As he brings his new show to Belfast next week, one time stand-up superstar David Baddiel tells Andrew Johnston about that split with Robert Newman and gives advice to the NI football team.
But despite it all, David Baddiel knows that the public will always see him as a 'New Lad'/token Jew/comedy rock 'n' roller/football singer-songwriter' – or at least that's how he puts it in the blurb for his current stand-up tour, Fame: Not The Musical, which comes to Belfast's MAC next week. It may not be how the 49-year-old New York city-born Londoner sees himself, but it's a perception he has come to terms with.
"I think that's partly what the show is about," he laughs. "Within the course of the show, the audience get to know me properly, and then I talk about all these comedy versions of me that are out there."
Then again, not a day goes by when he isn't asked on Twitter when Fantasy Football League – the hit show he co-hosted with Frank Skinner (right) in the Nineties – is coming back. While he has moved onto other projects, his interest in 'the beautiful game' remains and he even has some observations about the Northern Ireland team's current performance standards.
"The truth is, that since the football league has changed with a lot of foreign players coming in, it seems to have edged out the way it was when I was growing up," David laments. "There used to be some very good Scottish players, or Northern Irish players, playing at the top level. Now, there are fewer and fewer of those, and I think that's why it's hard for Northern Ireland to be like they were in the 1970s and 1980s."
As for Belfast, David has performed in the city a number of times, from Newman and Baddiel's halcyon Maysfield Leisure Centre date in 1993, to headlining the Ulster Hall as a solo comic.
But unlike many artists, who gush about a certain town or city being the best they've ever played, David admits nothing much stood out for him.
"I've done Belfast a few times, but it was 20 years ago," he shrugs. "I do remember the audience always being great in Belfast – and Ireland generally – but beyond that, all I can recall is that I stayed at a hotel quite near the venue and it was really grim. I remember opening the curtains the next day and thinking, 'F**k me, I thought things had got better!'"
Despite the countless nights spent on stage, however, he admits to feeling some trepidation going back to stand-up with his first new show in 15 years.
"I was very frightened," he says. "The thing about stand-up is it's a nerve-wracking thing to do, and it's psychologically all-consuming.
" It's hard to think about anything else, which is one reason I hadn't done it for a long time. I wanted to do other stuff.
"With this new show, I basically threw everything at the wall in terms of my entire life and experiences within showbiz, and it was a mess. But now it's much more than that. There are sad bits, and there are serious bits, and it's funny the whole way through. For want of a better word, it takes you on a journey."
It's ironic hearing this from a man who, in the early 1990s, arguably helped invent arena stand-up comedy, with collaborator Robert Newman. At their peak, in 1993, the pair became the first comedians to sell out Wembley Arena, cashing in on their hugely successful BBC Two series, Newman and Baddiel In Pieces, which saw catchphrases like, "That's you, that is," adorning many a student T-shirt.
Today, Newman has almost entirely retreated from mainstream comedy, focusing instead on historical novels and political activism. But both he and David continue to attract old-school fans to their public appearances. Indeed, at a low-key, lunchtime book reading Newman gave in Belfast last year, there was a smattering of girls in faded Newman and Baddiel T-shirts, clutching vintage merchandise to get autographed by their one-time idol. "When you say 'girls', do you actually mean middle-aged women?" guffaws David. "They would have been girls when they bought them! If that stuff still fitted them, that's very impressive! It might have been easier to sign, because it was a bit tighter!"
He's on a roll, as he takes delight in mocking his former cohort, but he admits he attracts these long-time fans as well.
"In terms of the peaks and troughs, I get those people," says David. "I get blokes wanting to talk about The Mary Whitehouse Experience, and I've also got the whole football thing. In a way, the persistence of memory of what you've done is very gratifying and flattering, and I do talk about my whole career in the show.
"I talk about having sex with a woman after a show, and her trying to get me to say, 'That's you, that is,' while I'm having sex with her. It's always about the most humiliating stuff that has happened as a result of being famous."
Newman has been fairly outspoken about the guilt he feels about helping launch the now ubiquitous arena comedy format, but David is having none of it. "That should be about number seven in Rob Newman's guilt list," he chuckles. "I don't think the big arena comedy stuff really kicked in until much later. We were ahead of our time, I guess, but what needed to happen was the internet and the whole change in people wanting to see stuff live, and comedy is easier and cheaper to put on than music. When we started doing comedy in the mid-Eighties, it was very political – it was like experimental theatre – and we decided we weren't going to be like that, that we weren't going to talk about politics; we were going to talk about pop music, we were going to talk about sex, we were going to talk about football – stuff that was, for want of a better word, 'younger' than politics. And that did lead to a younger audience at the gigs. The feel was much more like a rock gig, and the peak of it was Wembley."
But it wasn't to last, and the duo famously fell out during the tour. "It was incredibly acrimonious," David confesses. "I remember people saying at the time that it was a publicity stunt, but it really wasn't. We weren't speaking at times, except on stage. I believe Sam and Dave, the soul act, had a similar relationship. It's interesting in terms of fame, in that it's quite toxic, and it certainly was in that relationship.
As for revisiting their partnership at some point in the future, it's a firm no. "We won't work together again. I've seen him a few times since – he lives near me – and it's been perfectly friendly and I wish him well, but I think he's in denial about that time."
It's a different story with Frank Skinner, with whom David hosted three series of Fantasy Football League. "I'm still incredibly friendly with Frank. He's just moved into my street – he always tries to buy a house near me – and I'm doing his radio show on Tuesday. So, it's not impossible to be in a double act and be successful – and fame doesn't have to destroy you."
* David Baddiel plays the MAC, Belfast, on April 4, as part of a new season of comedy at the venue, which also features Sean Hughes' Penguins show on April 9, and hit show What Would Beyonce Do?, from April 10-12. Visit themaclive.com
Whatever became of the Whitehouse lads?
They were arguably the hottest comedy stars on UK television in the early Nineties, but what happened to the other three members of The Mary Whitehouse Experience after they went their seperate ways?
* Hugh Dennis – the former Spitting Image voice impressionist paired up with Steve Punt after they met at university, going to on form one half of The Mary Whitehouse Experience. Lately, he's been prominent as a regular panellist on Mock the Week, as well taking the lead as the patriarch in Outnumbered
* Steve Punt – following TMWE, he and Dennis went on to perform in their own TV sketch show, The Imaginatively Titled Punt & Dennis Show. More recently he has worked as a writer, script editor and voice-over artist, becoming a "programme associate" for Mock The Week
* Rob Newman – while Baddiel enjoyed a high profile career throughout the rest of the Nineties with the likes of Fantasy Football League, the more angsty Newman largely disappeared from view, reappearing with solo work marked by a clear social conscience and anti-establishment views, as well as a new career as a novelist.