Part of the Humourology series
Season 1, Episode 19
Comedian Dave Johns – Acting Silly & talking Funny and Films
Award Winning comic, actor and writer Dave Johns joins Paul Boross to discuss a life of making people laugh on stage and on film. How can laughing at yourself bring laughter to others? Find out this week on the Humourology Podcast.
Listen, enjoy and subscribe where you get your podcasts
In this week’s episode of the Humourology Podcast, award-winning stand-up comic, actor, and writer Dave Johns shares his stories from a sparkling career on the stage and screen. Through his roles in I, Daniel Blake, Walk like a Panther, 23 Walks, and Fisherman’s Friends Johns has developed a career that puts comedy on center stage. As a life-long lover of laughter, Johns knows that humour can lift you up when you’re feeling low.
You can find out more about Dave Johns by visiting his Website
Follow Dave on Twitter
He’s also on Facebook
Hosts & Guests
Read the podcast
Sometimes we prefer to read rather than listen, so here is a full transcript of the podcast for you to enjoy.
Click to see the transcript of the podcast
Comedian Dave Johns – Acting Silly, talking Funny and Fame
Dave Johns 00:00
I think if human beings didn’t have humour I don’t think we’d be able to survive. I think humour is part and parcel of survival.
Paul Boross 00:16
Welcome to The Humourology podcast with me Paul Boross and my glittering lineup of guests from the worlds of business, sport and entertainment, who are going to share their wisdom and their use of humour. Humourology is the study of how humour can dramatically improve your business success and your life. Humourology puts the fun into business fundamentals, increases the value of your laughing stock and puts a punchline back into your bottom line. Please remember to like, subscribe, and leave a review wherever you get your podcasts. Our guest on this edition of the human ology podcast is one of the most respected and best loved stand up comics working on the British comedy circuit, a multi award winning film actor, accomplished stage actor and improviser who has appeared on the West End stage and screens around the world. He is perhaps best known for his breakthrough role in Ken Loach’s critically acclaimed film I, Daniel Blake, which won the coveted Palme d’Or award at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival. Since then, he has been a much in demand film actor starring in hits like Walk Like a Panther, 23 Walks with a great Alison Steadman and Fishermen’s Friends. However, there’s a fair chance that he’d probably give up, as he might call it, the highfalutin fancy filmstar stuff, just to play for his beloved Newcastle United. Dave John’s Welcome to The Humourology podcast.
Dave Johns 01:54
Pleasure. How are you? Are you good? Nice, Yeah. Nice to see you. Nice to be here.
Paul Boross 01:59
Oh, it’s fantastic to have you here, mate. Well, I wanted to start right at the start and find out was the young Dave John’s funny?
Dave Johns 02:10
Was the young Dave John’s funny? I think the young Dave Johns thought he was funny. Yeah, I suppose you know, it’s the old sort of cliche of you know, making kids laugh in class to hide my total lack of… my total lack of interest in school, you know, so and, you know, trying to sort of ‘erm. I think that’s what it was, was humour I used to get out of sticky situations and diffuse things. And I think that’s where it that that’s where I came from, anyway, was just, I always… my head was wired up to see the funny side of things rather than the serious side of things.
Paul Boross 02:47
So describe your circumstances growing up, what was it like?
Dave Johns 02:52
Well, funnily enough, I was born in Byker, where, where we shot some of I, Daniel Blake, which was quite weird. Shooting scenes on Shields Road where I was pushed, as a kid in a pushchair and, and sort of brought, you know, when I was a toddler brought shopping with me, Mum, so that was quite a strange experience. But I was born Byker, it’s a working class area of Newcastle, you know, sort of back-to-back houses with back lanes and, you know, big steep back lanes where we.. you know, where in the winter, you know, go down on sledges. And in this summer, we went down on bogies, which are like what Geordies called carts and it was a big main street at the bottom of my street – Shipley Street – there was a big Rabey Street. I don’t know how I’m still alive the way we used to just go shooting across the road with the traffic and buses would pull up and all that. So, yeah, it was just a working class area, you know, and I found at an that early age that humour, like I say, can get you out of a lot of sticky situations. But my mum had a good sense of humour as well and I didn’t realise that till later on in life. As I grew up, I thought, Oh, my mum had a really good sense of humour. I think maybe that’s where I picked it up from you know.
Paul Boross 04:08
Was humour important to the whole community at that time?
Dave Johns 04:12
It’s, it’s a way of diffusing tension… I mean, you know, having humour is a way of getting through bad times, if you can laugh at stuff, if you can laugh at yourself and you don’t take yourself too seriously. I think that’s a great tonic for your mental health.
Paul Boross 04:27
You know, you’ve travelled around everywhere, doing stand up gigs, do you think some places are funnier than others? I mean, because obviously, Newcastle is a funny town where my mother’s from in Glasgow, it’s a funny town, Liverpool, it’s a funny city. What do you think builds that humour?
Dave Johns 04:49
I think… like you know, the one thing I’ve realised in all the time I’ve been doing stand-up basically, you know, which has been very lucky that I come from an English speaking country because that means I can play anywhere in the world, because, you know, not like the British, most people speak English, you know, it’s an international language. So, I’ve played in Beijing, I’ve played in Shanghai, I’ve played in Cambodia, you know, and India. So, some really amazing places and some areas have a specific types of humour. So, if you’re playing internationally, you don’t be too specific, you try and keep it… broaden it out. Because we’re all human beings, we all have the same inconsistencies, we all have the same insecurities. And so as long as you keep it, pretty general, humour is universal I think; From all the times I’ve been playing around the world… you know, if you get it, you get it.
Paul Boross 05:44
it. So why do you Why do you think that there are more comedians come out of sort of what I would call tough working class cities if you like?
Dave Johns 05:56
Well, I think it’s because of, you know, if you’re working in the factory, and you’ve got a job, that’s pretty tough for you in a shipyard, or you’re working in a building site. humour is a currency, you know, people use it as a currency, you know, it’s, it’s, you come to a place that you don’t know, when you’re going to build the site and you meet guys for the first time, it’s a very good icebreaker to be able to use it as a currency to be able to, to to make people laugh, people want to hear straight away, you know, now, you know, there’s different types of humour, there’s weird silly humour, there’s sarcastic, you know, and, and, and people have different types of humour they like but I think it’s a it’s a universal thing. And I think, guys, for instance, use jokes as a currency. You know, if you get a group of guys that haven’t met, say they’re at the golf club or somewhere else, someone will tell a joke to try and break the ice, you know, where you find that the, you know, that’s the sort of, you know, most most blokes are fine to operate on that shallow sort of level. You know what I mean?
Dave Johns 07:04
I was in up Edinburgh one time with Bob Fraser Steele. I don’t, you know, Bob… He’s a comedy writer, he’s written for… he’s one of the best in the business. He’s a comedy writer, he writes lots of great stuff. And, me and him met up. We hadn’t seen each other for about two years. And we were having… So, we spent a couple of hours before we met his wife and when we got to the pub to meet Ali, his wife, who worked for Baby Cow at the time, the production company, she said, She said to Bob, ‘how’s Dave’s family?’And Bob goes, I don’t know! And she goes, “You spent two hours with him. How do you not know how his family is? He goes, “Well, it never came up. She said, “Well, what what did you talk about? And he said, we just were pissing ourselves laughing all the time, just saying silly things, you know what I mean? So, it’s that sort of, it’s a bonding thing humour – you know, what I mean? It’s a bonding/coping thing, you know,
Paul Boross 08:03
That is brilliant, because I recognise it so much. We used to have a thing where we used to have a Monday night club where a bunch of mates used to get together and I introduced something in there, which was… because we had the same problem – and before we left, we had to give each other three things about our families to take home.
Dave Johns 08:26
Yeah, because nobody is interested. It’s just taking the piss and shit. What have you been talking to for two hour?! I don’t know. We were just taking the piss out of each other.
Paul Boross 08:36
Well, now you are on international film sets all over the world. Do you think that ability to break the ice through humour has helped you?
Dave Johns 08:45
Very much so I mean, I mean, when I auditioned for Ken Loach, I did four castings, and it was improvised, and scenes, you know, and I think because I… People go, “God, you just popped out of nowhere.” And I go, well no because that 30 years of being a stand-up nd that 30 years of doing improvising it was it was like… it was easy for me because I was used to doing it. I thought… and I brought those skills to getting that part. Now, when I go on set, you know, actors are different than comedians, you know? Comedians tend not to take things too seriously. So, you know, there are some great actors who are good fun but then there’s other ones who take it all really seriously. You know, you’ve got to sometimes bite… but yeah, it does. I mean, going on set, after Daniel Blake, I went on a big shoot with people like Stevie Graham, Stephen Graham, you know, a brilliant actor, you know, and lots of people who have done a lot of filming and I’d just come after Daniel Blake, which was my first film and most people, when you go onto film sets, take it for granted that you just know everything and you don’t so it’s quite intimidating. So, I’ve often found when I go for castings or anything now when I go onto a film set first time, if I can make everybody laugh, it breaks the ice for me, you know, I can tell you a total story about that. I was on… I did a film with Isla Fisher, who is Sacha Baron Cohen’s wife, and on the first day of filming, I only had two days on it, and it was the first day of filming. So, all the crew had just got there as well. And this was going to go on for like, I think about eight weeks of filming. And this was the first day of filming. I had the first scene with her and all the crew were new and all that. And I had gone to costume and when I… and I found it. I was looking for boot and I said, “Oh, can have these boots?” And they had Tom Hardy written inside. So, Tom Hardy’s boots. So I said, “hey you lot, I’ve got Tom Hardy’s boots on.” So, when I got on set, obviously the director had heard, so he was like, “I hear you’ve got Tom Hardy’s boots on” and I went, yeah, and I can’t be responsible for any acting choices I make, Tom Hardy’s will be making all the choices. So, we set up… we set the first, it was the first shot, the whole film crew, first time and everybody’s nervous the first time on a shoot, you know, and I just met Isla and she goes, “Oh, hi”, and all this. And so we did a run through for the camera and we just rehearsed the lines. And then he says, “Okay, well let’s go for a take.” He went, “Okay, action.” and I went, “Oh! Oh! Oh!” and just ran off. I went, “it’s not me, it’s Tom Hardy’s boots!
Dave Johns 11:39
And that made people laugh, you know. And that’s, the thing is it’s about breaking the ice, you know, it’s about when you’re in… when I get in a situation that I find intimidating – because, you know, everybody deals with it, you know, Stevie Graham does when he walks on set for the first time and he’s a brilliant actor. But you know, you’re just sort of… so my coping is that I use humour and I think if I can make everybody laugh on my first day and they laugh, I go, okay, these are my people. I can relax now. Whenever, you know, I don’t do it all the time, I take it seriously but that first day on set, I try to get a laugh, you know?
Paul Boross 12:20
Well, I think that’s really important for anybody who’s listening to take away because I think humour is the ultimate bonding tool.
Dave Johns 12:29
It is without a doubt, without a doubt.
Paul Boross 12:30
And and when people are laughing together, actually, as a psychologist, I would say that they’re also breathing in unison. And it’s, you know, you and I grew up playing the Comedy Store, when that room goes and everybody goes at the same time.
Dave Johns 12:47
There’s nowt like it, there’s nothing like it.
Paul Boross 12:49
And everybody is bonded because of that.
Dave Johns 12:52
That’s why comedy works better in a small, tightly packed audience. Where everybody’s packed in together because it’s a sharing experience, you know, and that’s why live comedy when a clubs full and it’s got a low ceiling, it’s all packed in and it’s dark and it’s just a light on the comic on the stage. And he’s really going for it and really motoring and on that wave and the audience come with you, there’s, there’s nothing like it. It’s a great experience. That’s why people love live stand up, you know and somebody sees you at the Comedy Store, on a sort of Saturday night when you’ve rocked it, then they come up to you and they go well, I’d like to book you for a corporate. And then you go alright. And then they book you for a corporate and it’s on a Saturday afternoon in a Chinese restaurant. And the waiters are serving people and you’re standing in the corner on the carpet with a little tiny mic. And they go, “Oh, it’s not the same, the atmosphere is not the same. You know, it’s not gonna be the same. It’s like an orchid, you know, you see a beautiful orchid in the jungle. And you go, “I’m gonna have that.” and you take it out and then you bring it back home. You go to Wolverhampton and you stick it on your mantlepiece. And you go, oh, it doesn’t look the same, doesn’t look the same as it did in the in the Amazon rainforest. And you go, no, because that’s where it was meant to be, you know?
Paul Boross 14:14
It’s so true that because I’ve had that, in fact, with your mate Bill Bailey, I remember some corporates asking me to put something together and I put some great acts together back in the day and I said, “whatever you do, you have to set it up like this. You’ve got to have the seats here. You’ve got to…”, you know, this is just basic stuff that we all do. And we turned up and there was no stage and there were no seats and they went it didn’t go that well did it?
Dave Johns 14:49
Well, I had one once where turned in, it was in a function room and when we went in, there was a bar and there was no seats and I went, What’s this? he goes Well, we just thought we’d all stand around having a beer just listening. And you quickly become a bloke just talking. Do you know what I mean? ! I mean I’ve done a gig on a nuclear submarine. In the wardroom of a nuclear submarine where all the audience were all the officers and they were all dressed… and they all had dresses on.
Paul Boross 15:22
What what actual female women’s dresses?
Paul Boross 15:25
Women dresses they had because they thought oh well we’ll just dress up. So, I walked in and there’s all these blokes with beards with dresses on. All know each other sit in… on a nuclear submarine there was about like 20 of them crammed on this oval sofa in the boardroom where they have their thing right and I had to do stand up in the corner and I died on me… and I died on my arse and I was going… and they were going and one of them said… and they’d flown me from England to Guam in the Pacific. Guam right so I had to fly from here to Tokyo; stay in Tokyo overnight, then fly from Tokyo to Guam in the middle of the bloody ocean. On this nuclear thing I went on, died on my arse in his bloke goes to us, he goes, “is this a holiday for you?” and I went yeah, I phoned up a travel agent in Newcastle and said, “can have three days dying on my arse in Guam please?!” (laughter) But you know… I got away with it… because they all knew each other; they were all taking the piss out of us. So I just started… so I ditched the material and I just started taking the piss out of them, you know? And that’s how it worked. You know, it was like suddenly it was like a test my mettle in like, you know, I mean what… one of them held a newspaper in front of his face and I went, “Yeah, as if you can read!” I said, “It’s upside down, man!” and stuff like that. You know what I mean? But it was one of the most strangest gigs ever done. Yeah.
Paul Boross 16:52
It’s a brilliant story that you did go go all that way and then yeah, well, mind you… they’re on a submarine for a long time so, wearing dresses is probably not that strange for them. What makes you laugh Dave?
Dave Johns 17:05
What makes me laugh? God, that’s a question it. I like silly humour. I’ve got a mixture really because I like I like clever and sort of like, like, what one of my favourite comics was Jeremy Hardy. Now, Jeremy can be very clever, but he can also be very silly. And my favourite comic in the world is Sean Lock because I love Sean’s sort of, surreal crazy ways. So yeah, that tickles us you know, but the thing about comedy is it’s a very personal thing, you know, and I’ve often… and it’s, and it’s personal to every person. I remember working with Harry Hill in Jongleurs. And, you know, you’d be sort of like standing there beside the stage after you’ve done your bit and you’re watching Harry, and there’d be a table of punters on one table, crying with laughter – like bent double – then on the next table people just staring and just not getting him you know? And then they’d get really angry and thet’d go, “you’re shit” Then you’d go or Harry would go. Like I’ve had people come to me and go, “well, and you’re not very funny, mate.” So I just go, Yeah, I know”. And they go, “No, no no, no, you’re crap and I go, “Yeah, yeah, I know.” And what is it, they get really angry because they want to say, You’re not funny I don’t think you’re funny. And if you just go Yeah, yeah I know mate, you’re right. I’m not funny, it gets them angry. You know, it’s very… I never take any notice if people go, ‘Oh, you’re not funny’, because I’ve been a comic for 30 years. And now I’ve got enough people laughing at me to know that I am funny. Maybe you don’t think I’m funny at that moment in time. That’s why it’s a very personal thing. You know, that’s why comedy can go wrong as well, very, very easily. You know, it’s on a knife edge. Good comedy should always be on a knife edge, where, where it’s because your best comedy comes when you’re sailing, sailing on the wind, and you’re on the top of the wave, you know, and you’re just riffing, you know, and that’s the best but you know, you can misjudge stuff. That’s the exciting thing about live comedy, you know, and that’s why, I think anything is up for grabs in comedy, but you can say anything you want but if you say something that is offensive, and it upsets, you have to be able to take the flack from it, and you have to be able to back it up, you know, I mean, that’s why dark humour and black humour works with, you know, people in the fire service and people who are police officers and people who are on the front line. Like, I mean, even in hospitals, you know, I mean, I know when we used to go sometimes at the Comedy Store in the dressing room, and we’d be a few comics and we’d be saying really, really bad stuff that you would never say on stage. But you say it just because it’s so bad just to make each other laugh and if it was, you go, that’s really funny, but you could never say that on stage you know, because it’s uh, you know, it’s… it’s a, it’s a, it’s very personal comedy, you know. If you’re going to say something that people might find offensive, first of all, it has to be a pretty bulletproof joke that you laugh. without even thinking about it, you know, ’cause you know, I mean Jerry Sadowitz makes me laugh. And it makes me cry with laughter. But some of the stuff he says is so offensive, but because it’s so good, you can’t stop yourself from laughing. You go… that is so bad, but it just automatically makes you laugh, you know. And that’s what it is. It’s that sort of like, it’s that sometimes it’s that gut reaction.
Paul Boross 20:48
You talk about sailing on the wind, How close do you have to sail to the wind, in order to find those limits,
Dave Johns 20:56
I think that’s when a comic enjoys it the most is if you’re up there, and you’re riffing, and you’re not thinking about it, and you’re just on that thing in the room. And what it is, is the other… the energy from the audience is giving you the permission to go further and go further. And their laughter and their whole sort of like permission is because they, they are with you, and they’re laughing, and they’re locked in. So, you know, after 30 years, you know, one of the skills that you should have learned is how to read a room, you know,
Paul Boross 21:32
You talk about reading a room, because for our audience, not everybody’s a comic, so that but they want things to take away. So what’s the best way to get an audience on your side?
Dave Johns 21:44
Well, you know, you walk on, and basically, if you can, if you can say, A good example of this is getting it wrong is when you go to a wedding. And the best man gets up or the dad gets up and he thinks I’ll say a joke to break the ice, right. And they either pick a really inappropriate joke, which in such a mixed audience, where were people are laughing because they go, oh my god, then other people are going… and the grandmas or they pick of a joke that just isn’t funny and it falls flat. And so to me reading a room is you go in and if it’s a cold room and I haven’t seen the audience, I’ll throw a few little testers out just to test what that humour is, you know, but what you don’t want to do is if you’re a comic, and you going and doing like a meeting and you go and you think right I’ll do an icebreaker is, going into a totally inappropriate joke. And that’s the thing about reading the room. And people have said to me, like friends have seen me doing a gig and go, how did you get away with saying that? And I goes, because they gave me permission, because the stuff I’d done before, I thought, all right, they’re gonna go with this. And then and then you go, you know and if you go, then you can go, oh, my God is that so wrong? Oh, my God did I say that? You know what I mean? You know? And it’s that sort of thing. So if you were… I think you’ve gotta be very, very… See, there are some people who aren’t funny.
Paul Boross 23:17
Oh, well I was gonna come on to that. Do you think everybody can be funny? Can learn to be funny? Or do you think that there is funny in your DNA?
Dave Johns 23:28
I think with comics, there’s… you can learn to tell a joke. And you can learn to write a joke. But the best comics have got that ‘thing’, they can just read the room. There are some people who are great at maths, there are some people who can play or chat, there are some people who couldn’t tell a joke to save the life. You can get a couple of nice little jokes that you can use in a meeting, or you can use in a presentation that you go, alright, well, this works. But I always say to anybody who says to me, oh, I’m doing my best man speech or something like that; and I go, Well, you know… if you feel uncomfortable, and you don’t want to… because everyone wants to be like… I think we have best man speeches were the best man’s hilarious, you know, I say just talk from the heart really, and maybe have a couple of nice little gags but you know, you have to if you’re going out on a big conference in your ability to a risky joke… that could be disaster or you could just hit it right and it could bring the bloody house down, you know, but it usually does that when the person is known for having a good sense of humour, you know, and reading a room is a very difficult thing to explain. It’s a gut reaction. You know, it’s a gut reaction when you walk into a room. I did a corporate once it was for insurance brokers and they all had ties. It was such a tough gig and I went on I was on for the first five minutes and I tried a couple of gags and was getting nowt. They’re all sitting and this guy was sitting in front – and I tell how long ago it was, you could smoke – and he had a cigar and he’s got his drink. And he’s a big bloke and he goes, he’s in insurance, and he goes, “who told you you’re funny? I said, “here mate you’re all insurance brokers aren’t you?”. The guy went, “yeah”. So, there were some some steps and I came down on the floor and I hit him on the head with the mic. And it went BOOM! like that. And I went, now you see, you should have took out comic random attack insurance. But you didn’t, because you didn’t think you’d need it. And I think that’s what it’s like for all insurance. People never think they’re gonna need it do they? And they all went yeah. So, you just thought I’m coming out for a night, I’m not going to get hit in the head but you could have taken out insurance for that but you didn’t, because you’re stupid. Bang! and I hit him again. You could have took out double insurance on it right? And I just kept hitting him on the head. So they started pissing themselves laughing at him, you see, so he was all like this, you know, and that was me reading the room, me thinking I’ve got to talk on their level. I’ve got to shut him up and I’ve also got to go down there. So that was me thinking – by loads of years being a stand up – this is how I can win the room round, you know, so it’s about you know, I don’t know how you pass that on. Really? I think it’s just a gut feeling and experience.
Paul Boross 26:34
Well, I think you can pass it on in the sense of it’s observation, it’s listening, isn’t it?
Dave Johns 26:42
That’s the main thing about being a comic is listening. And a lot of comics don’t understand that they don’t understand about listening. And you go? No, it’s about listening to the room. You know, I’ve seen comics when somebody said something, and they’ve gone into this guy, and destroyed him and it’s all… and he goes, why is the audience turned against me? And you go, because you didn’t listen to what the guy said. You know, you just heard him say something and you read bam, bam, a couple of pre prepared, heckled put downs. And it turned the audience off yet but if you listen to the room and feel the room, then you know, then that’s what you… then that’s the way to do it really.
Paul Boross 27:17
Yeah, I think that and that’s something that our audience can take away is that actually great comics – like yourself – are always listening more my grandmother used to say God gave you two ears and one mouth for a reason. And even though we talk a lot, there is the listening where you’re looking at people, you’re reading their faces, you’re thinking, because people will give you… as a psychologist, people will give you signals. And you’re good at reading those signals.
Dave Johns 27:48
Well, that’s what you do in a club. And when you go down and start talking to somebody and people go, how did you get away with that? And you go, because the person I was talking to was smiling, their eyes were open, you know, when somebody’s feeling uncomfortable. That’s what I mean about if you’ve got a joke, if you’ve got a big room, and you can do you know, a little one off mild joke, which gets them laughing, you go, Okay, I’ve got them, rather than just go in with a really, really sort of inappropriate joke. In bad taste. (Laughter) I’d laugh when I was at the back of the room and somebody said something totally inappropriate and they’d died on their arse. Comics would laugh at that, you know, because that would be funny, you know?
Paul Boross 28:28
Yeah, Well comics are a strange breed, aren’t we? What would the world be like without humour?
Dave Johns 28:35
I think it would be an absolutely diabolical, horrible, miserable place. I think if human beings didn’t have humour, I don’t think we’d be able to survive. I think humour is part and parcel of survival. And I think like you know, you always hear, oh, that person doesn’t have a sense of humour, you know, to not have humour, it’s a really bad affliction; to not see the funny side of life, to not see that’s, that’s how my brain is wired up. I see… I see it all the time you know, it’s like when I was over in, when Daniel Blake won the BAFTA, we went to the party afterwards. And we were at a party and I was just getting a drink at the door, at the bar. And I saw Meryl Streep coming towards the bar. And I thought, that’s Meryl Streep. So I just went, “Meryl, it’s all free!” (Laughter)
Dave Johns 29:42
And she pissed herself laughing. She went, “Is it?. I went, “Yeah.” You know, and that was just somehting off the top my head but I was thinking, shit, that’s Meryl Streep. You know what I mean? But but that’s because I’m always looking for that sort of… and sometimes I have been accused of not taking things seriously enough as well. I mean, there is there is a point where you’ve got to go, Okay, you’ve got to stand back now when sort of… but that’s how my head works. Always looking for a laugh, always looking for a point of view that’s funny, you know, always looking for that sort of gag, you know, I’m standing on the stage at the BAFTAS, we’ve all got the BAFTAS and and they’re setting up and then they did the photograph, but then everybody was just milling about. And I saw Mel Brooks, I thought he’s a hero of mine. I’ve got to go over and see him. So I went over to him and I say, Mr Brooks I just want to say I’m a huge fan, love everything you do. And he goes and beckons me over to him. So, I think oh,this is pretty good. So he walks us away from all the people. So, I think oh bloody hell this is alright. He goes… and he’s looking around to make sure no one is listening. Then he lent in and he goes, “Do you know you’re completely bald?” Then he walked away. (Laughter)
Dave Johns 31:08
You know what I mean?
Dave Johns 31:10
I mean, that’s that. That’s just you know, that’s it. That was that was the best thing rather than him going? Oh, yeah. Yeah. Because you could… because people say that to him all the time. You know?
Paul Boross 31:21
It’s brilliant and what… And what a gift to give you really
Dave Johns 31:26
And so , and that comes from, from the way his humour is and the way his mind is, I would imagine… I don’t know him personally, but I’d imagine it’s very difficult to get a serious conversation out of him. you know what I mean? You know,
Dave Johns 31:39
I find it, like, you know, in meetings I find it… I can’t help but every now and then pop a gag in. You know what I mean?
Paul Boross 31:47
I think that that is actually something that everyone can take away. My theory is that you can be the greatest actor in the world. But if you’re a pain in the ass, and you’re not funny, and people don’t like having you around, I’ve worked on a lot of film sets, lots of TV stuff. I know what the world’s like. But this is true of every office in the world as well in every building site and everything the last person to go will be the one you like having around
Dave Johns 32:18
If I hadn’t have been funny, I would never got laid. (laughter) Women love you to make them laugh. And most of the… most of my… you know women that I’ve met, my partners and all that, it’s because I’ve made them laugh, you know? And, and I like you say, spending time with somebody who makes you laugh. It’s a really nice thing and I suppose what it is, is you need you need that sort of like humour. humour is a great, and if you can master it, it’s a great tool.
Paul Boross 32:53
Yeah, well, you should try being more attractive like me.
Dave Johns 32:57
I know. I know. Well, we all can’t be Paul Boross, can we?! (laughter)
Paul Boross 33:04
Do you find yourself funny? I mean, as in, you know, because it’s a serious business doing it. But you know, there’s two sides.
Dave Johns 33:15
There are a lot of comics who I’ve met, who are very famous comics who aren’t that funny in real life They take themselves quite seriously and you wonder, where does that come from? You know, but no, I wouldn’t wish it on anybody being in my head. My head is like, I feel it’s like… you know the old steam trains that used to be… and the steam train would go along… all the smoke up. Then it would pull into the station, and they’d be standing the station every now and then steam would come out the wheels? or they’d be like, they would have to let the steam go. That’s what I’m like, on my own. I mean if I mean, how I write my material is I just rant in the house. I just think of a subject I just, I don’t write anything down. Like I haven’t done a gig for like, nearly a year now so I’ve never written any of my jokes down so I’ll have to look what’s been recorded because I’ve never written anything down. So I won’t remember. So I just remember it by doing it. So I’ll be thinking of things. So, I go around the house, talking to myself and saying stupid things. And I mean, my partner, which she goes usually, you’re insane I’ve just been listening to you in the bathroom. And I used to go, “Yeah, but that’s that’s how that’s how… I’ve got to get rid of all this shit in my head. And sometimes it comes out as gold. You know, sometimes you go, “oh my god, that’s a great line that. You know, it’s just through me just thinking of something then I try things out. I just go along and all of a sudden I’ll go Oh my God, that’s funny. And I’ll write that down. And I’ll go, alright, well, that’s the… that’s the way I’ll go now, you know, it’s like,
Paul Boross 35:03
Don’t you think that that’s the whole creative process. I mean, a lot of people listening will do. I mean, I get called in to sort of help people become more creative. And I go, you have to set an environment that is creative, you have to build that. And you’re building that own environment in your head where you can play. And and children play and naturally do it. And what you’ve just described is playing.
Dave Johns 35:26
Of course it is. It’s playing. Imean, I’m very lucky that I’ve done a job now for 30 years, and it’s just been playing. I mean, it hasn’t been a proper job for me, it’s been a delight that I would have been doing anyway, you know. I used to be a bricklayer when I left school, and I used to work on building sites and all I ever did…and any blokes who ever see me now and come to gigs they say, I used to work with you. They only say, you were really funny and you were.. and they go, you were a shit bricklayer but you were really funny! And I go and it’s because it’s just something it’s ingrained in me now, you know, it’s ingrained in me it’s, it’s even when I’ve done sort of like, from Daniel Blake I’ve been asked to go and talk at places like food banks and stuff like that, you know, and in charities and food banks are always even though you’re talking about a very serious subject and all that I’ll always they say to me, well you make them laugh, you know? And he goes, you make them laugh? I don’t know, it comes naturally to me. You know, I don’t know. And that’s what I mean, I don’t know what it would be like living without a sense of humour.
Paul Boross 36:35
I think you’re right, it would be a complete nightmare. Is it important to laugh at yourself as well?
Dave Johns 36:43
That is the most important thing in the world. People don’t… there’s some pompous twats about and you just go if you just didn’t take yourself as seriously. And I’ve done corporates where the guy comes on – the managing director – I’m going to go on just before you and I’m going to talk to the guys and he goes on and you can see the guys going, Oh not this wanker! And he’ll do a couple of jokes that fall flat, you know,he’ll be really pompous. And, it’s because he would take himself so serious, you know, it’s about opening yourself up and you don’t have to be like, you know, if you if you were doing sort of a presentation in corporate or something, I think I think you know, you don’t have to be Micky Flanagan, you don’t have to be like, you know, the greatest one liner. All you got to be is humourous. The best humour comes from self deprecation, you know, not taking yourself seriously.
Paul Boross 37:44
Yeah. And I think that’s so important for anybody to not tke themselves too…
Dave Johns 37:49
Sometimes people think that if you are too humorous people won’t take you seriously. And it will undermine your authority. And I think that’s where it is.
Paul Boross 38:01
Do you think that in general workplaces, you said you used to work on building sites as a bricklayer and everything, generally where you’ve been do people laugh enough in the workplace?
Dave Johns 38:14
Well, I think that what happens is it’s that going back again, to taking yourself serious, most workmates, who are good workmates, are going to take the piss out of each other. I mean, that’s what you find. If you go into a factory and you go into it, and you go into the canteen, and you go into the… you know, your in a… you know, any workplace, if you’re good mates and you work togethert with your team you take… that’s one of the bonding things is that you take the Mick out of each other, you know, and I think that’s what keeps you going through the day. Now, imagine if you’re on a conveyor belt, they’re, you know, just doing some… and no offence to anybody who packs chickens, but just packing chickens every day, Jesus, if you didn’t have a sense of humour, you’d go home and bloody chuck yourself out the window wouldn’t you? I mean, I think why people shy away from humour in the workplace is because they’re scared that it the work won’t get done, you know what I mean? If people are joking on and being, like, you know, it has to be timed, right, you know, I’m sure when surgeons are doing a brain operation, you can’t have somebody, you know, larking about doing that. But, I’m sure in a big, tough brain operation, somebody has said something funny to the team, you know and they’ve all laughed, and that’s gotten through it has to be because it’s the way it’s the way for me, it would drive you insane. It’s a release humour, you know, I think it’s important in a way that if you’ve got humour in the workplace, you have to also know when you have to be serious and when you can be funny, you know, that’s the whole thing about reading the room again. It’s knowing when serious needs to be serious, but you can lighten it with a bit of humour. And that’s it. And if you get that balance right, well you’re on a winning ticket really aren’t you?
Paul Boross 40:01
Yeah, well, it’s timing, the ultimate timing, when to do it when not to do it. Yeah, read the room, listen to the room. And it’s actually a much more outward process of looking. I mean, the humour with one person, look at the person don’t deliver the gag looking away, because their reaction is crucial to that whole symbiotic process.
Dave Johns 40:26
Yeah, yeah, without a doubt yeah,
Paul Boross 40:28
I’ve got to ask you a business question because this is a bit of a business podcast as well. If you had to make a business case for humour, what would you include in it? And what I mean is, like, why should… because a lot of businesses are run by accountants now. And they they’re saying, you know, bottom line is, we need everybody heads down concentrating on this, why would you introduce more humour?
Dave Johns 40:57
It’s like, why would you introduce compassion for fellow work, mate? Why would you… Why would you introduce empathy? Why would you introduce, being able to have the… when somebody’s struggling and have the idea that, oh, this person might need a little bit of a pointer, or a little bit of help? It’s a human thing. And it you know, it’s, it’s all a mixture, you know, I mean you can’t go in like, like I say to a brain surgery with a red nose on and big clowns feet the person an he goes, “right, we’re just going to do a brain operation on you. So I just put you on that…whey-hey hey! I mean, you’d go, I don’t know if this blokes taking this serious or not, you know, so it’s about… it’s about, the appropriate and, you know, the appropriate, you know, but, you know, people have, like, I’ve had people say things to me that that out of context would be really, really inappropriate. But they’ve said it to me, because I thought I can get away with this. And that’s really helped me you know, sort of like, you know, like lately I’ve just had an anaesthetic guy sticking the mask on me. And the he goes, breath in. Just breathe in, then you wish he just go, “I’ve shagged your wife!” I mean, that would make me laugh, you know? (whispers) I’ve got your credit card! You know what I mean? Now, I’m sure you just go out, you know, I mean, that, that would make me laugh, you know, even though I couldn’t really go nowhere. But but that would make me go he’s larking about you know, they get it. Yeah. And it’s, it’s also sometimes people don’t get jokes they can get when it’s… when it’s funny, you know. Like me and Ross Noble did a radio show once and the guy goes, “Okay, cracking on” He goes, “Okay, well, tell a of joke, be funny. And me and Ross went, “We’ve just been funny for the last few minutes but you missed it.
Paul Boross 43:09
Dave Johns 43:11
Me and Owen O’Neil wrote the stage adaptation of The Shawshank Redemption, right? Yeah. Got the rights off Stephen King, we wrote it tours now, and it tours all over the world. And we were up in Edinburgh and we got interviewed by this guy in Edinburgh. And he goes, he goes, he was talking to us, To me… he goes, “so how did you write the script?” The Shawshank Redemption for the stage then? I said, “what I did was I went around Owen’s one night, and I had the DVD of the film and we just put the DVD in, and then we got a piece of paper and a pen. Then we just they wrote the stuff down.” And he went, “Really?” And I went, “Yeah.” I goes, “we’re gonna do a couple more films as well because all the words are just there to just copy. And he went, “Really?” And I went, “Of course not!” So, you’ve also got to be aware that even you can say something really, really funny and people just don’t get it. You know, like the other story I just said where some people just go, I just don’t get him. I just don’t get him. If I was like a corporate speak and, I was doing a business presentationand I wanted to do some jokes, I would take like a sort of like one of those car horns on. Every time I say something funny, for those of you who don’t get it, I’ll go (car horn noise). So you know that I’m telling a joke. I’m being funny. And even if you never said anything, and you did a joke, and it fell flat, and you went (car horn noise), everybody in the audience would laugh. Now. It’s those little bits of stuff…. you just go I’m going to tell a few jokes. And I’m doing this year’s presentation. And so for some of you who haven’t got any sense of humour, to help you, what I’ll do is every time I’ve told a joke, and if you don’t get it, I’ll just go (car horn noise) to let you know and that’ll get a laugh from everybody.
Paul Boross 45:01
Well, in psychological terms, that’s called anchoring. When you anchor somebody into a noise, you know, it’s like Pavlov’s dog, you know? And, you know, here’s the funny thing. And actually, that’s one of the things that great comics have is that ability to anchor where the joke is, you know, so they can just just look at his spot, if they’ve anchored the gag, and it will get a laugh.
Dave Johns 45:23
Yeah, yeah I’m very lucky to have been able to do stand-up. You know, it’s,even though I’m doing all these films now, you know, which I love, you know, stand-up was always my first love, you know, it’s just, it’s, I can walk into a room full of strangers and just make them laugh is the biggest thrill you could ever get, you knowBut isn’t it… it’s kind of weird as well, isn’t it? That the that you actually have to go into a darkened room and make people do an involuntary act? It’s like, because people either laugh or they don’t.
Dave Johns 46:02
It’s amazing how people will pay you money.
Paul Boross 46:04
Yeah it’s great, isn’t it?
Dave Johns 46:07
I mean the Comedy Store is not cheap, you know? 30 odd quid for two, you know, that’s 60 odd quid. come on let’s go and have a beer and these people are gonna make us laugh? I mean, it’s a weird, it’s a weird thing to do. But that’s because people love to laugh. Everybody loves to laugh.
Paul Boross 46:23
Have you ever really crossed the line? For you… taken things too far? I mean, when you’ve even gotten, that’s too far.
Dave Johns 46:34
In my early days. Yeah, I have once or twice, I remember once saying something to a girl in the front row, and she burst into tears. And that was pretty…. It was just… I can’t even remember what it was I said, but it was… it was inappropriate. And, and I remember thinking, Oh, God. but well, you know, I learned from that, you know what I mean?
Paul Boross 47:02
Well, yeah, but you have to walk the tightrope, don’t you? Because comedy is all about pushing some boundaries at some level. Have you ever gotten yourself out of trouble by using humour?
Dave Johns 47:12
Yeah, I mean, you know, you know, you can always sort of, like, you know, like, use humour, like, you know, when you get those cold calls, sales calls, who come up, and they call you up, you know, and you go in, and you know, where they’re marketing stuff and I remember somebody phoned me once. And I said, I said, Hello, is that…? and I said, “Who is this?” He went, “I’m from so and so and so and so”. I said, “Well, I’m a Chief Inspector Norris and I’m here at a murder scene at the moment. And so who are you? They went, “I’m phoning up from so and so centre”, and I goes, “Yeah, but can I have your name? Why are you phoning up here now? Did you know the deceased?” And they go, “No, no, no, no! And you go, you know, because we are going to record you now. because we think that maybe you know something about this. “No, no I’m just from a call centre, mate!!. Yeah, you can use your humour to you sort of get out of like tight spots. You know what I mean? You know,
Paul Boross 48:19
We’re now coming to the part of the show, which we call – the end part of the show – which we call quickfire questions. And the reason we call it that is because it’s quickfire questions. Who’s the funniest person you’ve met in film?
Dave Johns 48:33
Oh, yeah. I mean Stevie Graham’s quite funny. The first day I got on, set… the first day I arrived, you know, in a hotel, and we had lunch together. And then and then later on that night, and a couple of days later, we did some night shooting. Then I was in the hotel in late, late, like in themorning, I came in about like four o’clock in the morning. And then the phone went about six in the morning and picked up before – and I’ve only known him two days. I had this phone call, “Hello, this is a reception and we’ve had complaints about a woman screaming in your room. And I went, What?! He goes, are you room 372? and I went, yeah, he goes well, we’ve had complaints about the woman’s screaming in your room and I goes, “there’s no women in my room.” as I’ve just got, I’ve just got in to bed. He goes well as we’ve had a couple of complaints so we’re sending… we’re sending security up to check because we think a woman’s in the room. I went honestly mate there’s nobody here yeah you come up… and then he started laughing. He said, “I got you!” I said, “Oh you shit!” And I’m very hard to get as well. You know what I mean?
Paul Boross 49:49
What book makes you laugh, Dave?
Dave Johns 49:52
I like books that have got that the humour comes out of the situation, rather than you know a guide book and a few of them. A few of the… the autobiographies of David Niven’s books are very funny. You know,
Paul Boross 50:12
The Moon’s a Balloon,
Dave Johns 50:14
You know, that’s very funny and all the stories he’s telling.
Paul Boross 50:17
What film makes you laugh?
Dave Johns 50:19
Without a doubt, which has held up still to this day is Life of Brian.
Paul Boross 50:28
I had that so many times on the show. It is the best, isn’t it?
Dave Johns 50:33
Yeah. And Blazing Saddles.
Paul Boross 50:35
Dave Johns 50:38
Yeah, they’re the two they could still watch now And still, even though I know it, still laugh me ass off.
Paul Boross 50:45
What word makes you laugh?
Dave Johns 50:47
Cake is a funny word.
Paul Boross 50:49
Is that because it’s got a K in it?
Dave Johns 50:51
I don’t know just cake. Monkey’s a funny word as well. Monkey in a Geordie accent is the best. You can only actually say monkey in a Geordie accent… monkey. Bonobo monkey. (laughter) You can’t say that in any other language you know, see, see, even you’re laughing when a Geordie goes Bonobo monkey. (laughter)
Paul Boross 51:15
All right, taking a little bit of a shift. Because we’re very near the end, what’s not funny?
Dave Johns 51:23
Anything that’s not funny. (laughter) I think you can tell a joke about anything. I think I mean, you’ve just got to look at places like Family Guy. I mean, some of the stuff they cover. I mean, you know, and you just go, ‘oh my god’. But it’s funny. It’s clever. And it’s funny. And it’s not just crass in there just to shock. You know what I mean? Sometimes people use humour like that and burn sacred cows and, and pull sacred cows down because they just want to shock for the shock value. And that’s that’s nothing that’s that’s anybody can do that. But if you can point out something that is… You’ve just got to watch Family Guy. I think Family Guy is genius. I really do.
Paul Boross 52:19
Would you rather be considered clever or funny?
Dave Johns 52:23
Paul Boross 52:24
There you go. That’s an easy one.
Dave Johns 52:27
I want… I would love it to be, He was funny. That that would be the greatest thing. I remember that I did my first show at the Melbourne Comedy Festival. And the day after my first show, I was walking down the street and these two young girls walked past and one of them went, “Funny as fuck!” And I thought that’s good enough for me. And Dennis Hopper said I was funny.
Paul Boross 52:57
And he’s not an Easy Rider, is he? Finally Dave, Desert Island Gags; you can only take one gag with you to a desert island. What’s that gag?
Dave Johns 53:11
It’s an old pub gag. And I love it. Because got everything. And it’s a Jesus is it a last supper? And they’re all finishing up and he looks at all the apostles and he says, “one of you are going to betray me.” They all look shocked and Peter goes, “Is it me Lord?”, and Jesus goes, “No, it’s not you Peter.” Simon goes, “Is it me Lord?” And he goes, “No, it’s not you Simon.” And Luke goes, “Is it me Lord?” Jesus goes, “no, it’s not you Luke” . He goes right around the table until he gets to Judas. And Judas goes, “Is it me Lord? and Jesus goes, “Is it me Lord?!” (Laughter)
Dave Johns 54:12
I love that joke. Is it me Lord?! It’s just a lovely lovely joke so I’d take that with us.
Paul Boross 54:15
Oh, well, you can have that joke and thank you so much Dave John’s for making me laugh all these years and being the most wonderful guest on The Humourology Podcast.
Dave Johns 54:26
You’re welcome. Bye!
Paul Boross 54:30
The Humourology Podcast was hosted by Paul Boross and produced by Simon Banks. Music by Steve Haworth. creative direction by Les Hughes, and additional research by Helen Sykes. Please remember to subscribe, like and leave a review wherever you get your podcasts.
Paul Boross 54:52
This has been a Big Sky production.