I have disliked Jim Davidson ever since I can remember. It started as a child in the 70’s at my multicultural working class school where he was broadly viewed with suspicion and even hatred. Since then, everything I have heard in the press and from other comedians has served to reinforce my loathing. I have never seen him perform.
Every interview I do with young journalists and people from the young world of comedy they always ask the same questions – Homophobic? Racist? And you are always on the back foot, they never get a chance to see me on the front foot until they come and see me on stage – and then they’ve probably already written the review.
When he announced he was going to be at the Edinburgh Fringe, Twitter became a platform for knocking the man and his show. The Guardian published a piece saying Davidson should just stay home. As a reviewer, I tweeted that we shouldn’t judge the man’s Edinburgh show until we’d seen it.
And that lead to this interview.
Do you know why people dislike you so much?
‘I don’t know why, but the worst thing that happened to me was Bernard Manning dying and somebody had to be the bad guy.’
When Manning passed away you were the next in line?
‘Yeah I think it was, some of his stuff really was bad. I knew him quite well and I didn’t like his act very much. Here’s a joke, here’s another joke, here’s a joke, here’s another joke, in his way he was brilliant, his timing was perfect and the way he built a story up. But the content was shit.
‘If you go and see some of the old school comics as we are now called, you leave the theatre knowing nothing more about them than when you went in. A producer, Mark Stewart, said, “Jim, don’t be as good as your last joke. Be more than that.”
‘So if you go and see Paul Sinha, for instance, like him or not you learn more about the man and you can sort of form an opinion.’
I am a big fan of Paul Sinha , but I am aware that you and he had, shall we say, a difference of opinion. Your name came up in one of his Fringe shows a few years ago didn’t it?
‘Oh no, that’s alright, that was my own doing. I went to watch him, got pissed, got a bit fed up with the world, and ridiculously said some bad things. It wasn’t Paul Sinha, but another comedian who was on with him - and this is double standards – this guy took the piss out of a girl from Finland all night long and that didn’t count as racism ‘cos she was blonde I guess.
‘And then when someone mentioned Jade Goody this guy said “I’m glad she’s fucking dead, she was a racist.” Now, that just shocked me into thinking “What type of world are we living in now where comedy has come to this?”’
That’s a very poor joke.
‘Then along comes silly old me, and I call Paul Sinha an Indian poof. But I was only repeating what he said, what he called himself. Perhaps he didn’t use the word poof.
‘I’ve got tons of fucking gay mates, but the majority of my gay mates are in show business. And so they all refer to themselves in a derogatory fashion. I understand what is offensive and what isn’t and try my best.’
Do you support gay marriage?
‘Yeah I do, why should straight people have all the shit? Well that’s what I say on stage. I do, because I had an old friend called Victor Spinetti, an actor, and his boyfriend Graham (Curnow) and I used to spend quite a bit of time at their place in Brighton. Graham was dying. And when he did die, the problems that Victor had with probate and the will… and I thought hang on a minute, this is not right. And I started speaking to other gay friends and they explained to me there isn’t a legal, level playing field. So I’ve supported gay marriage for about ten years.
‘But you can still make jokes about it.’
Do you find it hard because gay and black people can sometimes refer to themselves in derogatory ways - and looking in from the outside you may wonder what is and isn’t acceptable to say?
‘I think basically you can if you are, if you know what I mean? It sort of gives you a right. But do The Kumars really think it is only Indian people laughing at them? Or are they doing it to ridicule themselves so white people can have a laugh? So there are lots and lots of double standards. I just think, a) it’s lunacy for a comedian to pick on somebody in the audience or alienate a group of people in the audience and b) it’s just bad manners.
‘But there is this political correctness thing that makes people, like me to an extent, want to push it the other way. Because we think PC is ridiculous.’
Many people on the left and right have issues with PC. Given that, are you shocked at the number of people that have said, “Oh my God, Jim Davidson, coming to The Fringe, how dare he?”
‘But why do they do that? What is to fear? Is it fear? Are they thinking, “Oh God if I go and see him will he be crap?” No, everyone is good, comedy is comedy, there are some brilliant comics in Edinburgh and everybody has a different sense of humor.’
‘There are lots of comics I don’t understand. Eddie Izzard couldn’t make me laugh with a gun against my head. I just don’t understand what it is, but other people piss themselves. It’s hardly Eddie Izzard’s fault is it?, it’s my problem.’
Which comedians do you like?
‘Well I don’t know many of the younger ones, actually… the trouble is as soon as I mention one I like, they are going to get slagged off by all the others!
‘Well there’s Joe Lycett. I worked with Joe Lycett once at a ‘do’ at one of the comedy clubs he was at, and I quite liked him. He was just nice and clever. And Frank Skinner is quite funny. And I also like Lee Evans. I used to work with his Dad back in the day.’
You mentioned the phrase ‘back in the day’. Your character Chalky White – I’m right in thinking you don’t do him anymore?
‘I still do.’
You still do Chalky White ?
‘I still refer to Chalky White, but I don’t perform as him.
‘Thank God for Chalky White because that really is the thing that makes all the other comedians have a reason to hate me. Without that, they would have to say “Oh, we don’t like him because he’s funny” you know?
‘How old were you in 1971?’
I was 1.
‘Well exactly - I was going to school with black kids who spoke in a West-Indian accent and I thought that was quite funny. But there are some jokes I did as Chalky that I shouldn’t have done, looking back. Everybody thought it was alright back then.
‘Chalky was invented because I used to do jokes featuring black people, just as an excuse to do the accent. And somebody said “why don’t you try and find a character?” Rather like Stavros, you know, the Greek man played by Harry Enfield who was racially abused by comedians.
‘Chalky was a character for people to like, a good guy. And when you are top of the ratings and you are encouraged to do it by producers and directors and heads of television companies… You don’t do it now because it is unfashionable and it’s wrong. I can see that.
‘But I can’t go round on the back of that all the time apologizing to every black person I see. Even when I did a television show the other day, a black guy was on and he said I’d really made life hard at school - but he wasn’t at school in the 70’s! He was fucking in nappies.’
Can I ask you about Brian Dowling?
‘What about him?’
In an incident between the two of you on ITV’s Hell’s Kitchen you came across as being homophobic.
‘I didn’t dislike him because he is gay. I just didn’t like his over inflated position for being in show business. Literally being in show business because he was in show business. And to be honest I suddenly found myself this Z-list celebrity and I didn’t like myself and I didn’t like him. It was just all that awful preening and fucking around for no apparent reason, it was nothing to do with him being gay, that’s ridiculous.
‘But it is another stick to hit me with, people rub their hands together, “Oh, marvelous!” and when I got arrested, “Oh, fuck me let’s hope it’s for kids!” ‘
Are you looking forward to the Edinburgh Fringe?
‘Trying to cram my show into an hour, that’s the hardest thing. I’m not going to try saying, “listen, I want to be one of you guys”, because that’ll never happen.
‘If I was to cure malaria and eradicate AIDS I would still be the arsehole racist homophobic fucking god-knows-what, so all I’m going to do up there is my spot. It’s where comedians go and I’ve always wanted to go. I played the Playhouse once when the Fringe was on and that was okay, but it’d be nice to get up there and get amongst it all.’
You’re doing the full run, aren’t you? A tough gig for anybody.
‘Well I’m doing a month run, but I’ve got one Monday off so I can go down to Yarmouth and earn some old school money.’
You’re in a room in the Assembly Hall, aren’t you?
‘Oh I don’t know, I’m not getting there until about an hour before the gig.’
I’m coming to review it.
‘Come and see one of the early ones, and we can go for a pint afterwards and you say to me, “Fuck me, I wouldn’t say that!”
‘I’ve got a new young audience after Big Brother, how long that will last, I’m not sure.
‘People can’t afford £26 a ticket to come to see me in a theatre, especially not younger people. I’m always saying that the tickets should be £12. But theatres don’t want to know, promoters don’t want to know, my wife certainly doesn’t want to fucking know…
‘So I’m going to talk about Scotland where my family is from, and I talk about being arrested and I talk about Big Brother and then I leave with a routine about the pitfalls of having sex with people you don’t know.
‘I’ve pretty much got the routine mapped out, I’ve tried it a couple of times and it is okay. I just want to get it so that it runs on rails because I know it won’t be my usual audience, and I’m doing a small room with someone else’s equipment. I don’t want that to throw me when I’m stood in the wings saying “What the fuck am I doing here?”’
Do you think reviewers will come along and see it with an open mind?
‘Every interview I do with young journalists and people from the young world of comedy they always ask the same questions – Homophobic? Racist? And you are always on the back foot, they never get a chance to see me on the front foot until they come and see me on stage – and then they’ve probably already written the review.
‘Don’t forget, the left wing and the right wing are equally mad. They are. It’s crazy. It’s crazy. Why don’t they want me there? “He shouldn’t be there!” “Have you seen him?”, “No, but he just shouldn’t!” Well, I am there, in all of my glory, so watch out.
‘I wonder how many comics are going to come and see me?’
Tell me about the Cancer Research UK gig you are doing on the 10 th May.
‘Yeah, it’s a friend of mine. Her sister died of cancer and she wants to do a memorial type thing, and she’s doing it by raising money for cancer, and it is just a normal dinner-come-cabaret.
‘It will be even more difficult to do than Edinburgh, all of those corporate type dinner things are a nightmare to do, as any comic will tell you.’
‘They just are. Because people don’t listen. There are people there who don’t know you are on, there are people there who don’t care you are on, there are people who don’t like you, especially when you are the comic at a dinner. Ask Dominic Holland. I saw him die a worse fucking death than anybody and he said before, he said to me “I’m gonna die, aren’t I?” and I said “Yes, and I’m going outside cos’ I’m not going to watch you.” Poor old Dom. Welcome to the real world.’
And you’re doing a show with Richard Digance?
‘That’s great fun. It was booked when it was difficult for me to get theatres because of being arrested in Operation Yewtree and thankfully Richard Digance agreed to come on the road with me, taking time out of his really busy schedule. So he does an hour in the first half and I do an hour and ten, an hour and fifteen in the second. We sort of compliment one another and it’s going really well. Of course, since Big Brother the shows have sold out everywhere, the whole tour is sold out. Apart from Bolton, which is what you expect.’
What about your work with the Forces? I read that you are giving that up.
‘Twelve years ago I founded The British Forces Foundation - a charity that entertained UK troops all over the world. I was the founder and I became Chairmen and then I became a Trustee. I’ve just stepped down now as a Trustee because I want to try and bring in some younger comics.
‘I’m desperate to get someone like Jimmy Carr, who has done a couple of shows for me. Me and Jethro and Jimmy did a show for the SAS and Jimmy said “Don’t put me on last for fuck sake”, so we threw him to the lions early. He’s a nice guy.
‘When I first started I could never get other comedians, especially the new guys, to do it. And I was sort of the only one and it was unfashionable to do. Now it’s slightly more fashionable so I stepped down from the board of directors in the hope that someone else, knowing that I’ve now gone, will do it.
‘I’d love John Bishop to come and join, he’s a great lad, he supports the troops and he’s a very funny comic. I’d love him to come and be a Trustee, without his mates saying “you aren’t with that Jim Davidson are you?”’
I think people associate supporting the troops with supporting the war, especially Iraq.
‘I’ve always thought that’.
A lot of people, myself included, thought the war in Iraq was, to put it mildly, a massive mistake.
‘You are not alone there, I thought it was a waste of bloody time, and I also thought it was bloody illegal, but at the end of the day our lads are there. I thought that was a terrible bloody war. All wars are terrible.
‘But you know some wars are slightly more unjust than others, aren’t they, and need not have happened. But that doesn’t mean to say if you are a nurse and you don’t believe in the war, you don’t patch that soldier up.
‘All those comics that voted Labour and supported the Labour Party all thought that the Labour Party war was illegal.’
Many people that say that they would have Tony Blair tried for war crimes, still support the Labour Party.
‘I got loads of letters from Tony Blair. I used to write to him as Chairman of The British Forces Foundation about entertainment for the troops, and he wanted me to put a big show together with Bryan Adams. I got mistaken for Tony Blair when I was in Iraq the day after the war ended.
‘I thought, “I’m quite flattered”, and then I thought “oh fuck I’ll be shot.” And then I wrote and told him and he sent a handwritten note. He seemed convinced there were weapons of mass destruction. He wrote to me saying they had found lots of graves, over 200,000 bodies of people reported missing and he said it is only a matter of time before they find these types of weapons. I don’t know him any more than you do, but for him to handwrite that to me, I mean why would he need to persuade me?’
If there is one thing worse than being Jim Davidson it’s being Tony Blair I suppose.
‘I wouldn’t be Gordon Brown!’
‘ We’ve gone on for much longer than we arranged.’
‘No problem. You edit it down to as much as your readers want. As long as it’s longer than the one you did with Paul Daniels.’
People don’t judge Paul Daniels in the same way as you. And he’s said some very right wing things. Why is that?
‘They just ignore the little fucker.’
Last question. If BBC1 phoned you up tomorrow and said “We’re going to give you your own Saturday night, it’s going to be a standup comedy show and we want you as the headliner but we want you to invite guests-
‘Who have you been speaking to? That is uncanny, what you have just said.’
‘Yeah, and that’s all I’m going to say.’
Who is on the guest list?
‘Well let’s just say that my first show will be John Maloney, Jethro, Kev Orkian and Matt Blaize.
‘Big Matt, we did a play together ( Stand Up and Be Counted) about a white bigoted comic and a black handsome young comic. I played the white bloke.
‘I didn’t write it for me, I wrote it for someone else and I got persuaded to do it and Matt Blaize loved it. I mean he was brilliant at it. Playing a bad comedian is difficult for me. I should’ve got Jimmy Carr to do it.’
Thanks for your time Jim. See you in Edinburgh for that pint.
So how do I feel about Jim Davidson now? There’s much we disagree about, not least the fact that he’s a Tory and I’m to the left of the Labour Party. Stephen Fry famously said, “I'd hate to meet Jim Davidson and find out he's a nice bloke.” Now I’ve spoken with the man at length I simply can’t dislike him. In the past he’s said some things that he shouldn’t and I’m pretty sure he will again, but I don’t believe him to be a racist or a homophobe, even if he might have been once.
Society has changed for the better since the 70’s when Chalky White was performed at the request of audiences, the media and TV company heads. Is it so hard to believe that Jim Davidson has changed too? What’s more he’s a very funny guy. And at the end of the day, isn’t that the most important thing for a comedian?
Edinburgh Fringe Tickets -
Jim Davidson: No Further Action
Do you have a question for Jim Davidson? Leave a comment below. We’ll put the questions to Jim in the first week of August.
Photo Julian Finney. Licensed from Getty Images