Returning 90s Fringe star no longer worries about dying in front of an audience after nearly perishing for real last year
Lying in his car with a broken neck, 15 broken ribs, punctured lung and a hand detached from the wrist, surveying an exposed bone sticking through his leg, Jim Tavaré pondered 'is there a show in this?' He chuckles at the memory, one of only a few he retains from the crash in March last year that almost killed him.
'Isn't it weird?' the Los Angeles-based British stand-up marvels. 'Comics have a simplistic way of looking at everything as a joke. It's what we do isn't it? Looking at life that way, you miss out on some important things but it's certainly a great survival mechanism. Just going on stage can help depression.'
After last appearing at the Fringe 20 years ago, Tavaré recalls with pleasure how he persuaded Ronnie Corbett to stand in for him one night in 1996. The 55-year-old had no plans to return though, with 'Edinburgh the farthest thing from my mind'. He'd made his name as a circuit comic with gags around his trademark double-bass, before co-writing The Jim Tavaré Show on Channel 5 with Ricky Gervais and starring in ITV's The Sketch Show with Lee Mack, Tim Vine and Ronni Ancona. In 2008, he became the first non-US act to reach the final of TV talent contest Last Comic Standing, finishing fourth, prompting a move stateside the following year where he's since developed a successful career as a character actor.
'You get known for your skillset in Hollywood,' reflects Tavaré, who booked an entire US college tour off the (hunched) back of being Tom the Innkeeper in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. '"This guy's scary, he's not good-looking". Lately, I've been playing up the Englishness again. There are so many things to draw on. You can walk into an audition and tell them you're Scottish. They won't know.'
In hospital, he was told he'd never play the double bass again. Of far greater concern was the fate of Mr Kippy. His dog was also in the crash but emerged unscathed to bite the paramedics. Comedy rallied round Tavaré, with benefit gigs in the UK and US raising funds for his medical bills. Recording a short video for one, he began to contemplate addressing his experience more fully. 'I probably did three gigs in LA, forcing myself to do it, desperately wanting to talk of what happened. I did some jokes, then got into it. It was very awkward and rather too much for the audience.'
Undeterred, he began thinking about relating it as a single narrative, the first time he'd tried storytelling. 'When you're a comedian, it's quite intellectual, but something like this, it's emotional.' Guided by his director, Henry Normal, and Scottish writer / story coach Lynn Ferguson, he simply shared the facts of his accident, removing anything tangential. 'My previous life as a comic was worrying about where the next joke was coming from. But when you start with something serious, it's easy to subvert. So I held back from my usual instincts and let the story tell itself. Vulnerability, again, is a new departure for me.'
There are several quirky details in the tale, from the premonitory advert he shot just before the crash, to Willie Nelson appearing at his hospital bed. Long held to be Prince Charles' favourite comic, Tavaré actually got to know Princess Diana a few years before his Royal Variety bookings, after appearing alongside her brother Earl Spencer, Rupert Everett, Colin Firth and Boris Johnson, no less, in the ultra-Etonian 1984 film Another Country. 'It's amazing how we had the same car accident, 20 years apart with remarkably similar injuries, though unfortunately she … ' he pauses. 'I realised this one day and just didn't know what to do with the information: it was so much to process.'
Tavaré speculates that he might develop comic motivational lectures for others who've experienced intense trauma. 'It feels more useful than selfish comedy. I'm not an ego person at all.' Throughout his rehabilitation, he found himself 'really missing the UK, so I'd only watch British TV and wear tweeds all day. But I really haven't been out much and haven't connected with UK comedy at all and don't know the new comics. I'm like this strange mammal developing in the antipodes without any influence. It's a privilege at this late stage of my career to return to the Fringe.'
Jim Tavaré: From Deadpan to Bedpan, Laughing Horse @ The Counting House, 2–26 Aug (not 13), 4.15pm, free.
Get Comedy / Free Festival
In 2017 comedian Jim Tavaré (BAFTA Award-winner, Harry Potter actor and double bassist) was involved in a near fatal head-on automobile collision in Los Angeles. Returning to the Fringe for the first time in 20 years, he tells the story of how a quick trip to the shops changed his life…