How I nearly got lost in cyberspace
Ahead of his gig in Belfast tomorrow, comedian Dave Gorman tells Matthew McCreary why Google almost cost him his sanity
The word ‘weirdly' is one which seems to crop up a lot in Dave Gorman's vocabulary. Even in the course of our comparatively brief interview, it punctuates almost every anecdote and explanation of his career to date.
But then Gorman has led something of a weird existence, even for such an out-of-the-box job as stand-up comedian.
Instead of the usual one-liners and observations about celebrities and current affairs, Gorman has made his own strange adventures the centrepiece of his on-stage tales.
In 2000 he arrived on Britain’s comedy radar with his show Are You Dave Gorman?, which followed his attempts to track down people across the world who shared his name. The idea originated from a drunken bet between Gorman and a friend and culminated in a trip to New York, by way of meeting the assistant manager of East Fife FC.
The adventures sound like something from Dirty Sanchez-meets-Treasure-Hunt, yet Gorman denies that such pub-style dares are a major part of his inspiration.
“The thing is they're not ideas for shows, they are things that have happened that you look back on and think ‘I could do a show about that',” says the 39-year-old.
“It has to be that way round because if you contrive them they won't be honest and if it's not honest it won't be entertaining. It's more of an attitude to life than work. If I hope to entertain strangers by telling them about things I've done, then I owe it to myself to live an entertaining life. So I might as well just turn the corner every time in life and wonder ‘What's round here?’. That's just who I am and what I do. Then I just stop and say ‘That was a bit weird, maybe I could tell people about that!’.”
Surrendering oneself to chance and opportunity might have something of a scientific or philosophical edge to it as well, and his educational background offers some clues to that.
“I dropped out of university as a maths student and I guess my head thinks in those terms,” he says.
“But when I'm writing I'm not thinking about the scientific basis of it.”
Other escapades have had a surreal edge that has almost spilled over into performance art. For Dave Gorman's Important Astrology Experiment, he attempted to put horoscope predictions to the test, at times interpreting their predictions quite literally. This resulted in such episodes as eating pizza in a park while dressed in a rubber suit, or standing in Covent Garden on one leg with his foot in a bucket of water, a tangerine in one hand and breakfast cereal in the other, in a bowl that cost £85 from Harrods, singing the National Anthem backwards and balancing three books on his head.
“A few times I have had emails from performance artists, asking ‘How the hell are you managing to do performance art and sell tickets?!’,” he laughs.
“The answer is I don't call it performance art, which is an intimidating phrase to people. It's comedy.”
His big breakthrough, however, also coincided with what he describes as a bad time in his life. Dave Gorman's Googlewhack Adventure saw him travel the world in search of people who had authored Googlewhacks — a Google search query consisting of exactly two words without quotation marks, that returns exactly one hit. His quest formed the basis for a massively popular live show which toured venues as far away as the US and Australia.
“The show was kind of about having a breakdown. It was weirdly good therapy, though,” he says.
“It wasn't a happy time in my life but it ended up giving me a very funny show and I loved performing it. Touring that was really good fun. I toured the world and Broadway — that was the stuff that was the most enjoyable, because it was all so weird and unlikely.”
Perhaps understandably his relationship with the massively successful search engine took a bit of a hit, to the extent that he has tried to put his Googlewhack adventures behind him.
“I use Google like everyone else when I want to find something, but that's all,” he says. “I don't try and Googlewhack. I get emails from people all the time telling me they've found them but they never, ever are an actual Googlewhack. The internet has grown enormously, it's 25 times bigger than it was in 2003, so the chances of finding one are much slimmer.
“But it was dangerous, I got lost in it once and I don't want to go there again.”
His latest tour — Sit Down, Pedal, Pedal, Stop and Stand Up — saw him cycle 1,563 miles from the southernmost point of the UK to the easternmost to the westernmost and then to the northernmost with a gig following each night.
“It was knackering — the longest ride was 90 miles a day, but the average was 50 or 60 miles a day,” he says.
The intensity of the experience meant, once again, his personal life had to take a back seat to the demands of the quest.
“Everything else in the world had to go away,” he says.
“I wasn't doing emails or interviews. All I had to do each day was cycle 50-60 miles and then do a show — that was it.”
He contends, though, that his schedule is even busier now.
“I find it is more knackering now doing it by car,” he says.
“I'm driving or being driven round the country 300 miles a day, doing loads of interviews and having to get back to London on a Sunday morning to do a radio show.
“Then I get a day off and have a whole week's worth of domestic stuff to deal with.”
Despite the unusual touring schedule, the new show nevertheless marks a return to a more straightforward stand-up format for Gorman.
“What I don't do is global politics or telling you how I think the world is,” he says.
He admits his life is “more crowded, and weirdly more exhausting”, and yearns a little for the simplicity of spending his working days with a saddle between his legs.
“There's something lovely about the purity of cycling and doing shows and only having that to think about,” he says.
“I wish life could be that simple all the time.”
Dave Gorman will be performing at the Waterfront Hall, Belfast, tomorrow, March 27. Tickets are £18.50 from www.waterfront.co.uk or tel: 028 9033 4455