HE’S perhaps best known as the man with the big phone or the man in the jungle, but there really is a whole lot more to funnyman Dom Joly.
I spoke to my namesake ahead of his forthcoming national tour “Welcome to Wherever I Am” which will feature the creator of cult show Trigger Happy TV and I’m A Celebrity contestant talk about his remarkable life and career that has taken him around the globe.
Born in Beirut, Dom grew up in the war-torn capital of Lebanon where he attended the same school as the man who would become the most wanted terrorist in the world – Osama Bin Laden – or as Dom described him “one of the Partridge family”.
He said: “My own family found itself in the Middle East because my great-grandfather was the British Consul in Turkey during the First World War. He was captured and marched to Syria, and the family later found itself in the Lebanon.
“It’s true that I went to the same school as Bin Laden. He was a few years older than me but I’m sure we must have shared a dining room at some point.”
Dom and I share the same Christian name but his middle name of Romulus is something else altogether. Romulus, with twin brother Remus, was the mythical founder of Rome.
“Don’t mention that,” he said. “I got so much grief at school with that name. I think it’s because I was conceived in Rome. A lot of people think Joly is an unusual name too, but in France and Switzerland it’s as common as Smith.”
Watching Dom scream loudly into a massive mobile phone in a library or harangue elderly people dressed as a park warden, a la Trigger Happy TV, it is hard to imagine the anarchic surreal funnyman as a serious writer and journalist.
Yet Dom was working as a political researcher and producer when he was asked to work for The Mark Thomas Comedy Product – a move that would launch him into the comedy world, eventually leading to his “most fun” series, Dom Joly’s Happy Hour, which saw him travel the world getting drunk.
“That series was just so much fun. I was basically travelling around getting completely wasted with my mate. Strangely enough I got really paralytic at a pizza party in Iran, possibly the world’s strictest Islamic country, yet couldn’t find a drink in Alabama, America, the so-called Land of the Free. Pizza, by the way, is the codeword young Iranians use for booze.”
Perhaps the most scary moment, though, was in Russia where Dom sampled a local vodka known as Samogon – at an eye-watering 80% proof.
“I literally had a 24-hour blackout after drinking that. It was like rocket fuel. I woke up at a hotel in St Petersburg and could not remember a thing or how I’d got there. It was insane. Apparently I’d tried to start a small fire.”
A visit to Chernobyl, the scene of the disastrous 1986 nuclear accident in the Ukraine, was also a scary moment for Dom on his travels.
“It was like being in some weird video game. The whole place is silent, there are no birds, and you become very paranoid. Your tongue also starts feeling metallic. Walking round, though, I couldn’t help thinking I’d been there before. I then realised the scene was used in the Call of Duty video game, so at least I knew some good sniper positions.”
Dom is probably best known for Trigger Happy TV, the hidden camera show that won the Silver Rose of Montreaux comedy award. But don’t be thinking that Dom was inspired by earlier hidden camera shows such as Beadle’s About.
“I actually thought Beadle’s About was rubbish. It was lazy. I didn’t want to make something original when I made Trigger Happy, just something funny.
“I suppose if I had one inspiration it would have to be Dennis Pennis (the shock celebrity interviewer played by Paul Kaye). He was so good because he pricked the egos of celebrities. It was anarchic.”
On his appearance in the jungle on I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here, Dom was less than kind about fellow contestant Gillian McKeith.
“It was like living with the Anti-Christ. She was just so awful and selfish.”
Next up, though, is a film which Dom grandly describes as “the Ben-Hur of the hidden camera world”.
“I have written a huge screenplay and I want thousands of extras like in the old Biblical epics. I already have 75,000 people signed up. In fact, on this tour I’m doing, I plan to ask the audience at each venue to do something stupid. The best reaction will go in the film. I’m not sure what to expect in Burnley, I’ve never been to the town before, so it will be interesting to see.”
As well as a programme-maker, drinker and traveller, Dom also has a prolific pen. The Independent and Sunday Times newspaper columnist is also working on his fourth book which will be titled “Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)” after the David Bowie album.
The book, again inspired by Dom’s travels, will recount his travels in search of mythical creatures such as the Loch Ness Monster, Big Foot and the Yeti.
Dom is appearing at the Burnley Mechanics on Friday, June 10th. To book tickets call 01282 664400.