Dan Mitchell: A Bat out of Hell
Dan, a former undertaker, found himself lured to the comedy circuit when he realised how gratifying it felt getting laughs at the local pub quiz he ran. He set about his comedy quest in 2005 organising a regular stand-up night, which he compered, at Cardiff’s Pen and Wig pub.
Dan delves into quite an assortment of topics, ranging from epilepsy (which he was diagnosed with at the age of 17), encounters with the opposite sex and evil caterpillars. Most recently he came second on ITV’s “Show Me The Funny” hot on the heels of Patrick Monahan. Most of you will probably be aware of him when he won the ”Best Epileptic Comedian from West Wales called Dan” award at the 2004 Wales comedy awards.
Dan has garnered a great deal of attention and has been giging all over the shop. He’s definitely come one heck of a long way since his humble beginnings where he was booed off stage at a strip joint.
He can currently be heard over the airwaves as he is now the presenter of BBC Radio Wales comedy news quiz, What’s the Story?
We were only too happy when he agreed to have a natter with PPSF…. He even showed off some of his Batskills….
I hear you started out hosting a local Pub quiz and your stand up gradually migrated from there. How did the transgression come about?
The pub quizzes I used to run were a bit different to normal quizzes. I did club singing rounds (ala Vic & Bob) and little sketches and characters which I used as observation rounds. I ended up enjoying doing that more than the actual quiz itself. One of the characters I created there was made into a comedy play, which sold out (partly because I put “Free peanuts” on the poster). That said, I still have tonnes of quizbooks and my mind is full of useless information. Do you know how many penises a cockroach has? I do.
OK so recently you have been fighting it out against “hello” magazine with your “Alright” publication. I hope that’s going well. I believe your “What`s the Story” slot on BBC Radio Wales hit the airwaves just last week. How has this experience been for you? Do you prefer a more vis-a vis approach or have you taken to the radio studio like a duck to water?
I better explain what What’s the Story? is first. It’s a great comedy news quiz run by Tidy productions (which is run by Ruth Jones) and it’s been going for a while, with increasing success. I’ve been a regular panellist for ages and was so chuffed when they asked me to take over the big chair as presenter. NOW I HAVE POWER! BWAHAHAHAHA! *ahem* The first thing I’ve done is turned it into a much chattier show which plays more to my strengths. I even get the audience involved, so it’s like running a pub quiz all over again! But with less beer, unfortunately.
At least on the radio you don’t have to deal directly with hecklers. A little birdy tells me that he remembers the first time you died on stage very well. According to him you were doing a gig at a strange pub down the bay that was like a sports bar. Ring a bell? Your brother was there with another friend and they had to sit through your set whilst no one was laughing or making any sounds. Once it was all over you sat down and said to your brother and friends “that didn’t go well”. On “Show me the Funny” you had a bit of a run in, pretty much straight off the bat, in you home country of Wales. Your comeback didn’t go down all too well with the musclebound rugby lads. What did the series teach about dealing with hecklers comments? How do you keep yourself thick-skinned so that the hecklers don’t affect you enough to make you decide to throw in the towel?
Trying to remember every gig I’ve done is like trying to remember every meal I’ve ever eaten, and I have eaten loads. Some are effortlessly delicious and some are rancid platefuls of crap that you wouldn’t feed to your dog.
What I’m saying is, that I don’t remember the specific gig, but I know what it’s like to die on stage. It’s horrible and you feel worthless. As you gig more you learn how to tell when it was your fault and when it was out of your hands.
Sometimes hecklers can put you off your stride, but normally, they aren’t too much of a problem. I can usually deal with them pretty well. They want attention, you give them a bit, have a bit of a chat and treat it as a laugh. If they persist, you show them they aren’t as funny as they think they are.
The main problem with the gig on SMTF was that I didn’t have time to humour them and went in too hard, too fast. It threw me and I didn’t have enough time to pull it back. That said, I did get some laughs after that but they didn’t make the show. The joys of selective editing 😉
So far what has been the worst and best heckles you have received and what are some of the best things you have been able to come back with?
Most heckles are rubbish and unimaginative. So I can’t tell you any good ones. As for responses, I’m usually quite good. I remember my response to the classic “you’re shit!” heckle. I pretended to be thrown by it, and said “you’re right. I should go home now, start writing better jokes, practise day and night and come back when I’m really good. Unfortunately nothing could help you, as you’re always going to be a prick, now shut up!” That worked for a while but when he chipped in again, I got the 300 strong audience to shout “Shut the fuck up” in unison. And that is a joyous sound.
Some comedians like fellow “specs offender” Frankie Boyle tend to rely heavily on extracting the Michael out of the audience. I do appreciate his comedy but would you not agree that this style can go a bit too far and and could even be an excuse to not having to write a full hour and a half stand up material?
Frankie Boyle can be great. His confrontational style is brilliant to watch, giving his performance an element of danger that you may not get with other acts. And at his best, he is hilarious. The problem with ‘pushing boundaries’ is that sometimes you get the feeling that some comedians are just concentrating on being controversial instead of actually being funny. That’s when it gets tiresome and you might as well be listening to an aggressive drunk.
Talking of the “specs offender” joke. You also openly discuss are an epileptic and that people started calling you shake’n’vac and eventually “specileptic”. Were people so cruel to you or do you exaggerate a tad as I have heard you say that you like to to deal with “tormented souls” in your material.
While most of my material about epilepsy is honest, I’ve never been picked on because of it. I was 5 foot 6 at the age of 12 so noone would pick on me. I find that most people just don’t understand epilepsy and feel a bit uncomfortable about laughing at epilepsy at first, but I soon show them that it’s okay. I am often asked about it and have given talks for Epilepsy charities.
I do enjoy the morose tortured soul elements that I use in my comedy and they definitely exaggerate my miserable side, though I’m generally quite upbeat.
Being an epileptic seems to provide you with some dark yet hilarious material, but, surely your condition must also hinder your profession. What kind of stumbling blocks does it pose for you as a comedían?
Being an epileptic is a pain in the arse. The main problem for me is that I cannot drive, which is nigh on essential for comics, and probably never will do. I can’t do really long hours, or really early mornings or I may have a fit. That said, it does give me some brilliant thoughts which I may or may not have had if I didnt have epilepsy. So I accept my “dark passenger” and make the most of it. It’s not all bad being a pavement raver 😉
I hear you have recently made possibly one of the biggest moves in your career: the purchase of a Playstation. What was the first game you bought with your spanking brand new console?
I’ve always been a computer game fan, every since I had my first ZX Spectrum (which was 30 last week). I worked my way through the NES, SNES, Playstation, Playstation 2 and now, finally, the Playstation 3.
And I couldn’t be happier. I bloody love it. As a comedian, you have to be pretty self motivated, and I wasn’t getting as much done as I should. So I decided to get a PS3 as an incentive.
For every hour of writing I do, I get an hour of PS3. If I go to the gym for an hour, I get an hour of PS3. In three weeks I had written a brand new set and had lost 20lbs. Most importantly, though, I had beaten Batman:Arkham Asylum, the first game I bought.
I’m a massive comic book geek and Batman is the ultimate hero. A lot of comic book games are crap, but AA is brilliant. The fighting style is so intuitive, that you feel you are as skilled as Batman just by pressing a few buttons. It’s a joy to sneak up behind a criminal and take them out silently or swoop down from a gargoyle and leave them dangling 20 foot in the air. The detective mode adds a whole new element too, showing the intelligent side of the character. And there are so many geeky references throughout that makes a comic book nerd like me squeee!
I like putting our guest comedians on the spot with some out of the blue gaming questions.
This week I want you to take a look at the following game screenshots and come up with your funniest caption/short story.
A few quick shot questions:
Favourite Movie(s): Dead Mans shoes. It’s dark, humourous and brilliant.
What are you reading at the moment: The sixth Game of Thrones book. It’s absolutely fantastic, but a very hefty tome
What song(s) are you listening to at the moment: since writing this-”Alive by Goldfrapp, Captain Jack Sparrow by Lonely Island and The Only Living boy in New York by Simon and Garfunkel
What’s the worst movie you’ve ever seen: Dungeons and Dragons. PISS POOR
Favourite Videogame: Batman:Arkham City
Worst Videogame: Superman on Nintendo 64. Absolute tosh, bad on EVERY level
Worst Movie based on a videogame: Super Mario Bros. Koopa is NOT A MAN. Full stop
Which rising comedian(s) would you like to see more of in the future?
Brian Gittins. He is amazingly, beautifully, confusingly hilarious
Ok, so you are currently hard at work with you brand new radio DJ spot but what other projects have you got in the pipeline? A stand-up tour, TV show?
Ha! I’m not a DJ. I’m a presenter. There are no records, just jokes and banter. Apart from that I’m really busy gigging all over and getting my first Edinburgh show ready for August. It’s called Free Egg and is going to be awesome. Believe. And as for other TV etc. Watch this space.
When comedian Dan Mitchell is ill (proper ill, mind), nothing is right. The bed is too lumpy, the duvet is too hot and there’s a seagull outside his window paying mind games. He wants nothing more than to lie back watching squirrel movies, getting his brow mopped. But Dan’s internet is down and his brow remains unmopped, meaning he only has his imagination to entertain himself. Join Dan as his mind swiftly unravels in a comedy tale of sickness, paranoia, fate and above all, Free Egg.
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