Anonymity or fame, David Baddiel? You can’t have it both ways

To stand centre stage and then complain about it is contradictory

Share

There can be few more perfect places for a famous person to contemplate the nature of fame than on the Edinburgh Fringe. It is there that many great actors and comedians launch their careers and later return, reminding the world that, for all their success, they are as grounded and in touch as they ever were.

It was a canny move, then, for David Baddiel, returning to stand-up comedy after a gap of 16 years, to choose celebrity as his theme. He takes a dim view of it. Publicising his Edinburgh Fringe show, he has won praise for admitting, with apparent modesty, that he is less well-known than he once was. Around Edinburgh, there are large posters of him, some of them quoting John Updike’s famous line about celebrity being the mask that eats into the face.

If you thought that using Updike to flog a comedy show was going it a bit, and indeed that there are a few contradictions involved in bolstering your public visibility with a routine that complains about it, you would be right. Talking about fame for an hour, David Baddiel is amiable and engaging enough, but far more interesting, if borderline creepy, is what emerges between the lines.

Being famous is addictive. It feeds on the desire to be recognised and liked, and even the most self-analytical of celebrities fail to see how much they need it.

Baddiel’s argument is not strikingly original, although it is unusual to hear it put forward by someone within the celebrity village. Fame makes people behave peculiarly and often nastily towards those who are well-known. The image which the world sees narrows the self, ironing out complexity and change, presenting a grotesquely inaccurate, out-of-date cliché. It is bad for those who see the mask, and worse for those behind it.

There is a problem here. David Baddiel reveals – unwittingly, one assumes – what happens to someone who has become used to, indeed dependent upon, being famous.

The business of telling stories which appear self-deprecating but are not – about hanging out with Russell Brand, or being insulted by Madonna, or being mistaken by Andrew Lloyd-Webber for Ben Elton – is part of the fame game. So is revealing the nastiness of online abuse, or the idiotic intrusions of members of the public into your private life, or the gormless things people say to you.

So is recounting an anecdote about how a groupie wanted you to say your famous comic catchphrase while you were having sex with her. So is talking about your family life and showing videos of your children as part of the stage act.

 This behaviour and these anecdotes – whose subtext is, “I may be famous but I’m essentially as normal, vulnerable and screwed-up as anyone”– are the staple diet of gossipy chat-shows for a good reason. Any expression of modesty or embarrassment is trumped by fame; not acting like a celebrity is now a good celebrity trick.

For someone to present  himself as a critic of fame, while playing that very game to the  hilt, seems faintly bogus. Clearly, Baddiel could earn a living  from his writing; he is an excellent and successful novelist and writer of screenplays. Privacy, as Updike argued, would make him better. He has chosen to remain in the public eye, because it feeds a neediness within him.

Fame tends to have the last word. You either aggressively avoid the limelight, or you stay within it, accepting its benefits and drawbacks.

To stand centre-stage, complaining about being there, is contradictory and undignified. A truer tag-line for Baddiel’s show would not have come from Updike but from Kingsley Amis: you can’t do both.

You can’t tell what’s Fringe and what isn’t

Daily life in Edinburgh can be like tripping out on a gentle hallucinogenic drug. Weird, otherworldly sights are never far away, and sometimes reality itself begins to bend.

After a lengthy wait for a monthly travelcard for the  city’s buses, I reached the front of the queue, only for the printer  to break down. The woman behind the counter blamed the effect of my photograph on the machine. Amidst general,  good-hearted confusion,  she said, “We’re basically a  Fringe event in disguise.  You’ve just paid £50 for the experience.”

Later, waiting to be seated  in a restaurant, I was struck  by the waiter’s similarity to Manuel in Fawlty Towers. That was because he was indeed Manuel in a play based on the TV series. I had wandered into the restaurant which was now the set.

This local haziness between reality and fiction is likely to  last throughout the month,  particularly –  for me at least   – at the Southside Cabaret Bar where tickets for my one-man show My Village and Other Aliens are, astonishingly, still available. If you happen to be in Edinburgh, come to the cabaret bar, old chum.

Twitter: @TerenceBlacker

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Office Administrator

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Office Administrator is requ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - Commercial Vehicles - OTE £40,000

£12000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion and growth of ...

Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - Sheffield - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer position with a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Leader - Plasma Processing

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An Operations Leader is required to join a lea...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: Most powerful woman in British politics

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
All the major parties are under pressure from sceptical voters to spell out their tax and spending plans  

Yet again, the economy is the battleground on which the election will be fought

Patrick Diamond
Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders