day he caught the train. Dom Joly was sitting in a train carriage in January 2000, carefully minding his own business. He heard that Nokia mobile phone ring. The owner answered the call, and three passengers bellowed: “Hello. What. No. Can’t Hear You. I’m On The Train!!” The second episode of Trigger Happy TV had just aired the night before and the big mobile character had clearly entered the national consciousness. Nobody realised Joly was on board, but he realised that his life had changed.
Joly’s Channel 4 show was must-see Friday-night telly. Sandwiched between Friends and Frasier, Joly had caught the slipstream of Cool Britannia and propelled himself to stardom as one of Britain’s funniest and most clever entertainers.
The former ITN political reporter and diplomat (“I did my serious jobs first”) had created Trigger Happy TV with his mate, Sam Cadman. Together, they made 12 episodes and 2 Christmas specials. The shows had been all killer and no filler: they were built on clever, time-consuming editing; original ideas and a perfect marriage of cool tunes and funny sketches executed with precision and finesse. Joly, in the words of Victor Lewis-Smith, the TV reviewer for the Evening Standard, had “turned the humble practical joke into an art-form.”
And then – like John Cleese and Fawlty Towers or Ricky Gervais and The Office – Trigger Happy TV’s maker called it a day. He’d captured the zeitgeist, created a phenomenon, his show was sold to more than 80 countries worldwide, with America making its own version. He hosted his own BBC chat show, invited The Cure’s Robert Smith to his wedding, bought a big house in the country and started writing about travel for The Sunday Times and The Independent on Sunday. Ahh. Isn’t life sweet.
“Trigger Happy TV was a bit like punk, suddenly we could buy a camera that allowed us to not rely on professional crews. We just filmed and filmed and filmed. There was no filler. We just filmed until we had nothing but gold. I spent months in the edit, putting it together. Sometimes I’d extend the joke because I didn’t want the music to end…the music was such a big part of it for me. But there was no master-plan, I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t know what it would become. I was just doing something I enjoyed. It was instinct.
That moment on the train when people started shouting hello was incredible. I realised then I’d done something. But it was like a whirlwind, a terrifying, exhilarating, destructive whirlwind.”
His favourite clip of all time was for his BBC1 show- World Shut Your Mouth. In it he played a hapless British stunt man standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon with a seven- foot rocket strapped to his back asking nervous Americans to light the fuse.
At one stage, he persuaded the BBC to fly him to all Seven Wonders of The World in one trip for a single joke.
Burnt out from comedy he started focusing on travel. He got a job writing for the Sunday Times and made a cult travel show for Sky called “Dom Joly’s Happy Hour” which has influenced so many recent “celeb” travel shows.
“I’ve always loved travel shows. But even though everybody knows how TV works, travel shows always lie. They always show Michael Palin racing for a train because if he misses it then the whole trip is doomed. He makes it and you see a beautiful shot of the train leaving the station…who is filming that? So, I always wanted to make interesting travel shows that incorporated comedy and addressed the essential idiocy of travel show grammar.”
Then he started writing travel books…his real passion. He wrote the best-selling travel book The Dark Tourist. He visited the killing fields of Cambodia and ended up in a war crimes trial. He went to Chernobyl before it was fashionable. He went on a coach tour of North Korea. He road-tripped though Syria. He went skiing in Iran. For his next book- Scary Monsters and Super Creeps he hunted monsters in The Congo, the Himalayas, Japan, Canada, America…Dom has lead a varied life…
“North Korea is still the weirdest place I’ve ever been too. It’s insane. The only people who go to North Korea are hardened travellers whose idea of hell is a coach tour – it’s like somebody has taken all the colours out of the palette. The whole country reminded me of the final scene in a Bond movie at the baddies’ lair.
They have a massive bunker to stash the presents given to North Korea by other world leaders. So, they have a train from Stalin, a stuffed alligator holding drinks from the PLO, a little plate from the NUM in Derby. It’s insane.”
Joly added to his list of unusual travel by undertaking an assassination vacation in the USA, visiting the sites made unintentionally famous by JFK, Ronald Reagan, Martin Luther King and more. With hit book after hit book, widely-read column after insightful travelogue, Joly became the UK’s answer to the brilliant American writer P J O’Rourke.
His most recent book, The Hezbollah Hiking Club, followed a boozy, cricket-filled afternoon at Lord’s, where Joly convinced his two closest friends to agree to the unthinkable: a challenging hike across Lebanon, from the Israeli border in the south, along the spine of the country’s mountain range, all the way to the Syrian border in the north. For Joly it was something of a homecoming, having grown up in Beirut.
And now it’s time to share those tales. From outlandish international stunts for his TV comedy to curious travel snaps from his travels; Joly will be sharing uncensored travel tales from the dark side in Dom Joly’s Holiday Snaps, which is visiting 51 theatres and arts centres between February and April.
“I’ve just got this extensive collection of weird holiday snaps. And I know there’s that cliché that ‘nobody wants to see anybody else’s holiday photos’. Well, mine are really good. And I’ve got some really good stories with them. I’m also going to show some comedy clips I filmed when travelling.
For instance, when we did Trigger Happy TV, we went to Switzerland and I got arrested for impersonating a yeti. Then there was stuff from World Shut Your Mouth, which had me the frightening an Eskimo. There’s footage of me at Chernobyl, thinking: ‘Should I eat the vegetables here or not?’ So, when I put all of them together, I’ve got a seriously great holiday show.”
He has indeed. Mixing the best of his comedy with unique stories from his much-loved columns and travel books, Joly will entertain fans with holiday snaps, videos and stories before meeting them after the show to sign copies of his latest book. He’s hoping to dig out his old school photo for the tour too. “I found out not so long ago that I went to school with Osama bin Laden. I messaged for him on Friends Reunited, but he didn’t get back to me, the bastard.”
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