Jack Dee: ‘The more bald end of self-help fascinates me’ | Jack Dee

Jack Dee is one of the country’s most successful comedians, loved for his deadpan delivery and sourpuss face. Last year, while the rest of us rummaged through lockdown, baking sourdough and growing our own vegetables, Dee wrote a book. IN What is your problem? Comedy’s Little Ray of Sleet Grapples With life’s big dilemmas, he falsifies the subject of psychotherapy, and establishes himself as a tormented uncle supported by four hours of online study at Ruislip College of Advansed (sic) Learning. It’s fun, sharp and occasionally spot-on.

Did writing a book feel different than writing a play?
It is more disciplined. In a live format, you then have instant feedback, you know what works and what doesn’t, so you can go on a tangent. With writing, the reader has only so much patience with that kind of discursive approaches.

Would you ever write a novel?
Optionally. I became very interested in the alter ego that arose right at the beginning [of this book]. That’s what tickled me all the way through – he’s this absurd charlatan, to be honest. I think it could have some mileage in the future.

Did you do a lot of research?
I have always read a lot of self-help books and been interested in the quick fixes I describe as philosophy-lite. The first one I ever read was Scott Pecks The road less traveled and People of The lie – perhaps more psychology than self-help, but nonetheless transformative. It’s probably the latest amazing one I’ve read 12 rules of life: An antidote to chaos by Jordan B Peterson. However, the more bald end of the market holds an even greater fascination. The ones you get at airports and train stations with titles like How to Make People Like You and Failure Is the Best Form of Success. “Crisis buying”, I call them. I also read many painful pages, partly because I am interested in the language.

What is the most truly helpful self-help advice you have come across?
The surprising answer is that as a child I went to a quite religious Church of England school and we had proper scripture lessons. As I get older, I appreciate that there is a wealth there that can inform your life enormously. To treat people the way you would be treated, try to love your neighbors if they do not like them – those things are pretty strong if you let them be.

And you actually flirted with becoming a priest?
Yes. I tried to answer a call that I confused with all sorts of things – acting, social work, in short the priesthood. When I discovered stand-up comedy, I realized that it had elements of many of these things, and I also spoke to much of the writing I had always written.

Have you ever been in therapy?
I was doing hypnotherapy. Since I had not smoked for 25 years, I very stupidly accepted a real cigarette on the set and it took me two years to give up again. The hypnotherapist was incredibly helpful and a hugely bright and insightful person. This is what makes me a little overconfident when people say: “I retrain as a counselor” – because I have known such a person, I know that it is not just a matter of doing a course. The people who do that also tend to be the most fucked-up people you know.

The book is dedicated to Jane, whom you married 1989. Any tips for getting happily married?
You have to be kind to each other and allow a little bit of selflessness and a little bit of co-dependence. Everyone is raving about the importance of being independent; in fact, it is much more mature to learn co-dependence and fully trust someone. Once you get there, a little bit of magic can come into the relationship; it becomes more than the sum of its parts. It is a true blessing.

You’ve been making people laugh for more than three decades. Have we become more serious as a culture?
I think comedy suffers from the death of debate. One cannot disagree without it in some cases having incredibly serious consequences for oneself and it is of course harmful to everyone in society.

You self-censor in your boothup?
I criticize myself and it is important that I do. Really, the only rule of thumb I follow is if I had to say something about someone, would I still say it if they were in the audience? Much of the noise around these topics has its source in people wanting to be included, and I do not want my comedy to say, “I want everyone to enjoy it except you, because in fact you are the butt of joken today. ” You become the butt of the joke if you bully, as far as I know – then the gloves are off and you can suck it up.

Is depression something you are still struggling with?
Less and less, thankfully.

What was the last good book you read?
I think good reading is a talent and I’m a mediocre reader – I read all the time, but I’m slow, so it must be something that will really, really catch my attention. The last one who did it for me was Stoner by John Williams. I do not remember why I picked it up, but it was absolutely absorbent.

What are you currently reading?
I cheat and listen to audiobooks. It’s a chance to “read” some of the books I always claim to have read or at least complete them. I have listened to Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Solzhenitsyn … At the moment I am listening to Nitten Firogfirs again because it is so relevant.

Who is the funniest author you have read?
I tend to avoid writing comedy because I do not want what I do to be contaminated with anything else, but I like David Sedaris. Everything he writes is so imbued with the attitude he has, and that’s what you’re also dealing with standup. You’re not trying to come up with individual sentences or paragraphs or gags – you’re creating a universe and drawing people into it.

Do you have a favorite genre?
I love spy novels. All by le Carré or Charles Cumming. They are observational and the narrative is very detailed on a psychological level. They are also gripping without being crime novels, which are always so disgusting to read. I do not mind if an East German spy is shot before I go to bed, but I get really upset reading things that are too gruesome.

Who is your favorite literary hero?
George Smiley, which is unlikely because he is an old duffer and says very little, but he is a thinker and strives for a solution every time. He is also cool in his own way.

What is your problem? by Jack Dee is published by Quercus (£ 20). To support Guardian and Observer order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery costs may apply

Leave a Comment