A sold-out UK tour of…a PowerPoint presentation? Only Dave Gorman could get away with such a ruse. He rambles to Time Out about beards, bicycles, and his worst gig ever
Dave Gorman's PowerPoint Presentation sounds intriguing. Can you give Melburnians a sneak peak into what it’s all going to be about?
Well, it’s not about PowerPoint, it uses PowerPoint. Apart from that, I guess it moves through different topics in the way regular standup does. It’s united by the spiral of the presentation. By the end of it, a kind of theme emerges. But if I tell you what it is, you won’t have the pleasure of seeing it emerge, if you know what I mean. I had someone point out to me the other day that on the cover of The Planet of the Apes, they actually show you the Statue of Liberty poking out, and you go, “You’ve ruined the fucking film by giving us the ending." It’s not that it’s a big twist or anything, but it’s a theme that emerges, and it’s fun to watch it emerge and to sort of have it grow in front of you, rather than be told what happens. So I kind of don’t want to spoil it. But I guess it’s about information overload. It moves through different topics in the same way that every other standup show does. But it has an edge because of the way it’s presented.
One of your two weekly podcasts on Absolute Radio is on every Sunday from 10am. How do you juggle going out on a Saturday night with having to get up and do the show every Sunday?
I pretty much don’t go out very much on a Saturday night. Even when I’m on tour, I try not to miss a show if I can possibly avoid it. I hardly missed any when I was on tour [of the sold-out Powerpoint in the UK]. There were occasions where I was doing a show late night in Manchester and driving home overnight back down to London and getting in at 3 in the morning, and having to then get up at 6 in the morning. There were a few days on the tour when I was doing it on almost no sleep. But when I’m not touring, I just have pretty tame Saturday nights. You know what? I’m 40. I can have tame Saturday nights at this age. It’s not even a shameful thing.
Dave Gorman's Googlewhack Adventure had its premiere here in Melbourne. What was your top Googlewhack from your adventure?
It’s not about the words, I guess, it’s about the people. I can only answer it in that sense. I think there’s a thing I liked about so many of them. So many of the people I met were people who were living outside of the country where they were born. Maybe there is something about the way such people use language, or that makes it even more likely to be the case that people who travel and experience different things have a wider vocabulary – I have no idea whether it’s connected to the fact that they were Googlewhacks.
There are people that I’ve stayed in touch with from it. One of them is an Australian guy who lives in San Francisco, who was one of the early ones. He and his wife I’ve stayed in touch with, and we’re still sort of friends. There’s also a guy whom I really shouldn’t like, and I think he’s got to be up there. He lives in Texas, he homeschools his children, he believes in Creationism, he owns a gun. He’s basically a right-wing Evangelical Christian, and we don’t agree on anything in this earth. But we’ve stayed in touch and we occasionally meet for dinner. We have fantastic conversations where we disagree about absolutely everything, politically, socially. We don’t have anything at all in common, other than the fact that we get on. I really shouldn’t like him, but I really do. The sort of polite manner in which we disagree makes me very happy.
You did a book and tv series called America Unchained, where you did a massive roadtrip across the U.S. Would you ever consider doing something like that here in Australia? How about another bicycle trip?
After I do something, I get offered things that are a little bit like it. After I did America Unchained, I got offered Britain Unchained. And there’s no point – I’ve sort of already addressed that issue. As far as I’m concerned, it wasn’t a like a political thing, it was a nostalgic thing. And it’s been done, and you cannot copy it – you’d just end up having some of the same conversations that you’ve already had with yourself, and there’s no point. But I would love to do some big bike rides again. I loved doing that. But that’s just for my own sake, and I don’t think Australia is quite as bikeable a country.
It’s not biking friendly, no.
And especially if you’re trying to do a show every night. I got north of Glasgow, in Scotland, and the population gets pretty sparse. On the early parts of the ride – I was doing roughly 60 miles a day on the bike – if you went one way you’d hit one town, and you knew if you went the other way you’d hit another town. When you were scheduling it, you could work out whether there were towns that wanted a show that night, and you could plot your route. But when you got north of Glasgow, there was no town 60 miles away. And when you found a little village it didn’t have a theatre. So we were doing shows in village halls, and we were having to make the show happen. If we did it in Australia, you’d probably find you’re 600 miles to the nearest town that doesn’t have a village hall. The logistics of it would be completely and utterly different. But I would love to do some proper travelling around Australia, definitely.
Whereabouts have you been? Aside from when you’ve been performing at the festivals? Will you get a chance to go anywhere?
No, I’m afraid I’m going to have to go back, because I’m on tour in the UK after that.
You are similar, in a way, to Matt Damon.
Matt Damon is continuously asked about Ben Affleck. You and Danny Wallace have the same sort of partnership in people’s minds. How often do you guys get to hang out?
You know what? There’s a weird thing. When you write books, moments get locked in history. That will live forever, the time that Danny and I were living together. It’s in a book, it’s on a shelf somewhere, and people can read it tomorrow and they’ll read it like it’s happening now. The truth is – and there’s no ill will to it – I haven’t seen him for eight years. I haven’t been in the same room as him, genuinely. And it’s not because we fell out, or had any argument. It’s just we just drifted in different directions. I’m sure there’s someone you used to work with or live with, that with one thing and another, it’s just the way of the world. People always think, “What’s the scandal?” We just don’t live in the same part of town. I really hope that Matt Damon answers that question in that way sometime.
You've occasionally contributed to The Daily Show. Are you upset that John Oliver took over as the resident Englishman?
Not in the slightest, no. When I was involved in it, I was going over to New York for like a week and record two or three [segments] and then I’d disappear again, and they spread it out when they were broadcasting them. I was actually over there when they were talking about getting an English correspondent, but I was never doing the role of correspondent – I was sort of the facts guy. I talked to them, and they said, “Who do you think we should go for?” and I was recommending John Oliver to them. And when I said that, they said, “Oh, fantastic, that’s great news, he’s already our favourite”. So I’m not claiming that I was the man who put John Oliver up – I confirmed what they already knew for themselves, that he would be perfect for the job. But I never wanted to go and live over there – they were looking for a British guy to come over and live in New York become part of the team. And that was never the sort of thing that I ever wanted to do, not in the slightest. It did mean that when I was over there, we were both sort of working in the office at one point, and we could talk about football. It was nice having another Englishman there.
Well, you can talk about football in the US, it’s just a totally different sport.
Yeah, exactly. But we could sit in an office, and to go, “Did you see that?” To actually have a conversation [about football] like that, it was hard to do in New York.
Describe your idea of a nightmare gig.
It’s outdoors. People haven’t paid to come in. There are pillars everywhere, where people can’t quite see you properly unless they make a bit of an effort. The PA’s bad. And you’re on after a heavy band who’ve been numbing people’s senses. That’s the worst possible setup for a gig.
People have this attitude where no one ever blames the circumstances at a gig. No one’s ever gone away from a gig going, “Well, there were too many pillars, I couldn’t see”. It’s always the artist’s fault if they haven’t had a good time. The worst gig I’ve ever had, I was 19 at the time and it was a gig in Nottingham at a little club. I was really green, I’d hardly done any paid work. And the compere introduced me by saying, “I don’t know who he is. He might be shit.” Literally, before I’d said hello, the whole audience was chanting, “Fuck off, fuck off, fuck off, fuck off” – including the bar staff. I just didn’t understand. But in a way, it didn’t feel as bad as gigs where it started well and then it went wrong, because you’re learning and you don’t quite know what you’re doing, and you make those mistakes. So it’s worse, because you had it in your hand. This was impossible. So actually, it didn’t feel too bad. It became kind of spacey – it was like wading through treacle. I went on, and I just thought, “This is kind of weird; they already hate me.” Absolutely, literally, chanting at me to fuck off. And it’s not like I hadn’t walked on funnily enough – this was outside the rules as I understand them.
I thought that if I didn’t do my time I wouldn’t get paid, so I stayed onstage for 20 minutes, dealing with people telling me to fuck off and trying to explain why it probably wasn’t the best idea. When I came off, the compere came up to me, “Why the fuck did you stay on stage?” And I was like, “Because I wanted to get paid." “You should have come off after five minutes, you were dying on your own.” He was really angry with me for doing 20. It make you a stronger man. When it’s just completely unreasonable and there’s nothing you can do, you can’t actually be that upset about it.
You’re probably a PowerPoint expert now. You know all those transitions between slides, like "checkerboard"? Which one is your favourite?
There are all sorts of rules people tell you – I say “rules”, but of obviously there are no real rules – people tell you things like, “If you’re doing a Powerpoint presentation you should never have more than 20 slides. Twenty slides is more than the human brain can cope with.” In this show, there are 800 slides. Sometimes, rather than doing a checkerboard transition or whatever, I make ten slides happen in three seconds with no transition. What happens is each slide is subtly different, so the information arrives in bursts. The whole audience’s eyes jump in exactly the same way between the others, so in a way, the final slide becomes a sort of punchline, so you get surprised by something.
So I really overdo the slides, but I try not to overdo those weird flippy transitions. You know when home video editing came in, and on your computer you could edit things and it was amazing? And you could do it so the picture spun round? And you realised you never see those on TV. The only time you ever saw those on TV was in the 1980s in a pop TV show, maybe Molly Meldrum doing Countdown, there might be a transition into one of the videos. They’re not actually used in proper TV, and they’re toys that people over-use in home videos because people can. I think the same is true with transitions in PowerPoint – you’re only doing them not because you should, but because you can.
How has your life changed since you grew your beard?
[Laughs] I don’t know if it’s changed because I’ve grown my beard or because I’ve grown older. The main way it’s changed is that every single day, ten people or more will tell me that I have a lookalike. And that lookalike is a man that doesn’t look at me, but who also has a beard. People are unable to see the shape of your face beneath the beard, even though it is there to be seen. Literally, any man, ever, who appears on tv in Britain who has a reddish tint to his beard, whenever that happens, if I’m watching him on the news, I will turn to my wife and say, “I’ll have five emails in a minute telling me that he looks like me”, and she’ll say, “But he doesn’t look like you”, and I’ll say “I know, but let’s watch”. And five minutes later, those emails are there. You can’t avoid that, apparently, if you have a beard, with every other man who has a beard.
Apart from that, I don’t know if it has changed. I did shave it off once. I realised that my wife had never actually seen my naked face. We thought it was a good exercise for her to see my face, so I went clean-shaven for one day. And then I grew it back. I’m planning, maybe when I’m in my fifties, to shave it again. I reckon it will be like – do you know when you move a sofa, and the carpet underneath looks really new? You realise how tatty the rest of the carpet is? I reckon if I shave it in my late fifties I might look really young. I reckon that might be the long-term plan. I might look a little older now, but when I get rid of it I’ll suddenly have gained ten-20 years.
So, we will see you at the festival.
I’m looking forward to it. I’ve done it a couple of times before, and it’s everyone’s favourite comedy festival. Very much looking forward to being over there.