Dane Baptiste is on a roll. In the last two years he’s been the first black British nominee for the Foster’s Best Newcomer Award at the Edinburgh Fringe, had a self-written sitcom commissioned by the BBC and received huge critical acclaim for his second full-length stand-up show, Reasonable Doubts – not bad for a man who was working a 9-5 office job just a couple of years earlier.
Dane got his start in comedy “like most people do – following heartbreak.” He says this left him wondering what to do with himself on a weekday evening, which is a great motivator to be productive.
His first ever stand-up performance was in a local comedy club and, bolstered by a good reaction, he took to the circuit to hone and build his material. This led to his first Edinburgh show, Citizen Dane, which received fantastic reviews, a high-profile award nomination and plenty of positive attention.
Not one to rest on his laurels, fresh from the success, Dane sat himself down to write a sitcom. “It’s a challenge,” he says of the writing process. “You have to divide your writing between punchlines and creating visual imagery for the viewer… You also have to learn to write punchlines in response to your own.” The script that he produced would eventually become the pilot episode of Sunny D, which was picked up by the BBC following its success. It focuses on mid-twenties Dane living at home, dealing with personal crises of love and loss and dreaming of his eventual escape from his mundane home-office-home based existence.
The life Dane’s character lives in Sunny D is familiar to millions of us and one Dane himself knows well. After leaving that life to follow his dream and achieve success as a comedian, how does he feel about being labelled an aspirational figure? “I would avoid any kind of classification,” he says, “but I would hope that what I’ve done so far will make people think more about their lives in terms of doing something they want to do, as opposed to what they think they should do.”
Sunny D being commissioned by the BBC was the second key moment in Dane’s comedy career. The first, in response to the success of Citizen Dane, was his historic nomination for the Foster’s Best Newcomer Award at the Edinburgh Fringe. “It means a lot to achieve that milestone,” he says of being the first black Briton to pick up a nomination, “and more importantly it means a lot to be part of a new wave of comedic voices from a diverse background.”
In a time when black British comedy is almost entirely outside of the mainstream, save for a handful of Mock the Week and Live at the Apollo semi-regulars, he agrees that to be the first gives the nomination more weight – but again, he has no ego on show: “That’s not to say that I think any of my black British predecessors were any less deserving. Hopefully the nomination proved how valid voices outside of dominant culture are, and leads to more investment.”
Dane is currently touring his second full-length show, Reasonable Doubts, and he’s due to hit The Cookie on 10th November.
Unexpectedly for someone with so much success, this is his first ever national tour. He describes his new life on the road as “scenic” and “not too convoluted to navigate,” he has opinions on the level of improvement that roadworks actually provide, and the lack of “cutlery-based” foods on offer to the late night traveller. It’s clear that these are minor complaints in the face of the much larger positive experience of doing what he loves.
Reasonable Doubts is a different show to its predecessor, taking on a greater range of subjects with incisive and clever humour. It’s been well received by critics and audiences alike – though it’s a big ask to create a show like that with the pressure brought on by a big award nomination. Did he suffer from Difficult Second Album syndrome? “I only found three to five grey hairs by the end,” he jokes, but he agrees it wasn’t plain sailing.
He tells me that the title Reasonable Doubts is partially a reflection on the writing process and the fact that “we live in a reality-focused world where we don’t really care if our idols are gifted as long as we can probe every aspect of their lives.”
He describes his persona on stage as “a heightened version of myself, some of the material is from the darker recesses of my mind, my ego, and also some is me expressing how I would deal with some of my observations in an ideal world without politics and the bureaucracy of social convention. More succinctly put, what I would do if I could do what the fuck I wanted.” A fitting description of his performance style from a man who essentially did just that when he became a full-time comedian.
Ask Dane about his influences, and you receive a list containing some names you might expect (George Carlin, Dave Chapelle, Chris Rock) and some you might not (Victoria Wood, French and Saunders). He reserves his biggest praise, though, for other acts out on the road working towards their own dream. “Due to the time I’ve spent in the industry I’d say I’m more inspired by the people I work alongside regularly. So props to all of you, keep the art form going ya’ll!”
Catch Dane at The Cookie on Thursday 10th November.