A Chat with Jim Davidson
Jim Davidson, OBE is a legendary - and for some, notorious - old school English stand-up comic and television host currently touring Australia. I chatted to him before he got here. Here is our conversation.
Dom Romeo: Hey Jim, how are you?
JIM DAVIDSON: Iâm all right, thank you. Where abouts are you calling from?
Dom Romeo: Iâm in Sydney, Australia.
JIM DAVIDSON: Marvelous!
Dom Romeo: Youâve been here before, a couple of years ago.
JIM DAVIDSON: Two years ago, I did a club in Revesby.
Dom Romeo: Was that your first visit to Australia?
JIM DAVIDSON: No, Iâd been before, but I didnât do any stand-up then. The trip two years ago was my first ever go at doing my act. I was absolutely shiâ¦ â well, I was terrified. Letâs put it that way.
Dom Romeo: How could you be terrified? Youâve been doing it for so long.
JIM DAVIDSON: Yeah, I know, but Iâd only been doing it to people who had seen me before. And the fact that I hadnât slept and had the most awful jet lag, and I hadnât slept for three or four days, and I was so nervous, I emptied the entire minibar of the hotel into a laundry bag and took it on stage with me at Revesby and put it on a table and said, âI feel so crap, Iâm gonna have to drink all this lot!â and they cheered the place down. And I did. And I came offstage straight into the arms of my old friend who I hadnât seen for 25 years, Frank Ifield. And I swear to god, he said, âHello Jim, itâs Frank Ifield. Do you remember me?â
Dom Romeo: And of course, you saidâ¦
JIM DAVIDSON: I remember you!
I did a pantomime with him in 1976. He is one of the nicest men in show business, you know. Heâs great.
Dom Romeo: When you came through as a stand-up comic back in the day, how different was it to the circuit and the industry now?
JIM DAVIDSON: First of all, when you start off, everythingâs exciting because you think, âany minute, Iâm going to be top of the bill at the London Paladiumâ, and when you have become top of the bill at the London Palladium, you think, âwell, I want to fill an arena nowâ¦ now I want my own TV showâ¦ now I want to do thisâ¦ and do thatâ¦â And when youâve done it all, it then becomes a job, that you get on with. And I think you do it better, once youâre not chasing the pie in the sky, you know.
And the other thing is, comedy changed overnight when Ben Elton turned up. Like the music. You know how there was Pink Floyd and Emerson, Lake & Palmer and Led Zeppelin and all that stuff that old boys love, and then suddenly, overnight, bang! Bob Geldof appeared. At the same time, Ben Elton appeared on the comedy scene, which proved to everybody you could be a stand-up comic without being funny, and political correctness wiped out everything that everybody had been doing, for good or bad reasons. And things changed.
Dom Romeo: I understand what youâre saying. Have we gotten to a point now where that pre-Ben Elton comedy and the post-Ben Elton comedy can both actually co-exist? That thereâs an audience for both? Not at the same time, and not necessarily the same audience, but there is an audience for both kinds?
JIM DAVIDSON: I think there is, but thereâs a great hatred of the old comics by the new comics. The new comics say, âwe write our own stuff, weâre not racist, sexist, homophobic, and all you lot are!â And they say that without any recourse to do so, because itâs silly. A laugh is a laugh.
Iâm a great believer that political correctness causes more grief than it does good. If you replace that with good manners and courtesy and include people rather than take the mickey out of them, it becomes a much better gig, and a much better world.
Dom Romeo: I agree with you. Thereâs a difference between making a joke at someoneâs expense to hurt them, and making a joke thatâs clearly a joke.
JIM DAVIDSON: Youâve got to include people. For instance â and I do this a lot in the theatres â letâs say someoneâs in the front row in a wheelchair with cerebral palsy and theyâre trying to join in and have a laugh and theyâre making loud noises and whateverâ¦ Include that person. Have a laugh with that person. Take a chance. Have a bit of fun. Even if it makes the rest of the audience feel uncomfortable, everyoneâs there to have a laugh. There are no rules, just good manners.
Dom Romeo: I like that attitude!
Youâve had quite an interesting career. Whatâs it like to have been at the top of everything, including your game, and have to declare yourself bankrupt.
JIM DAVIDSON: I didnât declare myself bankrupt â it was the blooming taxman who made me bankrupt. I thought Iâd hidden the money well and the buggers found it!
I went to live in Dubai for six years while I saved up some money to pay my tax bill. Unfortunately I bought a house with it instead.
Dom Romeo: How was Dubai? Did you gig while you were there?
JIM DAVIDSON: Yeah, I did a few gigs. It was great. Full of Australians! Lots of Australians, lots of Americansâ¦ Lots of Scots by the way.
Dom Romeo: Youâre Scottish originally, arenât you?
JIM DAVIDSON: Yeah, from Glasgow, although I was born in Woolwich because my dad was in the army. I was born in London. So Iâm a bit of a mixture, really: Irish mother, Scottish father, born in England. So it makes me a Pom! Am I allowed to say that?
Dom Romeo: Yeah, youâre allowed to say that in Australia still.
JIM DAVIDSON: Now thatâs good. You see, some people would say, âthatâs offensiveâ. Not to me, it isnât. I think thatâs great fun. I love nicknames.
Dom Romeo: Well Iâm of Italian descent, and in Australia â
JIM DAVIDSON: What do they call you?
Dom Romeo: Iâm a âwogâ!
JIM DAVIDSON: Hahahahahah Thatâs amazing. If you said that in England, youâd be shot!
Dom Romeo: I know that. Most people in Australia donât realise that âwogâ is short for âgolliwogâ and is an obviously very racist term indeed.
JIM DAVIDSON: I love it! I just love Australians. [Adopts broad 'Aussie' accent.] âWe donât care about anything there, mate, we just fancy a laughâ. Great. I canât wait to come. Iâm really, really nervous because Iâm the cheque that the Poms want to cash in because theyâre gonna bring their Aussie mates and say, âwait til you hear this guyâ and Iâll have to deliver for them.
Dom Romeo: Well, you will have to, and itâs not going to be easy, but as long as people know who you are and what it is you do, as long as theyâre not expecting Ben Elton, I think youâre fine.
JIM DAVIDSON: No, no, no. If people come along, Iâll have a laugh with them, and the more Australians there, the better. Iâd like to come and work more in Australia. I think itâs great. And Sydney â what a town! Seriously â I nearly met some Australians once when I was there!
Dom Romeo: How much of the country have you seen? Were you coming out as an actor before you were coming as a comic?
JIM DAVIDSON: No, I came out as a television presenter for some rotten TV show for the BBC that never got shown and it was filmed up in Hamilton Island. That was a riot. I really enjoyed that. Thatâs when I found out that the Aussies are different in their own country than they are in other peopleâs countries. I donât think Iâve ever met people that are more welcoming and friendly. Marvelous! Marvelous!
Dom Romeo: What aspects of Australia took you by surprise when you were here?
JIM DAVIDSON: I think it wasnât quite Bondi Beach and barbecues and Home & Away, it was just a country getting on with it, and I enjoyed that a lot. And the thing I do in Australia that I donât do in England, and people donât like me doing it in England, is I come off stage and go straight down into the audience and have a beer with everyone.
Dom Romeo: Yeah, you can do that here, actually.
JIM DAVIDSON: Yeah, I like it. Itâs getting to know people living in a different country. And of course, all the old Poms want to see me and reminisce about where they saw me or old soldiers where theyâve seen me all over the world entertaining them somewhere. I do enjoy that. Iâm not gonna come all that way and just tell jokes to people and then bugger off and not speak to them. I want to get in there and get into them.
Dom Romeo: Youâve had a lot of experience entertaining the troops. How did that come about? Were you a soldier?
JIM DAVIDSON: No I wasnât. But when we had all those Troubles in Northern Ireland back in â75-â76, I went over and entertained these troops. And I got paid! I thought, âthis is great fun!â I got 75 quid for a weekendâs work doing five shows a day, and then the Falkland Islands War happened in 1982 and I wrote to the government and said, âlook, Iâm quite famous, if you want me to entertain the troops, Iâll do it for nothingâ. So thatâs why I did it, because I was cheap. Not particularly funny, but cost effective!
And then ten years ago I formed my own charity called the British Forces Foundation. What we do is fly out to entertain the troops all over the place. Iâm off in a couple of days time to Southern Italy to entertain our airforce that is âliberating Libyaâ â he said diplomatically.
Dom Romeo: How do you feel â putting your life at risk, to a degree. And itâs charity work â you donât even do it âfor a livingâ so to speak. I know itâs just âin and outâ to entertain, but still â itâs a big call for someone whose job is to make other people laugh â to risk your own life doing it.
JIM DAVIDSON: The worst thing is sleeping in tents! Katherine Jenkins â the opera singer â and I, we spent Christmas in Iraq, and we had our helicopter shot out of the bloody air. That was a bit scary. We banged down onto the ground and none of us were injured because the pilot was taking evasive action, but that was scary. Your life flashes before you. I thought, âIf I survive this crash, Iâm gonna run off with Katherine Jenkins somewhere and hide in a caveâ.
Dom Romeo: Did you?
JIM DAVIDSON: No I didnât, no. We survived the crash, but she ran off and got married to a handsome young welsh TV presenter.
It has its uncomfortable moments, thatâs all. But really, itâs so rewarding because youâre out there making all the soldiers laugh and giving them a little bit of hope. Not just the Brit soldiers, but the Aussie soldiers â I remember doing the show for the Aussie SAS and that lot were a great bunch.
Dom Romeo: Where was that? Are you allowed to say, or is it all top-secret?
JIM DAVIDSON: No, itâs all top secret.
And the great thing about doing it is you can tell people how heroic you are when you come back.
The Aussie troops and the British troops are joined at the hip, but the American troops, theyâre the funny ones. They laugh at a joke but donât understand what theyâre laughing at. I remember doing a show to a load of Gurkhas once, as well. They couldnât understand a word I was saying, but when their officers laughed, they all laughed as well. It was marvellous!
Dom Romeo: Before we finish up, whatâs one thing about you that not many people know?
JIM DAVIDSON: Iâm not the person that they perceive me to be. Iâll wrong-foot people when they come and see me on stage. Yes, Iâll make them laugh, but yes, Iâll make them think. Iâll make them think, âOh, god, heâs not that sexist, racist, homophobic, nasty comic that hey say he is on YouTube. This guyâs good!â There you go.