FOLLOWING a successful career in computer programming, comedian Dan Willis decided to ditch the “proper job” and forge a career telling jokes. Many years later, the 38-year-old from Newcastle has no regrets, following successful tours nationally and internationally, taking his comedy to audiences as far away as Australia.
Dan’s next project is The Edinburgh Festival, where he will perform two shows – Inspired and Radiohead Redux – between August 5 and 9 at the Laughing Horse venue. Regional audiences will be able to get a sneak preview of some of Dan’s new material when he performs at the Quayside’s Live Theatre in Newcastle on Friday, July 29, as part of Newcastle Gateshead Comedy Festival.
What’s your first memory? Dropping a mug on my foot in nursery. It smashed and gave me a scar that stayed till I was 18. I remember the panic in the faces of the nursery staff more than the pain. My juggling career began and ended in about four seconds.
What were you like as a child? Polite and well mannered – hardly a rebellious type – but I had aspirations. I was raised by my mother, gran and aunties. With that many women around you learn to pick your arguments wisely.
What childhood games did you play? I was an only child till I was eight, but for some reason my family kept buying me multiplayer games – have you tried playing Hungry Hippos by yourself? Twister’s not much fun either! It wasn’t until my first computer – a ZX Spectrum 48k – that home gaming took off in my life. Give me Jet Set Willy over Call of Duty any day.
What music did you like and what was the first record you bought? My first record was Goody Two Shoes by Adam and the Ants. I then became obsessed with The Cars, Queen, then strangely enough Bruce Willis. I think I’m the only man alive to own Bruce Willis’s second album. From the age of 15 onwards I collected everything that Michael Jackson recorded. My solo show last year was all about being a nutter of a fan, and I truly was a bit of a nutter.
Did you have a family pet? My family has a multitude of pets. I currently have a cat that I share with my mum. My first pet, a cat called Daisy, lived to be 21 which is about 400 in cat years – and that’s a lot of birthday presents.
Were your school days the best days of your life? Middle school was great, high school was hard work. To go from a school with 200 kids in it, to a high school of 1,400, that was a culture shock and a half, but my core friends are all from my school days.
Were you ever bullied? Indeed, one time I tackled “a chap of considerable stupidity, but larger muscle” in football practice and he ripped his Kappa tracksuit bottoms and threatened to kill me. The headmaster drove me home from school mid afternoon to avoid the inevitable kicking.
What were your favourite TV programmes? As a kid I loved Knight Rider, the A-Team and Airwolf. Nowadays it’s My Name is Earl, Supernatural and The West Wing, so it’s hairy moustaches, ghosts and political drama instead of flashy cars, helicopters and fugitives of a crime they didn’t commit.
What did you want to do when you grew up? As a child I wanted to be a pop star, but I couldn’t sing, thus I ended up as a computer programmer. The move into comedy was obviously a natural one.
How did you spend your weekends? Back in the 80s, weekends were all about cramming as much into Saturday as possible, then getting bored to the britches on Sunday waiting for Songs of Praise to end and Bullseye to begin. Now I tend to work weekends and have Monday through Thursday to moan about the quality of daytime TV.
Do you remember your first kiss? I think a girl kissed me when I was nine, though I have a sneaking suspicion she did it for a bet – not quite the romantic moment I was looking for. My first girlfriend was Lucy. I was 12 at the time, it lasted a week and I dumped her from a distance of 30 metres because my mate David told me to.
Who was your first love? I was a complete geek, still am, so I’m guessing it was that good old ZX Spectrum. From the moment I got it (aged nine) I didn’t stop thinking about it.
What was the most important thing in the world to you? After the computer obsession, I became a huge Michael Jackson fan. I was proper addicted, hunting songs down, waiting for new albums, learning dance moves. If I was talking to someone I’d just want to spin the conversation back round to MJ.
What did you wear then, that you would never wear now? That’s an easy one, I had a substantial mullet. I figured if it was good enough for Chris Waddle, it was good enough for me. Luckily he cut his off in Italia 90 and I followed suit soon after.
How have you changed from your teenage self? I’m more aware that other people’s opinions matter. I’m now much happier discovering other people’s thoughts than listening to mine over and over again.
Where did you go on holiday? I had an enforced holiday in Bali. My working visas for the Adelaide fringe and Melbourne comedy festivals didn’t allow for the three-week gap in-between, thus they made me leave the country. Two weeks in Bali, it was hell, or possibly paradise. It was the best screw-up I’ve ever done.
Would the young you be pleased with the adult you? I don’t think I ever thought I’d be old. I’m still surprised to be 38 yet I don’t feel any different to when I was 21. I think my young self would be proud to know that I’ve ended up doing a job I love, though I doubt he’d see the logic of leaving a high-paid computer job for comedy.
If you could go back in time what would tell your 15-year-old self? Id suggest some better places to hide my adult art magazines, thus preventing a lot of embarrassment for both my mother and myself.
To book tickets for Dan’s preview show at Newcastle’s Live Theatre visit www.thegrinningidiot.com