Dave Gorman: Games for a laugh
Dave Gorman's latest left-field comedy quest saw him visiting fans to challenge them at board games. But not everyone played by the rules, he tells Nick Duerden
Such is the man's reputation that, when he tells you he is recently back from Belgium, your first thought is that he must have been there vole hunting in some Low Country marsh, or perhaps learning Flemish, backwards, while hopping on one stockinged foot. But, no, says Dave Gorman on this damp May afternoon over tea in his favourite east London café, he was merely there for a short break with his wife. As people do.
"Lovely place, Belgium," he muses, before launching into a wildly discursive soliloquy about why it must be so pleasing to be, say, Belgian or Dutch compared to, say, British. "They are so much more relaxed than us," he concludes several minutes later, "so less caught up in their history."
Dave Gorman, TV perennial, radio voice and writer, has a new book out today. As with its predecessors, Are You Dave Gorman? and Dave Gorman's Googlewhack Adventure, it features an unlikely subject to expound upon for 80,000 words, but he does so with his trademark sense of curiosity about the world, and the people that help make it tick. It's called Dave Gorman vs the Rest of the World, and it charts the author's jaunt around the nation in pursuit of arcane and frequently pointless board games.
A Twitter obsessive – he has to date posted almost 22,000 tweets, while Stephen Fry, the doyen of Twitter, has posted just 8,000 – he last year asked his many followers whether they fancied playing a board game of their choosing with him. Hundreds responded, many inviting him into their homes, to play everything from Monopoly to Scrabble, as well as some more unusual ones: Kubb, Tikal, something called The Settlers of Catan.
"It didn't start out as an idea for a book, it really didn't," he begins, responding tartly to the suggestion that every wry idea of his begets first a book and then a stand-up tour, possibly a TV show as well. No, he insists, he embarked upon this ruse simply because the idea appealed. He was on tour at the time, and wanted to fill the hours until stage time.
"At first I asked people if they knew of any pubs in the vicinity with a dart board, because I do like my darts. But after a while, I widened the net. I liked board games too, and thought it might be fun to see who else did, and what they played."
The invitations rolled in from all over the country, and to such an extent that, even once the tour was over, he continued responding to them, regularly leaving his home – and his fiancée – in pursuit of a game of cards or a roll of the dice. His fiancée thought this foolish behaviour for one in his position, potentially even reckless. Gorman insisted there was nothing to worry about, that people – even those you first encounter online – were by and large nice and friendly, welcoming types.
But then one of them punched him in the face.
"Yes, well," he deadpans. "That was unfortunate."
Dave Gorman developed his love of comedy as a teenager, when he made the first of several pilgrimages to the Edinburgh Festival, coming back in thrall to the likes of Jeremy Hardy and John Hegley. Born in Stafford in 1971, the son of a design engineer and a teacher, Gorman spent a year studying mathematics at Manchester University before realising that the course didn't interest him anywhere near as much as comedy did. He dropped out, and became a stand-up instead, quickly gaining a reputation on the live circuit before becoming a writer for television, his credits including The Mrs Merton Show.
Are You Dave Gorman? was published in 2002, a typically Gormanesque idea dreamt up by him and his then flatmate, Danny Wallace (who himself would go on to write Gormanesque books – about being positive, saying yes to everyone, etc). The idea was deliberately simplistic: scour the world for other people called Dave Gorman, then talk to them. His next book, Googlewhack Adventure, was a comic trawl of some of the world wide web's more idiosyncratic sites. Both were bestsellers, prompting subsequent stage shows and television series.
He is now on all sorts of TV shows, he DJs on Absolute Radio, and he also recently propped up a surreal judging panel – alongside Shaun Ryder and Coleen Nolan – on the Saturday night ITV show Sing If You Can.
But none of this, he insists, makes him a celebrity.
"Celebrity exists only in the eye of the beholder," he says. "To me, it's a completely meaningless word. But I get told off by people on Twitter when I suggest this because they think I am one. It's as if they believe I should be constrained by a different set of rules, and they are criticising me for not holding myself in a higher regard to them. This is wrong on so many levels, not least because it is they that are doing the elevating, not me."
Nevertheless, for a great many people, being a man off the telly does indeed, in 2011, a celebrity make. His fiancée argued that, given that we are all now obsessed by such creatures, Gorman should perhaps be wary of visiting people in their homes, alone, to play board games. Some of them, she argued reasonably, may be a little odd. Gorman ignored her.
Most of his encounters, he relays now, were fine and fun, the people he met lovely and warm, and only occasionally disappointing. But Steve – and in the book, Steve is deliberately surnameless, to protect his identity (and avoid a possible lawsuit) – was different. Steve had contacted Gorman with the suggestion of meeting to play a game called IDVE, whose rules are barely comprehensible when explained, in the book, by the man himself, and certainly not worth rehashing here (suffice to say: it won't catch on). His initial emails, Gorman concedes, were distinctly unsettling, but he remained positive, and so travelled down to Portsmouth to meet him one weekday evening with few misgivings. Steve met him in his van, and quickly took offence when he learned that Gorman wouldn't be staying the night.
"We got to his house, and I realised that he didn't really want to play the game at all," he says. "He wanted to have a discussion about creationism instead [Gorman is vocally atheist]. But I didn't want that sort of discussion, and when I didn't take the bait, I think I spoiled the script that had been running in his head. And unfortunately he snapped."
Steve punched him in the face. And then he ran away. He returned shortly afterwards, not with an axe to finish the comedian off, but, bizarrely, to offer him a lift back into town. Just as bizarrely, Gorman accepted.
"In hindsight, the whole episode seems unreal, and a little comic, but at the time it was scary," he admits.
Presumably now he'll think twice before being quite so readily accessible to, for want of a better term, his fans?
Gorman mulls this over, and scratches at his beard. He starts to smile, and then to chuckle. "Perhaps," he says.
'Dave Gorman vs the Rest of the World' is published by Ebury (£11.99)
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