David Baddiel: ‘My Family is about trying to remember people as people rather than ideas”

Comedian David Baddiel and his mother Sarah Fabian Baddiel. Picture: Dieter Perry

Comedian David Baddiel and his mother Sarah Fabian Baddiel. Picture: Dieter Perry - Credit: Archant

Greg Wetherall talks to Hampstead comic David Baddiel about truth and vulnerability

“Truth is massively not respected anymore. I think it’s incredible what’s happened, how people aren’t bothered about truth”.

David Baddiel is in reflective mode, as conversation falls on the segment covered in his hit West End show My Family: Not the Sitcom in which a Daily Mirror journalist took a passing remark out of context.

The resultant story presented the Hampstead comedian as a man cursing the onset of dementia. It wasn’t true. Pounced upon by the wider media, however, it caused quite a stir. It rankles still. “The language of the whole show is about trying to connect with people by being vulnerable and saying, ‘here is my f**ked-up childhood; here are the things that make me anxious, blah blah blah’”, he argues.

“The problem with that is, if you’re in a lot more of a degraded culture, like the press can be sometimes, they would take that and say, ‘David Baddiel has admitted to this, and this means that he is making an announcement about it’”. He continues, “When I said that to that woman [the journalist], it was an admission of vulnerability: I was being vulnerable about my dad’s dementia. I like to admit vulnerability. I think it’s a good thing to do”.

His show, on its third run in the capital, is a heartfelt, and also raucously irreverent, paean to his late mother and his ill father and his unconventional upbringing in Dollis Hill during which his mother had a long affair with a golfing memorabilia salesman. “It’s about trying to remember people as people rather than ideas”, he says. Is it fair to see this show as a way of him processing his grief then? “Yes, definitely in so far as my mum died very suddenly”, he remarks. “It’s a way of processing and coming to terms with that”.

“I think that if she had died over a long period of time, I might not have felt the same need to chronicle who she was but, for me, it felt like there was a sudden absence of a very large character in my life. I felt this outrage at her funeral that this very unusual and idiosyncratic person was being reduced to someone who was wonderful in a bland way. I thought, well, that doesn’t describe my mother at all.”

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“I thought, I’m going to chronicle who this woman actually was. And the same with my dad, who is obviously going in a different way. Having said that, and although that is quite a large claim for it, I did a show two or three years ago called Fame: Not the Musical, which went very well. I realised that the autobiographical type of performing is what I like to do now”.

How does he now view the 90s when he and Frank Skinner, in particular, were omnipresent in those giddy Britpop and New Labour years? “I look back on it with a lot of fondness. There were lots of things in it that I wouldn’t do again exactly the same and sometimes I despair when I think about it but, in general, I really enjoyed it”.

Could we see a similarly unified, intoxicated cultural sweep again? “I do think that culture is much more fragmented now. You knew who your audience was then. Now, it doesn’t feel like that. Everyone has their own little audience that they carry around with them.”

“It’s the way it is, but you lose something, which is the sense of everyone talking about the same thing”.

Moving forward, the runaway success of My Family might keep him busy for a while. “There’s talk of taking the show to America. I’m fine to do it for a bit more, but I don’t want to be doing it forever. Partly, because it’s very difficult stuff to say every single night, and also I don’t know if I necessarily want to carry it on after my dad dies. That would feel weird and complicated.”

My Family: Not the Sitcom runs at the Playhouse Theatre until June 3.

David Baddiel’s third children’s novel AniMalcolm is out now published by Harper Collins £6.99