David Baddiel has enough strings to his bow as it is – comedian, novelist and, most recently, playwright. As he gears up to go on the road again with his new one-man show Trolls: Not The Dolls, Seren McKeever asks him about his creative process, internet trolls and his views on cancel culture.
You have a lot of ongoing projects, do you find it hard to get back into writing one-man shows?
I found it hard when I started doing stand-up again. In 2013 I hadn’t done it for over 10 years, and getting back was difficult. One thing about stand-up is, the only way you’re able to deal with it is by doing it, but if you stop doing it, terror comes back. But, with this show, I’m back in the swing of things because I’ve been touring already.
Also, this show is about social media. I’m using a lot of stuff that I sort of know works already. I base it around using my Twitter feed. That’s the useful thing about Twitter: it’s like trying out material, because you can do jokes and see whether people like them. However, this show has taken quite a lot of workshopping, I can only hope it’s good enough when it comes to touring!
During the workshopping process, did you want to constantly revise material based on new tweets and events?
Yeah! I’ve based the show around my Twitter feed. I’m tweeting about 7 or 8 times a day, if one of those tweets becomes a hit, I might want to use that.
This show is also more topical than my other shows. So, the other issue is, stuff changes. Some tweets I talk about that worked well a year ago, don’t work well now. I have to keep refreshing it, and that’s an issue when you’re touring for six months. However, I find it kind of interesting to keep putting in new material. I did the last show for about two years overall, by the end I was quite exhausted with that material. This show is more changeable, which will be good.
Do you ever get to a show or a venue and worry that some of the material in there isn’t going to be as well received as in other cities?
Trolls has an issue with that which the previous shows don’t – because it’s more political. Though, the material is not partisan, it’s trying to find the human response. When you talk about this online, you get this incredibly angry response, and that’s partly what the show’s about: why are they so angry?
With Swansea and Cardiff, I’m hoping to have the help that I am half-Welsh. My dad is from Swansea, and so last time I performed there, I had homecoming vibes. I used to go to Swansea every summer, so I’m hoping that will help me get away with more edgy material!
Does it ever take it out of you, having to talk about so many negative online things?
Definitely! The show uses a lot of material of me being trolled, to show how you can make abuse funny. Then, towards the second half, it gets darker. I talk about some of the really unpleasant attacks and how those make me feel. I try to deal with racism and anti-Semitism online. It does get quite dark, but at the end, it is quite a positive show about social media. It’s not saying all it’s doing is making people angry. It is doing that, but it can also do other things.
What’s your opinion on cancel culture? Does it work?
It works! I don’t delve into it that much in the show, although I’m thinking of talking about it in another form. There’s no question people with a platform are anxious about saying the wrong thing and being ‘cancelled’.
The interesting thing is, some of what’s happened is very positive. #MeToo is an important corrective to male power. There’s a lot of ways in which things that happen online are part of the mass democracy.
You need to find a balance, but no one is balancing it! The internet is its own animal, with its own force.
David Baddiel – Trolls: Not The Dolls is at Grand Theatre, Swansea (Fri 24 Jan) and St David’s Hall, Cardiff (Sat 25 Jan). Tickets and info here.