Interview - Dave Gorman's Power Point Presentation
Comic who set the bar for concept shows makes long-awaited Fringe return
This article is from 2011.
Back at the Fringe after eight long years, Dave Gorman remains single-minded about his craft, even in the face of attacks from ‘mad Christians’. Brian Donaldson hears tales of weird games, motherly advice and thuggish creationists
When Dave Gorman was pottering away on his latest project – finding and playing obscure and unique games – he came to the conclusion that maybe there wasn’t a book, documentary series or stand-up tour in it. Meeting people and playing their games in pubs and houses just seemed like a nice thing to do. He was having fun. And then a ‘mad Christian’ assaulted him. At which point, Gorman thought there might well be a book in it. ‘When I say “mad Christian”, I feel I need to clarify,’ Gorman tells me over an early morning cup of tea in his local East London café. ‘I’m an atheist and have lots of friends who are of faith and that’s not an issue for me; he is a mad Christian because he’s a creationist and I do think creationists are mad and also Christian.’
The game which Gorman had been invited to play in a remote part of Hampshire was called Intelligent Design Versus Evolution, a Trivial Pursuit-y affair in which you move little green rubber brains around a board, land on squares and answer questions which are, in fairness, somewhat loaded. ‘I landed on “Darwin” and picked up a card which explains that Darwin was wrong. I wasn’t thinking that I needed to confront him about this, I was thinking, let’s get this game done as quickly as possible because this is awful – hilariously bad.’
Frustrated by the lack of heated debate and mindful of previous comments Gorman had made about creationism, the Christian launched his flying attack initially with a solid fist, which flattened out to become a weedy slap by the time it made contact with Gorman’s cheek. ‘I’m not a fighter but he’s even less of a fighter than me; still, there was a little bruise. It was a shocking and weird moment more than anything else. And then he ran upstairs and hid in his bedroom, eventually coming downstairs very sheepishly.’
The resultant book, Dave Gorman vs the Rest of the World, is out now featuring lovelier memories such as meeting the guys who play sock golf (indoor golf with a rolled-up sock as your club) and discovering games with names such as Khet (aka Deflexion) and Smite (croquet meets boule). However, it was that violent episode which gave Gorman’s book its impetus.
‘My wife had expressed concern about me going to see strangers I’d met on the internet. I’d certainly be concerned if she was doing that and this incident proved that it was an odd, dangerous thing to be doing. He could have been violent in a more telling way and I cancelled some things and didn’t really want to go out the house for a while. The book’s point is the discovery that I like who I am and all those other gentle, nice experiences are valid and that allowing one dick to dictate terms to you isn’t quite right. My mum got burgled and wasn’t herself for a couple of years afterwards and we all know people who have shunned relationships because they got hurt once. The message here is don’t let the bastards grind you down.’
With his return to the Fringe comedy fold, the message Dave Gorman is sending out is that he’s ready and willing to join the August party again, his last appearance coming eight years ago with Googlewhack Adventure. Between 1998 and 2003, Gorman was a solid staple of the Fringe with the likes of Reasons to be Cheerful (a show which analysed the Ian Dury song with forensic detail), Better World (based on his letters to local newspapers asking the public for suggestions on how to make the world, well, better) and the classic Are You Dave Gorman? (a drunken bet with Danny Wallace resulted in a journey from Fife to Florida tracking down 54 namesakes and nabbing himself a Perrier nomination in the process).
Googlewhack Adventure came about thanks to his prevaricating nature, with him not writing the novel for which he’d received a healthy advance and instead typing two words into Google which came back with one matching page. Anyone other than Dave Gorman would have had a bit of a chuckle, logged off and got back to the task in hand. Only he would then travel 90,000 miles around the world to uncover a series of eccentric characters connected to ‘googlewhacks’ in a story with more twists than a 24 box set. Fortunately, he was able to transform this quest into a stage show and book allowing him to pay back the advance for the novel that remains unwritten.
While his continued absence from the Fringe has not gone unnoticed, Gorman hasn’t shied away from other media outlets, now hosting his own show on Absolute Radio, fronting the BBC’s Genius and trekking across the US for a Channel 4 documentary (and book), America Unchained. ‘I missed Edinburgh massively, especially at the beginning. There were a couple of years when I was in the States when it was happening and being busy is the best way of solving it. But when you’re sitting on your tod in London and all your friends have gone to Scotland, you miss it then.’
At the time of our meeting in early June, the content of his PowerPoint Presentation was still gestating, though he is clear on what it isn’t. ‘When we were getting the artwork done, there was an assumption that it would be a parody of an office: “and the annual sales figures for the third quarter ...” but it’s none of that. You can’t go to clubs, put up your nine foot by twelve foot screen and say, “can I do five minutes?” I do a club where once a month there’s a screen and projector in situ for the whole night and I introduce four other people and do about 50 minutes of new stuff. I have a couple more of those to do and as far as I’m concerned, the show’s not written until I’ve done all of those and ferreted out the best bits. But everything is mutable. If you’ve not seen me, you might think it’s a parody; if you have, that’ll tell you something of the methods and style, but no more than that.’
Gorman’s methods and style have been carefully moulded over a long period of time in response to him harbouring more comedic ambition than just crafting an hour of jokes. But when he was starting out on his grand adventuring, the idea of themed concept shows replacing straight stand-up was as welcome as an electric Dylan. ‘The landscape has certainly changed now, but at the time you couldn’t convince a theatre to take on a comic they didn’t know to do a 90-minute show about an Ian Dury song, but you could take on a bill with three comics telling jokes; that’s a safer risk for a fiver.’ Soon, the notion of doing a comedy show about ‘something’ caught on. ‘People would do themed shows that weren’t really themed. “My show is called The Best Kettle I’ve Ever Owned” and you’d go and watch it and the first bit is about them buying a kettle in Argos, taking it home and making them think of something else. And they’d then launch into 40 minutes of their club set with nothing to do with kettles. At the end, they’d say, “And that, ladies and gentlemen, was why it was the best kettle I ever owned.” That’s not a themed show. You’ve cheated!’
The effort, dedication and single-mindedness, which can occasionally border on mania, that Gorman puts into his shows leaves no one feeling short-changed. It’s an attitude that led him to abandon the safety net of education for comedy, his degree in mathematics unfinished. ‘I’m still interested in it as a subject, but I wasn’t doing it from a career point of view. It was my best way of moving out. When I dropped out my mum kept saying I needed something to fall back on. But I felt as though I needed to go without a safety net to commit to what I was doing. I dread to think what I’d be doing, probably been a maths teacher. I could have always gone back to it, but my primary motivation initially was proving my mum wrong.’
Dave Gorman’s PowerPoint Presentation, Assembly George Square, 0131 623 3030, 6–28 Aug, 7.40pm, £15 (£13.50). Previews 3–5 Aug, £8.
PowerPoint to the people
Brian Donaldson finds a quartet of other shows that feature big screen presentations
The small, bearded, bespectacled one from Pappy’s takes the solo plunge this year with Adventure Party, promising some hot screen action and audience interaction bits. Pleasance Courtyard, Pleasance, 0131 556 6550, 6–29 Aug (not 16), 4.45pm, £9.50–£12 (£8–£10.50). Previews 3–5 Aug, £5.
Little Howard’s Big Show
Big Howard is a chap whose surname is Read and Little Howard is the messy-haired CBBC star. Together they make the world’s only human/cartoon double act beloved of little kids and big kids alike.
Assembly George Square, 0131 623 3030, 3–29 Aug (not 17), 4.40pm, £10 (£8).
I Am Google
Hollywood actor Craig Ricci Shaynak gives us a show that guarantees to have his astonished audiences ‘twittering all over your facebook and screaming yahoo’. Get along to find out what on earth all that might mean.
Espionage, Victoria Street, 0131 477 7007, 5–28 Aug (not 11, 18, 25), noon, free.
He won the Edinburgh Comedy Award with a show that merged film, poetry and audience touching. Masterslut is the ex-Coward’s first fully-formed stage offering since his 09 victory.
Pleasance Dome, Bristo Square, 0131 556 6550, 6–29 Aug (not 15), 9.45pm, £12–£14 (£11–£13). Previews 3–5 Aug, £6.50.