Dom Joly attends the World Premiere of “THE EDGE” at Picturehouse Central on July 17, 2019 in London
“I was taken to a nasty cell where they asked what I did,” the comedian turned globe-trotter tells me. “My Arabic wasn’t good enough to explain, so I said, ‘Mr Bean’. They looked puzzled. ‘You’re Mr Bean?’ asked one. “No, I said, like Mr Bean. I ended up showing them Trigger Happy TV clips on YouTube, they laughed their socks off and let me go.”
Live comedy performance at the Drive-In Club venue on July 03, 2020 in London
The Channel 4 series made Dom, 54, an overnight sensation. When I call Joly’s mobile, the first thing I wonder is how big it is. Two decades after the show ended, memories of Dom hollering into his giant comedy Nokia are hard to shake.
His new tour, Holiday Snaps, is very different. “I call it ‘extreme power-point’ to make it sound exciting,” he says, adding, “My wife said, ‘Nobody wants to see your photos’, so I thought, I’ll prove you wrong. The whole tour is a fit of pique against my wife! It’s essentially your next-door neighbour asking if you want to see pictures of his brass rubbing weekend in Lowestoft.”
Although it’s unlikely your neighbour’s snaps would include skiing in Iran, hiking through Cambodia’s killing fields and a trek around Nepal looking for the Yeti. What was riskiest? “I’ve felt more worried in an English market town at chucking out time,” he says. “Although technically, it was the Congo.”
Joly was searching for the fabled mokele-mbembe, believed to be a living dinosaur, in the misnamed Democratic Republic of Congo. “I got arrested for not having a permit – no permits existed – and had to bribe my way out. Then I took a three-day trip down the Congo and negotiated with the local village to see the dinosaur. I paid them, they got outrageously drunk, a spear went through my tent, and I found my guide tied to a tree because he’d gone wild with a machete…”
Dom Joly and Stacey MacDougall attend the Welcome Dinner prior to The Costa Smeralda in Italy, 2017
Reading Tintin books as a lonely child in Lebanon had inspired him to become a monster hunter, but he says, “When I saw the state of my guide, I thought, Tintin would have gone on but, I’ll pass.”
Joly was born in Beirut where his war hero father John owned the family shipping agency, Henry Heald & Co. At 7, as civil war raged, he was packed off to boarding school in England and “only saw my father twice in the next eleven years”.
Dom attended Dragon School, Oxford, and Haileybury, Herts, before studying politics at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies. After graduating, he worked as a pizza waiter and bank post-sorter before landing a job as an ITN producer.
“They realised I was a chancer, so I’d be sent to do outside interviews with politicians. It was so boring, I had mates come along in the background and try and relate them to the subject. When David Mellor was talking about football hooliganism on College Green, they were in the background playing football.
“They were supposed to kick the ball to me when I scratched my face, and I’d pass it back. Instead, it hit Mellor and broke his glasses. ITN thought it was really exciting, but slowly they realised I was setting things up.”
Dom Joly seen at BBC Radio 2 on June 5, 2015 in London
Fired for organising a clown fight behind Paddy Ashdown, Joly landed a job as a researcher for the Mark Thomas Comedy Project, steering a tank through a McDonald’s drive-through on his first day.
The Paramount Comedy channel hired him to do outrageous stunts to generate news coverage. He sent strippers to William Hague’s stag night and set up a Peter Mandelson Fan Club of monsters, including Dracula and the Grim Reaper, who followed him everywhere.
Channel 4 then asked Dom to do a politics-free comedy pilot. The result was the surreally hilarious Trigger Happy TV, quickly dubbed “the comedy of the millennium”. But, says Joly, “as it aired on January 14, 2000, that wasn’t quite as impressive as it sounds.”
He was on a train four days after the first episode was screened when a Nokia phone went off. “Three random people stood up and shouted, ‘Hello I’m on the train!’” – his TV catchphrase. “They didn’t know I was there.”
Dom Joly takes part in Red Nose Day 2017
Every episode is now on Netflix. “I got recognised in the middle of Syria once,” he says. “And I walked into a shop in Phnom Peng, Cambodia, to see a whole wall of pirate Trigger Happy tapes. I told the owner, ‘Oi that’s my show’ and pointed at my picture. He had no shame; he just asked me to autograph them all.”
A proposed movie was scrapped because Dom didn’t want a narrative arc and he rejected a live tour because “I had fear of being s*** and unprepared. But for this tour I’m really confident.”
Around this time, he met his Canadian wife, art director Stacey MacDougall through mutual friends. They live in the Cotswolds and have teenage children, daughter Parker and son Jackson. Stacey is “polite, decent…nothing like me; so, when people meet her, they think, well he can’t be that bad!”
In 2003, Dom was hired by the BBC for a rumoured £1million. “They asked what I wanted to do. I said, ‘Find an Eskimo, I can’t explain it, trust me.’ He flew to Newfoundland where “the airport security guy told me, ‘There are no Eskimos on the island, sir’ – I didn’t do much research.”
Joly told the film crew to drive across the frozen tundra. “I said, ‘Trust me, I know what I’m doing’…I didn’t.” Four hours later, just about to give up, he spotted a frozen lake with a hooded man in the middle fishing in a hole he’d dug.
“He looked Eskimo-esque, so I crept up behind him with a pair of symbols and smashed them behind his head. He jumps up in the air, I run, and we drive back. That’s what I liked, a massive effort to do something pointless.”
The BBC wanted a strong show start. Dom suggested going to each of the seven wonders of the world and doing the same joke, which he did. That gag was, “Ah the Taj Mahal…this is s***.”
Terrible, he agrees, “but it’s my favourite joke ever. Two days later I was cancelled. Nobody told me, my pass just stopped working. I had to join a public tour of the BBC to get my stuff out of my office. This was 2004. I drove straight to Sky.”
He pitched a dangerous travelogue series “but Ross Kemp had that covered; they asked if he had other interests. Cue Dom Joly’s Happy Hour with him and his pals getting sloshed. “I wanted to follow that with Dom Joly’s Bad Trips, but my wife blocked that. So I went from weird comedy to books.”
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He’s written nine. His late father wrote four including Coral Circus, based on his time as a fighter pilot off HMS Impeccable with the British Pacific Fleet, in the 800 Squadron. Dom admits there is an element of “Look at me, Dad” in what he does.
In the flesh, Joly is softly-spoken and thoughtful. He relaxes by walking his two Labradors. “And I’m a hot air balloonist, but I’m definitely going to crash.” His done sporadic TV series, including 2012’s spoof chat-show This Is Dom Joly, but is in no hurry to return to our screens.
“My wife is always saying, ‘Why don’t you get a proper job?’,” he laughs. “She likes that I speak my mind and just go for things. She says my best quality is I never say no. It’s also my worst quality. I’ve done some terrible shows.”
*Dom Joly’s Holiday Snaps: Travel & Comedy In The Danger Zone, 75-date UK tour starts in March.