A Chat With One Of London’s Favourite Comedians: Dane Baptiste!

Elle Evans

By Elle Evans

Elle Evans

8 Nov 2019

It’s safe to say Dane Baptiste isn’t one to shy away from voicing his thoughts! Ahead of his Chocolate Chip tour next year, I recently caught up with Dane Baptiste to talk all things Comedy, societal issues and more!

E: What kicked off your love for Comedy? Was there anything or anyone in particular that inspired you? 

D: I always kinda liked it but I just didn’t know how to get to Comedy in the U.K because there wasn’t many Comedians like me around until Richard Blackwood which was in the early 2000’s. I became under the impression that most people involved in the creative industry had gone to Stage or Drama School, which I didn’t do and my parents weren’t of that background either. My Mum and Dad, my Dad was a mechanic so it wasn’t like anyone could tell me which way I wanted to go. I always enjoyed doing Comedy and then when I was 15 I went to see a Comedy Show in Catford at The Broadway Theatre and D.L Hughley was on and a relatively unknown Comedian named Russell Peters was on and I remember seeing them on stage and thinking this is amazing I love this stuff. My friends mum bought back a Chris Rock CD from America and I was like yeah I wanna do this. I didn’t do it for ages and then I thought why I don’t I just do something I wanna do with my life instead of what people think I should be doing and the rest is the present. But Chris Rock yeah, that’s the short answer for you haha. 

E: Can you remember the first show you ever did? 

D: Yeah I do! It was at Corks Wine Bar and it was Kojo’s Comedy Fun House. I remember I was really nervous about it and having a weird omen because the day before I was supposed to do it   there was a documentary about Richard Pryor on BBC 3 or 4 so I was like that’s probably a good sign.  I had 2 weeks to write the material and I was struggling because I was trying to write stuff that was funny and I was like errr it’s kinda un-funny to me. Then I started writing how I felt and what I thought to be true and it started making more sense. So yeah, October 26th 2006 was the first time I ever stepped on stage. 

E: Oh wow, so you’ve been doing it for a long time then?

D: Oh no! I stopped for a couple years when I had done 3 or 4 gigs and I was like okay well I don’t even know where this is going and how to get there and kept winging it. Obviously I had to provide for myself and comedy was not paying me enough to pay any bills – I couldn’t even cover a phone bill with the money I made from Comedy. Not that I didn’t like it, I just didn’t really know what I was doing with it so I went back to work for a few years. In 2011, I quit my job at AutoTrader I was like this is shit! I used the money I saved and said If I’m gonna do Comedy properly I really need to apply myself and not wing it. I was looking at other comedians like Dave Chapelle and Russell Brand and was like what do these guys have in common other than that they are naturally funny? Well they’ve all trained in what they’ve done, once I quit my job from 2011 I went to a writing course, I studied improv and I did a Comedy course and read books by other comedians! I also did a lot of research about the world, I would go to the library and read up on issues regarding race and class because if I was going to discuss that on stage I’ve got to do a good job of it! Just to have a better understanding of the world and popular culture – in order to make this career you have to be clued up so you don’t get old and get out of touch. So I actually just put myself through bootcamp. I didn’t want to narrow my way of thinking and closed to hearing different narratives from other groups. I grew up in Lewisham so when are people now are like it’s okay for people to be gay now and I’m like “Oh is it okay now?!” well done everyone. 

E: You are going on your Chocolate Chip tour next year which is exciting! Are you looking forward to it?

D: I am looking forward to it yeah! I do enjoy travelling, it’s one of the best things about comedy, seeing new places. I’m just hoping it will be a show that really stands out for people. We’ve had a weird change over the last couple of years where my generation of comics seems to have a large emphasis on talking about mental health issues and body image and actually approaching serious issues in comedy. It’s okay to an extent to discuss the issue but I still think the primary objective of a comedian is to make people laugh. I feel like you can still do that and have a message within your material. I’ve also endeavoured to do that and it’s gone well so far! With that in mind, this whole show is basically about how everyone talks about mental health and body image and I’m like how are we having this conversation and emphasising the importance of this stuff when you’ve been telling black children for years that they are inferior or pre-destined for crime because of their race and you’ve been making it illegal for people to have fucking dreadlocks! Then you wonder what it does to people’s mental state and have the nerve to be like ‘Why are you so aggressive?!’ if you were told you were less than a human being for many years you are probably going to get pissed off at some point! Normally when we discuss issues like oppression, if you are from an oppressed minority of people you have a chip on your shoulder. I was like, I do have a chip on my shoulder and I fucking love it! So it’s called the Chocolate Chip!

I’m also looking forward to people having an honest comedy show where I don’t promote this idea that anger is an unhealthy emotion. If we have an emotional spectrum then it’s a valid part of it. Given the current state of the world right now there are a lot of people that have a right to be fucking angry! 

E: You have a podcast called ‘Dane Baptiste Questions Everything’ – For people that aren’t aware what content do you cover on it? What’s the overall aim for the podcast?

D: The idea is that it covers everything! I believe that the ability to question things especially in a democratic society is one of our primary human rights. We are conditioned a lot of the time to not question stuff. I always found it weird when we reached the idea of ‘Keep Calm And Carry On” – remember when that became a big thing again? I was like were not meant to keep fucking calm because you’ve been depriving us of health care and disability services and housing! How the fuck can you stay calm if you go to University to try and get a better life and better jobs, you graduate and you can’t afford to pay back your loan! So you have to get a job and even if you do get a fucking job you can’t afford a home to physically come to work and even if you do get a home with work, most of your money goes on paying rent and travel to get to this fucking job in the first place that’s killing you anyway! And then after all of that you might not even get a pension now a days because they stumped on subprime mortgages! So at some point you have to ask yourself ‘What the fuck is going on?!’ and that’s the theme of the podcast that people should be able to go ‘What the fuck?!’. I look at people’s faces when I travel or are in certain situations and I feel like we want to ask these questions and question certain elements of our reality and people are like don’t ask questions just go along with it – I’m like how long can we actually do that before it really starts to fuck with our lives? If we get into the practice of asking any type of questions it’s open dialogue and we can learn about each other and learn about things without having the shame of being too embarrassed to ask.

The podcast is about speaking to people and asking people questions and having an honest conversation. People should be able to say ‘What the fuck?’ more often than just on WhatsApp.  

E: You have a sitcom called ‘Sunny D’ – What inspired Sunny D? What’s the main concept behind it?

D: Narratively and editorially it’s inspired by my experiences in my journey towards doing stand up and the life I lead before coming a stand up comedian. Just being able to capture the quarter life crisis for older millennials in that a lot of people in my generation were told that going to University would open more opportunities to them that wouldn’t normally happen. Now people are graduating and getting towards their mid 30’s or 40’s in some cases and think ‘Hmmm this is not exactly what I thought my life would be’. Aesthetically, it show’s how my mind works when I make comedy anyway. I’m very much a day dreamer, I tend to use my mind to deal with certain situations that I couldn’t normally handle in my normal life because I’d probably be arrested.. so.. that’s the way the show works. I grew up watching shows like The Simpsons and Family Guy, so the show has that surreal element to it. It’s taking what might be everyday situations because it’s a sitcom but making it a lot more surreal in terms of the approach and how you deal with them. 

E: It’s actually getting remade in the U.S. which is amazing! You must be really excited for that.

D: I am staying optimistic as it’s still in the process of being sorted out. Until I see it on a TV screen I don’t get overly excited. However, to have it recognised and validated in the states especially when it involves someone like Keenen Ivory Wayans who did the Scary Movie Films, Don’t Be A Menace and producer of My Wife And Kids. It’s in very good hands and if it leads to me creating something as big as My Wife And Kids and first two Scary Movie Films then I would be very happy! I’m excited but I’m not going to start looking at Rolex’s – is what I’m trying to say! 

E: You’ve been doing Comedy for a hot minute now – What are some of the biggest problems or issues if any that you’ve faced in your career up to now?

D: They are the same issues that I face in society anyway in any kind of industry so finding a way around nepotism, elitism and certain elements of racism and racial ignorance. I’ve seen more programmes on TV about hedgehogs and antiques than i’ve seen with black people in them. I’m like can I have the same level of respect as an ornamental lamp shade or commemorative plate please? The problem that we have are still the problems that we have in society, a lack of representation in some respects and playing grounds for creatives! Certain elements of discriminations for myself as a black person or even women – Which I feel is just a representation of society anyway. In the same way you have backlash from people in the right wing and people criticising what they consider to be liberals those are the problems really. Some of the problems are more from my perspective being a creative or performing artist. When you are a performing artist and are trying to appeal to peoples consciousness or hearts you don’t even need to do that across political lines. Talking about politics or gender that should come across in normal conversation anyway if you are trying to identify with other human beings.

But again, some people are just shit! I don’t like seeing shit people because they are just wasting everyones time. Especially in comedy and public speaking a lot of people find it very scary but if you have the opportunity you can do it. If you get people’s attention you may have some responsibility but if you use that effectively or how about you stop wasting our time and get the fuck off the stage! I am aware now a days theres a lot of celebrities – that word has lost a lot of meaning! There’s literally people that are famous for posting their bikini for 6 weeks..I’m like alright cool if that’s what people are into but that’s not what I’m about. What we interpret to be entertainment now a days is very much focused around youth. I’m just very concerned because when I was younger, being a young girl you could be blonde, brunette, have dreads be dark or light there was no unified standard of beauty! If you look on social media now if you aren’t hairless or have the same curves as a Latina woman, same amount of body hair as a Japanese woman, or a bum like a black woman, eyes like a white woman, lips like a black woman but the complexion of an Armenian woman – like what the fuck am i supposed to be?! Stuff like that concerns me about the industry and we also measure stuff now in quantity and not quality! Before it was always quality over quantity just in terms of society. Now, something can be terrible but as long as enough people see it it’s fine but that’s not always how the world works. Just because there is more of something doesn’t make it a good thing! There are more mosquitos on the planet than fucking tigers – I know which one I prefer to see on this planet! I don’t watch stuff like Love Island maybe I don’t understand society but do we really want to see what type of conversations people have between fucking because I didn’t but apparently everybody does! It’s just concerning what we consider to be entertainment these days.

E: You have also appeared on shows such as Live At The Apollo, Mock The Week, 8 Out Of 10 Cats and Tonight At The Palladium – What have been some of the biggest highlights or achievements within your career so far?

D: I guess the stuff you have mentioned! Doing Live At The Apollo and Mock The Week are really big milestones for comedians. Having my own TV show is also really cool and been another huge milestone in my career. To be honest, just being able to get paid from doing something you love is the biggest achievement!

E: Yeah that’s the biggest goal!

D: Yeah exactly, I have younger cousins and nephews. I can say to them I didn’t have to steal from anyone to do this or hurt anyone to do all of this. I tell my parents as well I’ve got no mother fucking boss so no one can tell me what to do – these are my biggest achievements! Not having to steal, fuck anyone over, not having to lie or abuse anybody. A lot of the time people are told you have to fuck people over to make capitalist gain and that doesn’t always have to be the way!

E: Is there anything we should look out for or can expect in the coming future? 

D: The tour will defo be one too look out for! I’m appearing on a show in the New Year called The Stand Up Sketch Show for Season 2 so you can see sketches based on my comedy in that on ITV2! Also going to be on a show called Pants On Fire later on this year with Emma Willis and Joe Swash I’m going to be co-presenting with them! I’m doing Pointless soon – do you know that show?

E: Yes I do haha!

D: Yeah your nan probably watches it! She’ll fucking love it mate! So look out for that as well! If anyone is interested in finding out more stuff then I have my YouTube Channel, all my clips and sketches are on there! Then obviously all my content on Social Media – so instead of having to awkwardly find out if I’m shit or not then just check out my stuff! 

If you want to see Dane on tour – tickets can be found here!