If Alan Davies spent any time worrying about how his return to the stand up arena would be received, it was wasted.
Following a decade-long hiatus, the popular actor, comic and consistently lowest scoring contestant on BBC2 panel show QI, was tempted back to his single mic stomping ground following a live QI tour in Australia.
An Australian promoter friend convinced him to book some solo dates down under, and the result was his comeback show, Life is Pain, which gathered multi-starred reviews by the boatload in both the southern and northern hemispheres after he took it to the Edinburgh Fringe for a week-long run and then on a UK tour.
While the critics sang his praises, his newfound stand-up audience – thanks to his almost 10-year stint on QI – laughed their socks off.
No wonder the comedian, who played the title role for 14 years in BBC1’s popular comedy mystery show Jonathan Creek, seems raring to go for his next show, Little Victories which is bound for the Mill Volvo Tyne Theatre on April 18.
“It’s like riding a bike,” he beams, speaking of his joy at being back in front of a comedy audience.
“When you get to the microphone, it immediately feels familiar and lovely. Doing the tour of Australia, I got my love back for stand-up.
“I thought, ‘yeah, yeah, yeah! This is it! I’ve been right around the world and come back to where I started, and it feels great.
“Being on stage again feels like coming home. When I was touring in Australia, I would stand in the wings, look at the microphone and think, ‘I can’t wait to be out there’.”
Getting back to gigging also allows the 46-year-old to dilute his reputation for being Stephen Fry’s right hand idiot on QI.
He laughs. “I recently did a benefit for the Teenage Cancer Trust at the Royal Albert Hall. There were a couple of kids backstage.
“After the show, one of them came up to me with a frown and said, ‘you’re much funnier and much more intelligent than you are on QI’.
“I replied, ‘I want you to stop watching that programme immediately! It’s obviously not doing me any good. I always thought that show was ruining me. It makes people think I’m an idiot!’”
There’s no doubt this is a person completely back in love with what he did first... and he’s happy to explain just why that is.
“Working on TV and radio can be frustrating.
“There are so many people between your idea and the audience. Your idea has to go to a production company, then to a commissioning editor, and finally to a studio to be filmed,” he says, and he would know given his acting experiences in shows such as Whites, The Brief, and Bob and Rose (for which he was awarded Best Actor in a Drama at the Monte Carlo Television Awards) as well his stint as a judge on the ITV1 comedy talent show, Show Me The Funny.
He continues: “With stand-up, on the other hand, the only step is between your thought and how it comes out of your mouth. It’s a wonderfully immediate experience.
“It’s fantastic to have that feeling again. It’s just you and an audience in a room. There’s none of the paraphernalia of TV or radio.
“You’re pleased they’re there, and they’re pleased you’re there. It’s a very simple deal, a lovely contract.”
Alan, who is married to “Geordie lass” Katie Maskell and has two young children, says his comedy is inevitably different from the last time he was touring.
“I’m 46 now, and I’ve got different things to talk about. I couldn’t do the stuff I talked about my 20s now – that would be ridiculous.
“Now I talk about how children change your life and how I haven’t been out for two-and-a-half years since having them. We went to a restaurant once, but we had to go back home after the starter. We had to bring the rest of the meal home in a box.”
The family do however manage to spend a lot of time back up in Corbridge, Northumberland, where they have a holiday cottage and can spend time with Katie’s family.
“I really enjoy it up there,” he says.
As well as incorporating the joys of family life and approaching middle age into his routine, Alan has also allowed his reincarnated on-stage self to enter more personal territory than before.
“I mention things I haven’t talked about on stage before. For instance, for the first time I mention my mum dying and how it affected my relationship with my dad,” he says referring to the death of his mother from leukaemia when he was six.
“But don’t worry, there is still quite a lot about how stupid spiders are and how you try to get out of cleaning up after your baby has pooed,” he laughs.
“There is still a lot of trivia, but you’re less afraid of saying things about your life when you’re more mature.
“I’m less shy now. If you dig around in stuff that is uncomfortable, that can be interesting. Having been gambolling around being frivolous and attention seeking in my 20s, being an idiot on stage seems silly now.
“Also, the principal problem of being a middle-aged comedian is remembering the material. ‘I’m sure I came here for something. Maybe if I go out and come in again, I will remember what it was’,” he laughs.
“But I’m still dreadfully scatological – that’s an affliction I will carry with me to my grave.”
Alan Davies: Little Victories plays The Mill Volvo Tyne Theatre on April 18. Call 0844 493 9999 or visit www.millvolvotynetheatre.co.uk for tickets.