Humourology Podcast

Part of the Humourology series

Season 2, Episode 25

Danny Wallace – Whip-smart Wisecracking

by | Nov 15, 2021

Award-Winning writer, comic, presenter, and overall creative Danny Wallace joins The Humourology Podcast to discuss how the creative process craves comedy. Whether writing best-selling books or crafting comedic film, television and radio, Wallace knows a thing or two about being comically creative. Join us as Wallace weaves together a conversation of creativity, comedy, and collaboration.

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Paul Boross is joined by writer, producer, presenter and creative extraordinaire Danny Wallace. Wallace has built a career on a quality collection of creative endeavours that captivate crowds and inspire comedy. His book, Yes Man inspired the film of the same name starring Jim Carrey. In addition to his writing credits, Wallace has performed in a variety of roles on the stage, screen, and radio airwaves. No matter what his role is in the creative process, Wallace always places funny at the forefront.

“So much of humour is about surprise, and delight, and taking people down one path, and then revealing that it’s another.”

Join us this week as Danny dishes out side-splitting stories and recalls countless adages of advice from his successful creative career. Come say ‘yes!’ to a creative life filled with funny only on The Humourology Podcast.

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Danny Wallace on the Humourology Podcast

Danny Wallace (00:00):

Humour is great for exposing someone else’s rudeness. because it’s not like you’re taking offence, but you are taking a position and they can’t really come back at you because what you’ve said is hopefully funny. So it’s making the world a little better, even in that moment. So humour as well as… you can be very cutting with humour and you can absolutely ruin a room with it, but you can also create a room and a sense of warmth and use it as a shield sometimes as well.

Paul Boross (00:32):

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 with you. 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 up punchline back into your bottom line. Please remember to like subscribe and leave a review wherever you get your podcasts. My guest on this edition of the Humourology podcast is a multi award-winning jack of all jokes producing work as an author, broadcaster, comedian, actor, filmmaker, and radio presenter. He has published many best-selling books, including Join Me, Friends Like These and Yes, Man, which served as inspiration for the movie of the same name, starring Jim Carey.

Paul Boross (01:35):

In addition to his impressive writing repertoire, he has been a producer of the award-winning Dead Ringers, The Mighty Boosh and Ross Noble Goes Global. When his fingers aren’t cranking out high quality, creative and comedic pieces on the keyboard or producing pieces of punchy pop culture, you can hear him on the airways. And even as the voice of Sean Hastings in the wildly popular video game series, Assassin’s Creed. Although it seems like I’ve listed every bit of media imaginable. This is just the beginning of his wildly creative CV with such an impressive collection of creative and comedic credits and a reputation for being cordial, responsible and reasonable. It is no surprise that he has written the riotously ribald book railing against rudeness called Fuck You Very Much. Danny Wallace, welcome to the Humourology podcast.

Danny Wallace (02:44):

Well, thank you. Thank you. People don’t normally say it that way. They say it very politely. They say F You Very Much, which I think is the title as well, but it’s nice to hear it said so rudely and with such with such pleasure as well. You relished saying that

Paul Boross (02:56):

I really did relish saying it actually,

Danny Wallace (02:59):

Because you’re allowed to because it’s literature,.

Paul Boross (03:01):

It’s literature, it’s a podcast and why shouldn’t we use the ribald word?

Danny Wallace (03:09):

Exactly.

Paul Boross (03:10):

Exactly. Well, actually, I loved Fuck You Very Much. Cause it’s an eye-opening exploration of human behaviour and you talk about how this chain of rudeness and how it travels and affects people’s attitudes. Rudeness seems to be more contagious than politeness. Why do you think that is?

Danny Wallace (03:37):

Well, it’s like a virus. It’s like going into an office and just sneezing all over everybody because scientists have found that even witnessing a moment of rudeness is enough to turn you much ruder as well because something has been triggered in your mind. Even now the fact that I am saying, imagine something rude has happened. It’s like I’m grazing the skin because people listening will be thinking about rude events that have happened to them or rude events that they have witnessed and it makes you angry. And it also confuses you because it goes against what we all agree societies should be. So when we see someone being rude, they’re breaking the rules and we are confused. We can’t work out why it’s happened. If it’s happened to us, we’re immediately, I guess riled up, you then take that rudeness home with you. And you’re perhaps a little shorter with your partner. Maybe you don’t sleep as well. Maybe you drink more and the next day you’re much more likely to leap straight to rudeness yourself.

Paul Boross (04:37):

So, it is literally a chain reaction of rudeness and what does that – as a psychologist, I’m thinking is that the state you’re in? We’d say in psychology, that if you want anybody to go into any state, you have to go into that state first. So therefore rudeness would also fit into that category that if you’re going to be rude, people go, well, I think I can be rude as well.

Danny Wallace (05:01):

Yeah, absolutely. As soon as you, as soon as someone has been rude to you, it’s almost like they’re given you permission to… I mean you want to bring them down a peg or two. You want to bring them down to where they have made you feel disrespected, you feel annoyed and you want that for them. Rather than rising above it, which we all would love to say we do all the time. That certainly wasn’t what I did in the sort of the inciting incident in the book, which tells a story about how I tried to buy a hot dog from a lady whose whole job was just to sell hot dogs. So it should have been very easy. I should have said, can I have a hot dog? And she said, yes, that’s great. I make hot dogs.

Danny Wallace (05:42):

And instead, I just seem to have annoyed her the very second I walked into the hotdog place and she did not want to sell me a hot dog really at all. She wondered why I was there in the first place and to cut a long story, very short, I ended up being ejected from the diner in front of my son who couldn’t work out, why two grownups weren’t able to do the world’s simplest transaction. And as I left, I was just thinking what happened there? Did I do something wrong? Did she do something wrong? Did I interrupt her at the wrong time? Did I… Was a sign I missed? And I found that it was on my mind so much that I was doing weird things. I flipped off a building. I used my middle finger in a gesture of anger at an empty building.

Danny Wallace (06:27):

There was no one in it. It was the hot dog place later that night. And yet I was so annoyed that I found myself doing something, which is not a normal thing for a human person to do. And I was angrier on the road cause it felt like every motorist was trying to get in my way. And I found myself every now and again, there’d be a silence in the car and out of nowhere, I’d just go, It’s just unbelievable that woman. So it just constantly on my mind. And that’s after a couple of days of that, I just thought this is interesting, our reaction response to rudeness. And, and what we do with it. And of course, humour is a great way of popping that bubble sometimes as well.

Paul Boross (07:06):

Well, that’s what I was going to come on to. Yeah. I mean, is that the way to appease this is to make people laugh more so that they, they left less affected by the rudeness?

Danny Wallace (07:19):

I think it’s a great way to interrupt any moment. Humour is a wonderful tool for that. It can pop tension. You know, I did jury service not long ago and I remember just sitting with all the tense jurors in a little side room. And I just said what we’re all thinking, but in a sort of a funny way, which, you know – without giving anything away -the prosecutor was going down some very odd paths all to do with household appliances, which had absolutely nothing to do with anything. And so I was able to just sort of use that silence in the room to make a joke about washing machines that then bonded us all in that moment. So the tension went away and we became a team and humour is great for that. Humour is great for exposing someone else’s rudeness because it’s not like you’re taking offence, but you are taking a position and they can’t really come back at you because what you’ve said is hopefully funny. So it’s making the world a little better, even in that moment. So humour as well as, I mean, you can be very cutting with humour and you can absolutely ruin a room with it, but you can also create a room and a sense of warmth and use it as a shield sometimes as well.

Paul Boross (08:39):

I don’t know. I think you’re absolutely right. I’m interested to go into when you said bonding, because I think the whole Humourology project is all about how it can be used for good and bonding is… I was very interested in F You Very Much, which I’m now going to call it because I now feel like I’ve been rude to you. The negativity affects the frontal lobes and just a moment of incivility, but there’s a great example in the book where it makes surgeons 50% less effective, and the way we treat each other also has an impact on us. Whereas if you could replace that with humour, that would make all the difference and also make the surgeon 50%. Well, at least a hundred percent effective.

Danny Wallace (09:36):

Yeah, absolutely. It’s such a good it’s such a startling thing that I found out there from an Israeli academic who had been looking into this and really, I mean, I think his work is very important because a lot of deaths in hospitals are down to medical error and he has sort of managed to connect medical error to incivility or the psychology of the surgeon or the doctor in that moment. And it’s been shown that if you are rude to a doctor, they start to miss things because their mind is elsewhere. And, you know, experiments were done in Israel where they did find that yes doctors who were or surgeons who were interrupted or who were treated, inexplicably rudely either directly before or during surgery became, I mean, they sort of fell to pieces. They would misdiagnose, they would ask for the wrong instruments.

Danny Wallace (10:33):

They wouldn’t be able to communicate as effectively with the people around them and lives in theory could be lost. So if you think that, you know, so many, certainly medical errors in hospital they all just fly under the radar as errors, but if you can find a root cause for at least some of those errors and you can put it down to incivility, then we really do have to look at how we treat each other. And yeah, I always try and go for the funny, in whatever situation I find it’s a good thing to do with people of authority. I don’t fear the police or I don’t fear and in many ways I’m very lucky cause I’m a, middle-aged white man who wears glasses. And so, you know, the chances of something going wrong are markedly lower.

Danny Wallace (11:19):

However, in those situations where someone’s being maybe slightly officious or using their authority in a way that perhaps seems a little strong, you can make a joke because it shows that you don’t fear the situation. It shows that you are human, you’re humanising the situation. And again, you’re bonding in a weird way. If they don’t laugh, that’s up to them, you’ve done your bit and I find that humour is very useful for those situations as well when you are perhaps lower status if you are hosting an awards do you know, it’s a high status job, but it’s kind of, it’s better to play it low status because you’re the idiot who’s up on.. . who’s drawn the short straw, essentially. Who’s got to go out in front of everyone else and you should make fun of yourself before they have the chance to, and bond them with a bit of humour before you, you kind of move on. So I do, you know, I keep coming back to that word. I’ve never really thought about it much before, but yes, it’s the bonding nature of humour appeals to me hugely.

Paul Boross (12:20):

I think that’s fascinating. And you’re a great speaker and I’ve seen you do wonderful awards hosting. Do you think you can be a good communicator at that level without humour?

Danny Wallace (12:33):

Oh, sure but I think that the best communicators that I’ve seen always throw some humour in no matter what they’re talking about John Amaechi OBE. (I know John) Do you? I mean, my God, that guy, I was lucky enough to talk to him recently and in preparation for it, I just went down, a John Amaechi rabbit hole and I would recommend people do because the stories he has got and the empathy he has and the things that have happened to him, bad and good. He’s able to talk about in remarkably brilliant ways while every now and again, just when it feels right just lobbing in a little… lobbing in a little grenade, a little humour to have a little explosion of fun before we get back to the serious stuff and audiences, I think sometimes need that little release. If you’re talking about something very heavy, if you’re talking about something that makes people uncomfortable, it’s quite nice just to punctuate it with a little moment that lets everyone breathe and go, okay, good. We’re allowed to make a noise and now we can concentrate again.

Paul Boross (13:37):

So I would describe that as the difference between a good speaker and a great speaker is the ability to, as you put it, lob in some humour every now and again.

Danny Wallace (13:48):

Yeah. And it’s all about tone and timing. It’s all about judging the room and what you can get away with. And sometimes I suppose it would have to be done on the fly because on a piece of paper, it’s difficult to know what the vibe of the room will be like but if you can ride that vibe a little bit and know what you can get away with and when they need like a little bit of light relief that’s, you know, you’ve got to be aware. That’s the thing about humour as well. You have to be aware about when you can employ it. You know, don’t come out at a funeral with you with your 10 best jokes immediately.

Paul Boross (14:24):

Well, yeah. I even John Cleese read the room, if you remember which was his best friend Graham Chapman. Yeah. And for, for our listeners, everybody should look up that, but don’t try this at home.

Danny Wallace (14:43):

Yes, he is a recognised expert and there is a certain, you know, people knew the dynamic of the relationship, let’s say that.

Paul Boross (14:54):

Yeah, I think it’s very important. You said an important word to read the room for our listeners who are obviously aren’t all performers but everybody at some stage probably has to get up and make a speech, do a talk at work or something or a wedding, for instance, what lessons do you think you can share with somebody? I think the word, when you said reading the room, I heard listening to an audience and gauging what they need. What would you think about, you could say to somebody here’s a couple of important things that you need to take away?

Danny Wallace (15:36):

Well, only from my own experience and everyone will, will be different, but for me it’s all about tone. And my rule has always been, especially because they’re strangers, right? Generally that, you know, you don’t know any of these people, they probably never heard of you. So you have to come out and strike the right tone and respect is important. Respecting the event. Certainly establishing that you do because then you can start to play. And for me, the important rule has always been, you can take the Mickey, but never take the piss. Because, people like the Mickey being taken out of the person next to them or the Mickey being taken out of them. But no one likes, if a stranger comes up and starts taking the piss out of their mate or, you know, them, especially in a sort of a, you know, maybe a comedy club, it’s fine, but at an event where perhaps you’re supposed to be speaking, the Mickey is fine. Just establish that you respect the event first, get a handle on the tone of and feel free to play around a little bit later on. But yeah, the first few minutes, you know, you, you need to establish that you’re comfortable establish that you’ve got some jokes, you’re not here to do any harm but you will happily take the Mickey.

Paul Boross (16:58):

What, what form does that take? I think that’s fine. That’s lovely. In fact but how do we do that? What are the specifics? Because I would say one of the things you said, the word respect, which I think is a really important word. My form of respect is I will dress appropriately for instance. So because instantly, visually people can go, he comes into the conference, he respects the room. He’s not wearing tatty jeans or whatever. So there’s that, instant acknowledgement that he has come in and respected it. How else can people respect it? And the other question is, have you ever crossed the line between taking the Mickey and taking the piss?

Danny Wallace (17:46):

Yeah, the clothing is, visually you have to look like you’re there to do a job and you’re there for a reason, I would say, in terms of the respect, it’s very often, you know, most people there aren’t the boss, most people there are working for the company and you don’t want to punch down on those people, but you can find something funny about their job or something that, you know, they do or, or really think about what it is that they do. And then you can sort of crack that door open slightly and allow them the relief that someone else understands. And I think you can have a bit of a pop at the top brass, but not at the, the guy is making a pound an hour compared to his boss, making a million.

Danny Wallace (18:36):

And what was the other thing you asked and you said, have I ever crossed the line? I’m sure. Yes. I mean, I’ve misjudged things I’m sure. I try not to, and I go through what I, if it was an awards thing, I always write everything bespoke and that’s very nerve wracking because you don’t have 15 minutes of tried and tested stuff. You’ve got what you did for them yesterday. And you’re going to try it out and say it for the first time out loud. And you’ve got a couple of things that, you know, will work, but others that you don’t, and you may have to drop some as you go, as you realise, oh, they didn’t like that. So they’re not going to like this. Sometimes you want to take a risk and sometimes it can be in the most dangerous sort of moments where you think, oh, I shouldn’t, but that’s what if it pays off, that’s what makes it great.

Danny Wallace (19:28):

And I remember once it was after a radio recording and they were talking about the old host who’d passed away, not long before and was a beloved institution. And he was maybe in his eighties, very, very British guy, very reserved wouldn’t show feelings. And they were talking about him in such a lovely way. And I’d met him a few times and he was great. And one lady particularly was going he found it so hard to talk about love. And I was there with him at the end. And I just… I held his hand and I just kept whispering to him, We all love you. We all love you. And then that was it. He was gone and there was a big, long pause. And I thought, I shouldn’t, but I went, sounds like he might have died of embarrassment.

Danny Wallace (20:25):

And then they all looked at me and I doubled down and I went, I’m just saying, it sounds like you killed the man. And then thank God, a laugh came and we could all laugh and it was just about taking that moment of tension and taking a risk with it because if it had gone wrong, they’ve just looked at me and gone. I really think you should leave. And I have gone. I’m so sorry. And I would have left and I would never have talked to anyone again. But in that moment, it was like, this is, this is a risk worth taking,

Paul Boross (20:56):

But brilliant and the danger, but obviously the danger and understanding it because I think that the people who do humour best are the people who actually listen the best, who actually have a sense of the room and understand it now, how does that come? With experience. But you also have to have your attention in the right places. You have to, if you’re looking at one person or an audience of 10,000, you have to be gauging what’s happening. Do they like the other eyebrows going up, going, tell me more, or are they going down and going, we, we don’t like this.

Danny Wallace (21:37):

Yeah. I think, especially with a one-on-one situation, I mean if you’re doing an interview or something, the most important thing is to listen. I’ll have, if I’m interviewing some, some star or something, I will have a list of a few questions that I, that I know I can hit if I need to. And then it’s just like the art of making it seem as smooth as possible. But what you want is to welcome them, maybe notice something about them, ask them about it or rely on your first question and then listen, and then whatever they say should lead to your next question like any good conversation. It will never be funny if it’s just like, now my next question it should flow. And, and it should be a chat between two human beings.

Paul Boross (22:30):

Yeah. You’ve put me under enormous pressure now. Because I wasn’t listening.

Danny Wallace (22:36):

Well, you’re doing it. Well, then how do you know what I was saying about listening? Aha!

Paul Boross (22:42):

No, but I think that that is brilliant because that’s really where it gets. Ultimately the funny thing is I always say that people normally do this stuff naturally, but when they’re given the opportunity on radio or on television or on stage, something seems to blow up in their mind. Like, it’s a different thing, but you and I, we go for a cup of coffee. We don’t take notes with us. Do we? We don’t, we don’t know. Oh, Donny, did you see the game on Saturday?

Danny Wallace (23:16):

Yeah, exactly. Although once I did that as a joke, I was meeting up with the, the presenter, very funny, man, Rick Edwards and our paths had crossed and we were like, we should be friends. I mean, you know, that’s the thing. We should be friends, so let’s meet up, let’s go to the pub. And so we went to the pub and we had all our chat and all our small talk. And at some point I just took out a printout of his Wikipedia page, which I printed out and said, so tell me, will there be a second series of Tool Academy? And then he would have to, I think, I think he thought I was serious at first. I think he thought I was a bit odd because it was the first time we’d really hung out but then it was, then it was absolutely fine. It was just like, you know, it was a prop

Paul Boross (23:58):

I’ve, I’ve heard you say that when you were a child – and this has fascinated me – and this is what I wanted to know. This jumped out at me when you’re a child, you used to go out and say to your parents, I’m going out to make a friend. And that seems either remarkably confident or remarkably delusional, but was that just a facility you had from a very early age and was humour important to that facility?

Danny Wallace (24:32):

Yeah, I was always drawn to the funny kids. It seemed almost pointless to me to have a friend that didn’t make you laugh and then when they made me laugh, it was just precious. And I knew that I want to spend more time with them and make them laugh and have that exchange it’s gold and yeah, I used to go out and make a friend because I’m an only child. So I grew up in a very sort of grown-up household where you’d hear grownups being quiet or talking about books or reading or listening to opera or whatever it was, they were doing – the news. And, so I had to make friends and A, we moved around a lot when I was a kid. And so I was constantly having to move school and start again and B, when you went on holiday, you saw everyone else with their siblings and then the siblings would start to meet other people with siblings and then there’d be a gang. And if I didn’t do something about it, I’d be off to one side. And so I would find out if there was a games room and I would go to the games room where they were doing table tennis or arcades, and I would just make a friend and yeah, and that’s just, it that’s just what I would do because I had to, because otherwise it would just be me,

Paul Boross (25:43):

No, from a psychological perspective, I’m interested in whether that’s nature or nurture. I mean, because you have that. My son’s an only child and he has that same facility. But I would say that inherent in his personality is first, he likes people. Yeah. So therefore, and he wants to be around people. So therefore he goes, I want this. So therefore I’m going to have to learn this skillset. I just would just wonder which part is leading in that ability,. Was the young Danny always funny?

Danny Wallace (26:19):

I was always drawn to humour and I listened to comedy rather than music. A lot of the time I’d go to bed, listening to Fawlty Towers or Tom Lehrer on an auto reverse cassette, you know, so it would go all night or Blackadder, you know, the, the kind of the, the audio versions. And that to me was just gold. When I heard Tom Lehrer, I was like, wow, listen to… I mean, I had very little idea what he was talking about half the time, cause it would be about Verna Von Brown, and the politics of missiles in the late 1960s. And I didn’t know what he was on about, but I listened to his timing and I listened to the audience and I listened to the individual laughs and the mastery had, and the control he had over them and the talent he has.

Danny Wallace (27:03):

And that’s what I really, really loved. And in terms of nature, nurture my mum is an incredibly golden hearted and social woman who sees the best in everybody. And I swear half the reason we’ve had to move so many times over the years is because she knows so many people that it’s impossible for her to walk to the shops without stopping 50 times. And I would always play little tricks. They were very encouraging of humour, even when I thought it would get me into trouble because I remember once I put a sign on my mum’s back, my mum’s Swiss, and I put a sign on her back because she went to the shops walking around Bath and it just said, I am a wise old Swiss woman. And when she got home, she was just like, I had so many people smiling at me today.

Danny Wallace (27:46):

And I was like, yes, cause I put this on your back. And instead of being annoyed, she was delighted. And I remember there was an old man down our road called Mr. Montgomery long since passed. And he would get so angry at me and my friends for playing football and once the football glanced, his garage door – glanced it and you’d think that we’d put firecrackers through his letterbox. He was straight at the window and he was going, who are you? And have a go at us. And he always had all these pot plants outside his porch, loads of them. And then one day Dad brought home a laser printer for work. And so I used it and I created a letterhead for the Hay fever Sufferers of the UK Unite Alliance. And I wrote this pompous letter to Mr. Montgomery saying that one of our representatives has been in the local area and had done a pollen count outside his porch and had found it to exceed the national average by some degree.

Danny Wallace (28:38):

And that he was from now on to limit the number of pot plants in his porch to either six larger or eight small or further action would be taken. And I put it through his door. And my mistake was that I thought an extra joke would be if he phoned up my friend Simon to complain. So I pretended it was from my friend Simon who was head of the UK hay fever people. And I put his number there and then he phoned Simon in a rage. But sadly he got through to Simon’s mum who didn’t understand what was going on and assumed that Simon had been kidnapped. And this mad old man was part of some kind of plot. And when she phoned me to ask me if I was responsible and my stomach dropped and I knew I’d done the worst thing that any human being had ever done ever.

Danny Wallace (29:26):

This was an atrocity of unknown and epic proportions. And I was like, I’m going to have to tell mum; and mum gets home from shopping – this time with no sign on her back – and I go, mum, I’ve done something really bad. And she’s like, what? And I said, I don’t, I can’t even tell you. And she says, come on then. So I say, well, you know, Mr. Montgomery, and then I tell her about the letter and I tell her about the pot plants. And I tell her how angry he was. When I look up, she was crying with laughter. She was just like, that is brilliant. I was like, but I thought I was gonna get to trouble with everybody from the manufacturer of the laser printer on down. But instead my mum just encouraged that kind of stuff. And my dad thought it was great as well. Cause he didn’t like Mr. Montgomery, he was always leaving notes on our car. So, you know, I was encouraged to do elaborate things by these people. So I think nature and nurture both played their part.

Paul Boross (30:23):

Oh, brilliant. What a fantastic story. And do you want to apologise to Mr. Montgomery again now?

Danny Wallace (30:30):

Absolutely not. Fuck him!

Paul Boross (30:36):

So Danny, what makes you laugh?

Danny Wallace (30:40):

What makes me laugh? quick wit, surprising humour, pub stories that build and build, gentle misfortunes happening to grumpy people. I absolutely love, I’ve got a friend called Jeremy and to most people, he’s a very grumpy man. I see him, I know who he is and he’s lovely and he’s soft, but he has got a gruff kind of exterior, which is why one of my favourite things in the world is when something bad happens to Jeremy and it’s generally stuff like, I mean, his name is Jeremy Salsby and that’s it. So every time he goes up to any reception desk and says, Jeremy Salsby without fail, they’ll write his name as something like Germy Salad or Jimithy Simsbury. And then he has to sit down with this picture of himself and this ridiculous name. And he always now just takes a picture and just sends it to me.

Danny Wallace (31:40):

And it is the greatest thing in the world for me. And it makes me laugh. And it makes me laugh. Just thinking about his grumpy face. Every time someone does him the disrespect, accidental disrespect of just not listening or not writing his name down. And you know, it’s not like he’s got some mad name or an unusual one or a traditional Welsh name with, you know, a fewer vowels and loads of l’s. It’s just Jeremy Salsby and no one can spell it. Right. And it is the best. He once. I asked him, I said, go on this website. And he did. And he said, well, I’m in a queue. And I said, what do you mean you’re in a queue? And he said, the website says, there’s people queueing. And I didn’t know, you could have to queue on a website. And to me it seemed just completely natural that it would happen to Jeremy, that he would go to a website and he wouldn’t be allowed in like, things like that makes me make me laugh. I think that a life without humour would be would be difficult at best and impossible at worst.

Paul Boross (32:37):

So well you just said, a life without humour would be impossible. What would the world be like without humour?

Danny Wallace (32:43):

Well, it would be boring. It would be, it would be boring. So much of humour is about surprise and delight and taking people down one path and then revealing that it’s another, and those are those great moments when I mentioned quick wit before I’m talking about, I’m talking about people like you know, like Paul Merton, for example, on, Have I Got News For You? He can be presented with a totally ordinary sentence, a strange, boring political fact, and will somehow turn it into something amazing and fast or Russ Noble who is able to spin huge, wonderful, surreal tales from nothing more than what he finds on an audience member’s wrist, you know, or a tattoo or a mere thought they share for the first time he could do an hour on. I remember being in South Africa with him and it was the South Africa, the Cape Town comedy festival.

Danny Wallace (33:41):

And we’d been recording this show that you mentioned earlier, Ross Noble Goes Global where we would go around and have an adventure, and then he would talk about it on stage. And he goes out and he does an hour and there’s like a standing ovation and he comes backstage and he says to me, did we get everything we need? And I said, we did, we could do with something about when we saw those whales yesterday in the sea and he just thinks for a second and he goes, all right. And as they’re still applauding, he just turns around, goes back out. Does another 15 minutes, all improvised about the whales we saw yesterday. And I mean, there are people you can’t be jealous of in life and someone like that. So pure of talent and such a nice guy and so funny, quite serious in real life sometimes, but you know, on a stage relentlessly funny,

Paul Boross (34:33):

Well, I mean, I don’t know if you know, but my first Edinburgh Festival was on the bill with Paul Martin, as he was known At the time. My band Morris Minor and the Majors and Mark Steel.

Danny Wallace (34:47):

Which by the way was a huge influence on me growing up. It was the reason I bought Now, That’s What I Call Music, whatever it was twelve, (eleven,) eleven was because of that. I’d seen you guys on Top of the Pops and I was like, what is this? This is good. Cause I was super into, you know, and I don’t mean this in a disparaging way, but the novelty style records. So I would buy, Star Trekking or, um, Lala, Nini, Nu Nu the French and Saunders one and of course, Morris Minor and the Majors and Stutter Rap and, made it a point of principle to learn all the words. And years later got to know Tony Hawks very well and once went round his house and he greeted me at the door with an acoustic guitar playing me a live version of Stutter Rap. So that was like a wonderful moment from my childhood, but no, so I’m well aware. And yeah, so you were on a bill with Paul.

Paul Boross (35:43):

Well, yeah I still know Paul very well to this day. And, and I have the thing about being on a bill in Edinburgh is you spend four weeks seeing everybody’s acts over and over again. And,I know him very well and I once had to do an audition and they wanted a stand up comedian and I was music and comedy, but obviously with The Calypso Twins as well. So I didn’t have any stand-up stuff.

Danny Wallace (36:12):

Oh, wait, were you in the Calypso Twins as well with Ainsley? I’ve seen you perform at the Comedy Store’s. 20th anniversary. Yeah. So, well, there you go.

Paul Boross (36:22):

I was the tall black one.

Danny Wallace (36:23):

Yes. I thought you were.

Paul Boross (36:30):

Yeah, so I knew Paul’s whole act and I rang him up one day and I said, look, I’ve got nothing to do for this audition. Can I do the first five minutes of your act? Because I know it off by heart. And he was kind enough and good enough to do it, but you’re talking extraordinary comedy minds and I, you know, I’d actually love Ross Noble and Paul Merton to actually be wired up by psychologist just to see how fast those neurons and those neural pathways are actually activating. Cause it’s got to be extraordinary. I mean, that’s the ultimate in intelligence, isn’t it to be able to tie those things up?

Danny Wallace (37:20):

Yeah, I think so. It’s all about making those connections, isn’t it, it’s what they do. And not only make those connections, but you know, someone like Lee Mack as well is able to think in fully-formed jokes. So, the way he’ll come back quick, isn’t just with a funny thought, but with a perfectly worded, funny thought, in the right order for maximum kind of comedy impact,

Paul Boross (37:40):

Do you think people can become funnier?

Danny Wallace (37:45):

I think there are things you can do. I think there are ways, there are techniques or maybe ways of creating some thing that is funny, but I’m not sure that makes you funny. Does that make sense? So it’s that old thing I suppose of… I think people can be funny. I think anyone can be funny, but I don’t think… Like I very much enjoy hugely boring people, about whom there is nothing funny because that is where you find funny things. They don’t know. It’s funny and you can’t tell them it’s funny, but it’s very interesting talking to extraordinarily boring people. And I find them fascinating because of that. And it makes me wonder, it’s like, well, what do you find? What do they find funny? What happens if they say something funny? You know, one of my favourite books of all time is the Diary of a Nobody.

Danny Wallace (38:52):

And one of my favourite scenes is when Pooter Mr. Pooter, who is a very boring, a man with ideas above his station. He very unlike him, he makes a joke at a party and it goes well, and it is a revelation for him. People are laughing, his wife is delighted. He can’t believe it. And he’s over the moon. And he wakes up in the middle of the night, like shaking with laughter and pride because he has, he has done this thing, which has escaped him. And, and I think that, that for me, that says kind of a lot you know, there’s plenty of things you can’t do. There’s plenty of things I can’t do. We, you know, hopefully work with and understands humour in a way and others don’t and that’s absolutely fine. Yeah. I think that there are things you can do that someone can teach you. That will be funny, but it won’t make you funny. That’s what I’m trying to say.

Paul Boross (39:57):

Well, I think attitude has a lot to do with it from a psychological perspective. If you have the attitude that I’m not funny, I don’t do jokes. I can’t get punchlines right. Or something that that’s what inhibits you at that point.

Danny Wallace (40:13):

Oh yeah. Yeah. In that, in that, in that respect. Absolutely. You can you have to have the confidence that something will land or even just to try cause fear is what stops a lot of people, um, from trying and cause I think this will go wrong. So go bad. I can’t do it. I’m not funny. And look, maybe they’re not, but they won’t know unless they they try having the balls to, to take that risk no matter how small and no matter how gentle the joke or the moment yeah. Is absolutely key.

Paul Boross (40:47):

Well, yeah, and I would say that confidence comes with the right attitude. I think your attitude is great. I, once heard you say that whenever anything goes wrong, your attitude is, well, that’s a story. So you’re allowing things to go wrong. when I’m training people in making speeches, CEOs and things like that. I always say, look forward to the stuff going wrong because that’s when you’ll have the most fun. Do you think that attitude helps with getting more humour into your life?

Danny Wallace (41:25):

It’s like with my kids, I tell them if they’ve done something they’ve made a mistake event, something wrong. I go, well, look, now, you know, not to do that again. So actually it’s quite good that that happened because now you’ve got that in your toolbox and it’s an experience that you can own and you decide now it’s your decision. You go, I’ll never do that again. And I think there’s a similar psychological thing that happens when things go wrong in your life. Particularly like when I was writing a column every single week for a magazine, I did it for 11 years. And a lot of that was just, I had to notice things every week, which can be exhausting. But I had to notice things. So it was actually a gift to me when something went a bit wrong, I crashed the rental car, for example because I was like, well, look, that’s a column, maybe a two-parter it’s material. And I quite like the the craft of creating a story from something and working out what the key elements are and what the beginning is and what to hold back, what to reveal and when and that’s also why I love the pub because the pub is a training ground for anecdotes.

Paul Boross (42:36):

I love the pub. I’m interested when you were talking about your, your attitude to your children and teaching the right psychological makeup to think what really struck me, because I think we’re very similar in this way is you said that your question to your son at one stage was what made you laugh today?

Danny Wallace (43:00):

Yeah, I I’ve done it to all three of my children and I still do. Because if you ask them, well, what’d you learn today? They don’t really know they were bored in the moment, but they remember what made them laugh and what they learned is the same as all the other kids. So what made them laugh is going to be different because it’ll be a different dynamic or a different friend or different moment. And it gives me an insight into what they find funny, where they find joy, their friendships, their experiences, whether they’re happy. And that for me has always, always been the most important question because it gets me closer to their world, which is a world where, you know, it’s the moments that normally slip between the cracks that they may forget by tomorrow. Because it was just small. It was one of many things that made them laugh, but it was a snapshot of a moment in their life and a relationship or a friendship or where they are psychologically. So I, yeah, for me, it’s always been a very important question to ask.

Paul Boross (44:06):

I think it’s a brilliant question. I used to say something similar, which is why it reminded me ,to my son. I’d say, I said, tell me three fun or funny things that happened to you at school today. And it’s the same thing. And from a psychological perspective, what happens is your reticular activating system in the brain it’s spots for things you remember, like if you’ve ever wanted a certain car or toaster or a pair of shoes, you suddenly see that car everywhere. (Yeah). Because you’re looking for it. And if you can get people to look for the good stuff that happened in their life, the fun stuff, the laughs, I think that’s a huge advantage because you start to train your brain to look for good stuff,

Danny Wallace (44:53):

Which is something that our brains need they need to be nourished and fed by these experiences. And they need to be relived. You know, as much as, as much as possible

Paul Boross (45:07):

If I asked you to write a business case for humour, Danny, what would you include in it?

Danny Wallace (45:13):

I would say, with humour, there can be risk involved, you know, they have to make them aware of risk. With particularly long stories, your interest rates may vary. But as part of a corporate culture, I mean the returns are worth it. I can’t, you know, I haven’t worked in many offices. Ironically I was told off with some friends once for laughing in my office and we were throwing an idea around and we found it funny that we were laughing and the door opened and this lady just went, can you keep the laughter down? And I said, this is the BBC Comedy Department, because that’s where we were. And I was like, this is a sign that we’re working. If you can hear laughs that’s good. Right? That shows that it’s not just, we’re mucking about trying to annoy you by laughing.

Danny Wallace (46:16):

We’re coming up with an idea here. And what I wanted to say was, you know, why is your office always so quiet because, in terms of, in terms of, what we’re supposed to be doing here. So ironically, you know, that’s where I was told off for laughing, but I can’t imagine working in an office where humour was frowned upon or wasn’t seen as a boon, a bonus a boost. I can’t imagine bosses walking past some people who are laughing and saying, enough of that. I would want to encourage it because perhaps you’ll get more loyal employees, you’ll certainly get more relaxed employees. You’ll certainly get employees who bond more who know each other more, you know, provide them the humorous decent and not like David Brent.

Paul Boross (47:05):

Yeah, no, please not like David Brent. We come to the part of the show, Danny, that we like to call Quickfire Questions. Who’s the funniest business person that you’ve met? Now, obviously you work in the radio business, you work in the film business, so it can be anyone.

Danny Wallace (47:27):

Well, I’m going to go a general answer here and I’m going to say Americans. In terms of the business side of things, American in, in the world of film or television or comedy, they’re funny, they’re whip smart, they’re slightly sarcastic, I think, because to rise to that kind of level, they’ve got to be very fast, very intelligent, very sociable. And so they tend to be very funny as well. So I would say you know, from finance managers to, you know, advisors of one description or another the Americans, the Americans seem to be funnier.

Paul Boross (48:14):

It’s not interesting because normal people are… Somebody said this to me actually yesterday, oh the Americans just don’t get our sense of humour. And I immediately said, having worked in all the clubs in America and then telly in America, I said, no, once you get to that level, they are hilarious. Your word whip smart, I think is exactly right.

Danny Wallace (48:41):

Well, the thing is they absolutely do get our sense of humour. And, and to be honest, the executives that I’ve dealt with out there have been frighteningly intelligent. And you feel like the dumbest guy in the room half the time, because, also, I mean, they’re sort of trained to read scripts and, and understand comedy from an early part of their career. So they garner all these skills that mean that they can understand humour properly rather than just hang around and eventually get promoted to head of whatever. They, they, they earned it and it’s cutthroat. And if they don’t do the job well, they’re out, they don’t hang on for another eight years or whatever. So, and they do get our humour and our comedy. If you look at the top tier, just as you say, it’s the funniest stuff in the world. it’s just that there’s so much TV out there that we tend to get a lot of the rubbish as well. but for every, you know, for every eight terrible sitcoms, there’s one absolute stonker.

Paul Boross (49:47):

And I hadn’t that whole time. Have you ever seen Neil Simon’s Laughter on the 43rd Floor? It was about Your Show of Shows in America and when humour really took off and it was basically the writer’s room. And then that writer’s room where Mel Brooks and Woody Allen, and suddenly everybody who shaped the whole of the future of comedy and television there. And it was just extraordinary. I think Neil Simon was actually in that room and wrote it about his experiences there. And you suddenly realise that actually without that American sort of humour and especially the Jewish humour that got transported into there, there would be no humour to that level around the world. We’d still be watching fat men falling over to be honest.

Danny Wallace (50:43):

Yes, exactly. Yeah, I must, I, yeah. I’m going to check that out.

Paul Boross (50:47):

What book makes you laugh?

Danny Wallace (50:49):

I mentioned Diary of a Nobody, for those reasons of it being a guy with ideas above his station quite pompous taking himself far too seriously. That’s always been funny to me whether it’s Basil Fawlty doing the same thing, or Adrian Mole and Adrian mole was I think the first book that made me probably laugh out loud. And the first time I realised that, words on a piece of paper printed, dead words, bits of ink in the right order could make you laugh. and it’s an extraordinary thing to think that that’s, that’s true. And when I first read Diary of a Nobody, even though it was written, you know, a hundred and whatever years ago, the jokes still stand because people haven’t changed. He is Hyacinth Bucket. He is Basil Fawlty. He is Adrian Mole. So yeah, I would say Adrian Mole.

Paul Boross (51:42):

Great choice. What film makes you laugh?

Danny Wallace (51:46):

The most surprising film that’s made me laugh recently, I would say are the Jumanji films, which I was all prepared to think these are going to be bad. No, they’re good. There is… just a great dynamics to it. There’s just enough room for a little bit of improv. I got really bored of those films where they would keep in 10 minutes of the cast mucking about with just an endless exchange where it was just diminishing returns. I’d be like, all right, crack on next scene but Jumanji, I think got it just right.

Paul Boross (52:22):

Interesting choice. We’ve never had Jumanji on the show before. We’re going to take a shift to the other side and go a little bit serious and ask what is not funny?

Danny Wallace (52:35):

Externalised kind of directed, cruelty and anything designed to make someone feel less than they are. Anything that hammers down on a weaker group. That’s not to say you can’t make jokes about them but again, it’s that take the Mickey, but never the piss humour can be a massively bonding…. it is a massively bonding thing and it can start discussions and it can reduce the fear of talking about these things. You can take a risk if you want to, and use humour to diffuse those situations and perhaps get talking in that way, but you have to be careful because it can’t be weaponized. That’s the thing I think weaponized humour, is probably not funny. You can undermine, that’s it, it’s, you know, it’s punching down basically, isn’t it? It’s fine to undermine the regime, but don’t, undermine the people who are struggling.

Paul Boross (53:45):

Yeah. It’s the difference between punching up, punching down – bullying, I suppose as well, it can be used as a force for good or a force for evil, but you just have to judge the attitude right.

Danny Wallace (54:00):

Yes, I think so. I’ve never been really drawn to that side of humour. I prefer everyone to have a nice time and to feel good and for jokes to be a joyous thing, rather than a kind of a pointed one.

Paul Boross (54:13):

What word makes you laugh, Danny?

Danny Wallace (54:14):

Oh, but also on that, what’s not funny stubbing your toe. Stubbing, your toe is not funny. However, running into a window is very funny and they’re both very similar things to happen to a person but they are imagined to be different in terms of humour, seeing someone stub their toe does not make me laugh. Seeing someone run full pelt into a window is hilarious and something I look forward to. In fact. So just on a, on a purely physical scale, there are differences there as well.

Paul Boross (54:46):

Why is that so funny when somebody walks into a pane, I still got an image of my friend, Jeremy Wilson, who, who did that? We were, we were playing a bit of a friend’s tennis tournament and we said, come in to lunch and he hit it full pelt.

Danny Wallace (55:04):

It’s just surprise. It’s just the shock of it. As long as they’re not hurt but I could watch a full You’ve Been Framed of just that happening.

Paul Boross (55:15):

Okay. Well, yeah, there you go. ITV – a special, presented by Danny Wallace, of course. What word makes you laugh?

Danny Wallace (55:26):

Battleaxe because I think it’s such a funny word because it’s so sort of rude and I remember just driving through a village or a town called Battleaxe and it’s just the sign that says Battleaxe and all I had to do as we both passed it in the car was just giving my wife a little glance and she knew she knew what I was saying. I didn’t say… I didn’t have to, but it’s such a great sort of outdated word. I love those kinds of those outdated words, things that I grew up with from the Beano or the Broons, where someone’s a battleaxe or, you know, or a Ninihammer. So yeah, so I think battleaxe is a funny word for me,

Paul Boross (56:11):

It’s a great word and it’s,

Danny Wallace (56:13):

It’s so unfair,

Paul Boross (56:18):

But so descriptive as well, isn’t it? It’s so horribly descriptive. I know. I love it. What sound makes you laugh?

Danny Wallace (56:28):

Um,

Paul Boross (56:29):

I think there’s probably the sound of a man hitting glass.

Danny Wallace (56:33):

I think that would do it. I think I wouldn’t need to be in the room if I knew it happens. I think it would be absolutely delightful. Yeah, let’s go for that. Let’s go for the rattle of a good French door.

Paul Boross (56:44):

That’s good. Would you rather be considered clever or funny?

Danny Wallace (56:51):

I think funny. There’s something that is shareable about being funny. I think that there’s a certain snootiness to being considered clever because it’s like, oh yeah. Oh yeah. It’s because it’s something that is yours and sort of yours alone, if you like. Whereas funny is like a gift that you can spread around the room.

Paul Boross (57:15):

Yeah, I think that’s a good description of it. And finally, Danny Desert Island Gags, you can only take one joke with you to a desert island. What is it?

Danny Wallace (57:28):

Well, anyone near YouTube should Google or YouTube, Norm MacDonald moth joke. It’s a wonderful joke. Told beautifully a great example of just building and building andnot knowing where he’s going with something, but finding his way back to the road. If not that, then this, two fish in a tank one says, right, how do you drive this thing? Misdirection. Two lines takes you one way, brings you another

Paul Boross (58:01):

Beautiful misdirection. Absolutely beautiful. And I do advise everybody to look up the Norm MacDonald joke as well. God rest his soul, brilliant, brilliant comic. Well, Danny, I hope you realise that I have been taking the Mickey and not the piss. And when I say, fuck you very much for being a fabulous guest on the Humourology podcast. (laughs)

New Speaker (58:31):

Fuck you very much too Paul. Fuck you very much too. (laughs)

New Speaker (58:31):

The Humourolgy 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. This has been a Big Sky production.