Jack Dee plays Eastbourne date

Jack Dee was ten dates into his first stand-up tour in six years when the pandemic wiped it from the calendar.

Jack Dee Credit Aemen Sukkar
Jack Dee Credit Aemen Sukkar

He is delighted to get back to it now, especially a string of dates across his beloved Sussex, including Friday, November 12 at Eastbourne’s Congress Theatre.

“We had everything cancelled in March 2020, and I was mid-tour. I was about ten shows in when the curtain fell. It was not a total surprise, obviously, but it was pretty dramatic when everything had to stop. In the context of what other people were going through, obviously it wasn’t huge, but I had spent about eight months travelling around very small venues around the UK to get the show just how I wanted it, and it had got to the point where I was doing the bigger venues. I did Liverpool and then Blackpool. And then it all stopped.

“It was quite a spooky atmosphere everywhere. I was driving back and the roads were suddenly very quiet. I had to get some paracetamol and they were asking questions about why I was needing it. It was all pretty strange. But I just came home, and like everyone, I treated the first three or four weeks as just like a bit of a sabbatical. I just treated the first lockdown as extra time to get to do a few things that I wouldn’t have otherwise done. And then it became apparent that it was going to last considerably longer. I had previously been asked to write a book. We got in touch with the publishers and they were keen, and that’s the book that came out in October 2021” – What Is Your Problem? which sees Jack take life’s biggest dilemmas and answer them with his “unique and very professional” advice): “Writing it was good. It kept my mind in the same zone I had been on on the tour. I was still writing comedy which is what I like doing.”

But now he is more than ready to be back on the road: “I have had to change quite a lot of the show, changing the whole structure of it. Usually a show will evolve over 18 months, but when you come back to this one after 18 months, there are lots of areas that are no longer relevant. The whole world has changed. Everyone’s mindset has changed.”

The pandemic, for one thing. And Jack certainly doesn’t regard it as a comedy no-go area: “I think you grab the pandemic by the horns. I don’t skirt around it. If people are minded to go to a comedy show, you make the assumption that they are to going to be ready to have some fairly harsh ideas thrown at them. And I think that that is a healthy part of processing it all, to say ‘OK, we have all known people who have been ill and people that have sadly died, but we can still look at the bigger picture and have a laugh at ourselves within that bigger picture.”

There is an element of having to coax people back out, Jack admits: “People have been terrified by the whole thing, and there is still a lot of residual fear from what everyone has been spoon-fed. The news, being the news, they are not very interested in the good news. The news is very reluctant to move on from the doom and the gloom. It has been a tragedy, but we are coming through it. The danger is receding, but it is a bit like the old metaphor of the bird in the cage. You open the cage door, but the bird doesn’t necessarily fly out. I think some people will take longer than others, but people are coming out.”

The six-year stand-up gap before this tour was nothing unusual, Jack says: “It is usually three or four years between tours and then if you want to do another project, like a sitcom, that might take a couple of years, especially if you do two series. There is always an interlude, but the actual tour itself will always take a long time as well.”

Touring is something Jack hopes he will always do, but he cites the old saying that he would do the dates for free; it’s the travelling he is being paid for: “I love doing stand-up, but it is the travelling and the lifestyle that are gruelling. It is quite difficult to stay healthy and sane when you are on the road. There is so much travelling and so much having to look after yourself in terms of what you buy to eat on the road. You are always the wrong end of the clock. When you are working, everyone else is relaxing, and then when you are wanting to eat, everything is closed. It is impossible to sustain that style of living for more than a couple of weeks.”

And then it is back home. Jack has had a place near Chichester for 25 years. “My wife had lived and worked in Selsey when she was a teenager, and when we first got together, we went down there and stayed at a caravan park as a holiday. I just grew to love the place. I just really, really love West Sussex.”