British comic Jack Dee on letting his anger out on stage: 'It can be very visceral'

The comedian reflects on life during lockdown, completing his new book and writing new material

Comedian Jack Dee says audiences identify with his acerbic takes on life. Photo: Alamy
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There is a fine line between contempt and catharsis.

It is one Jack Dee has been skirting for more than three decades as a successful comic, actor, television host and author.

Known for a sour demeanour and brisk deadpan delivery, each performance – whether its stand-up comedy or television game show I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue – finds the Englishman looking like he’d rather be anywhere else.

The audience loves it, of course, because Dee, 60, voices many of the everyday irritants we silently endure.

"We all have anger and it's a legitimate emotion," he tells The National before his Dubai Opera show on Wednesday.

"Now, the real question is what to do with that anger and I somehow managed to turn it to comedy, which the audience seems to like.

“I know I feel better when I am doing it and I think the audience does, too, because I am articulating some of the hidden thoughts they may have not put together, yet, but as soon as I say it they immediately recognise.”

Tapping into that "angry person inside of all of us" has done wonders for Dee’s career.

After making his stage debut in an open-mic night in London institution The Comedy Store in 1986, Dee soon hit his stride, winning a British Comedy Award for Best Stage Newcomer in 1991 followed by a run of television comedy specials, including 2004's well received Jack Dee Live at the Apollo for the BBC.

His biggest TV success, ironically, was winning the 2001 season of Celebrity Big Brother.

As the resident grump, each episode had him dishing hard truths to fellow castmates, such as Boyzone singer Keith Duffy and boxer Chris Eubank, with episodes ending with Dee hoping to leave, to no avail.

By the time the pandemic hit in 2020, Dee already spread his talents to acting and starred in the sitcoms Josh and Bad Movie, in addition to conducting a steady stream of theatre tours across the UK.

For a self-described workaholic, how did it feel to have all future gigs suddenly disappear?

"It was a new experience for me,“ he says.

"I always had that mentality of 'I live for work' and for that to suddenly stop was initially scary, and what worried me was I realised that I quite like it."

Then again, the idea of not working is relative for Dee.

The 18 months away from the stage gave him a chance to revisit other projects.

One of those was completing his third book, What's Your Problem?

Designed as series of agony aunt columns, the work required Dee to undergo a four-hour online crash-course in psychotherapy in order to provide advice for people’s woes.

This is all done in Dee’s inimitable style, of course.

For example, when a young artisan asks how he can woo back his angry and heavily pierced partner, Dee replies: “buy a giant magnet.”

"While writing a book is less immediate than the stage, the actual process remains the same," Dee says. "I am still writing with the audience in my head and I can genuinely feel whether it’s going to work or not."

Dee also says he's looking forward to his Dubai show, which he describes as a revamped version of his 2020 tour, with new material to reflect the current circumstances.

He must have had plenty of inspiration, as the past two years have been frustrating at best.

"Sometimes, I do feel indulgent in that I am allowed to let all this stuff out on stage," he says.

"But this is what makes stand-up comedy special. It can be very visceral and honest."

Jack Dee performs at Dubai Opera on Wednesday. Doors open at 7.30pm. Tickets from Dh195 are available at dubaopera.com

Updated: January 18, 2022, 4:37 AM