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The Conspiracy Tourist: Dom Joly on his new book and tour

Dom Joly. Photo: Spencer McPherson/Still Moving Media
Dom Joly. Photo: Spencer McPherson/Still Moving Media

Has comedian Dom Joly just written a book about conspiracy theories? Is the Earth flat! Katie Jarvis speaks to him about his latest travel compendium – The Conspiracy Tourist: Travels Through a Strange World – which he’s also about to take on tour.

Here (you didn’t ask, I know. Maybe you should have done) is one of my favourite things on TV.

Ever.

We’re looking at a blisteringly-cold, empty, Newfoundland winter: a whiteout where only trees on a far horizon rescue the lower scene from monochrome; where a simple blue sky adds bare paint-by-numbers interest.

The soundtrack (there’s always a soundtrack) is Brilliant Mind by Furniture.

Great British Life: Tiger and Dom in Dildo, Newfoundland. Photo: Dom JolyTiger and Dom in Dildo, Newfoundland. Photo: Dom Joly

I’m at the stage

Where everything I thought meant something seems so unappealing

But, hold on. There is someone in the deafening silence of here; a pinprick in a Douglas Adams universe. An Inuit in a coverall Parka with periscope hood: not a Planck-Length of skin visible. He is sitting on a crate on a frozen lake, fishing rod in hand, waiting with infinite patience. Perhaps the ice-hole will produce dinner. Then again *shrug* maybe not.

The utter dignity of the scene is punctuated only by a second figure… striding unseen across the snow-muffled ice towards our lone fisherman.

As he gets within two feet of the unsuspecting fisherman’s rear, our second figure lifts a pair of cymbals.

Dom Joly flew for five hours to make an Inuit jump.

‘I’ve worked out what makes me laugh now,’ he says, as we eat pizza in Cheltenham. ‘It’s travelling vast distances and making a massive effort to do something totally pointless.

And that’s it.’

As in, a frozen lake?

‘Exactly that.

‘You’ve got to try one of these,’ he says, pointing to a plate of courgette fritters. ‘Not sure if they’re vegan. They’re really nice.’

Great British Life: Dom Joly. Photo Spencer McPherson/Still Moving MediaDom Joly. Photo Spencer McPherson/Still Moving Media

DOM JOLY DOESN’T WANT TO RANT.

He doesn’t want to rant about Rees-Mogg or Johnson.

‘I went to school with all those sorts of people and you can see through them in seconds. My wife, Stacey, can never spot them – she’s Canadian. She’ll say, ‘He’s a gentleman.’ I can tell you right there, he’s anything but.’

OK – they might know the odd Latin word, ‘But they’re so ill-educated! People are almost cultishly devoted to them and, literally, they wouldn’t give you the time of day.’

Just for comparison, the non-ranting list includes:

• Trump

• A lack of centrism

• Trump’s one-time advisor’s ‘alternative facts’ (‘I’ve almost forgotten her name, thank god’)

• Vox pops that give as much credence to Brian from Eastbourne as to someone with a PhD in the subject (‘Mental’)

• And Trump. Again.

‘Everything drives me nuts! I’m so angry. Can you believe that the two best people in America are Biden, who is ‘gone’, and Trump. It’s astonishing. There must be someone else. I’ll stand!’

Wish Dom Joly would. He’s only hampered by nationality, relative poverty (or possibly actual poverty: ‘I’m terrible with money. Maybe I should have got a proper job’).

And the rare curse of sanity, I guess.

I’d vote for him simply because he makes me laugh more than almost anybody else. (Viz: Trigger Happy TV – the genius hidden-camera series; World Shut Your Mouth.

The fact that he (sort of) went to school with Osama Bin Laden. Definitely the fact that he once got offered a lift in a limo by his hero, Robert Smith. A dream date only ruined when Dom opened Smith’s car door straight into an oncoming bus.)

But let’s look on the bright side.

Such as the fact that Mr Trump faces a potential 641 years in prison? (I’m going to stick my neck out here and say that’s unlikely to be reduced for good behaviour.)

‘The problem is, it hardens his base. It’s, ‘See! They want to get me!’ People are so radicalised now. That’s what conspiracies are.’

Ah, yes. Conspiracies.

IT STARTS (the book, at least) in 2020 with a chap named Thomas, who sits on a bench each day opposite Dom Joly’s house in Cheltenham. Their dogs are friends.

Thomas is a good conversationalist – intelligent; well-travelled, with a great backstory. (Survived a bad cliff-fall in Lincolnshire by grabbing a branch on the way down.)

Other than that, nothing to see here.

Until, that is, Dom makes the rookie error of expressing the hope that Biden will win the upcoming US elections; upon which Thomas turns an alarming shade of puce.

Biden! Biden?

Great British Life: Helsinki... or is it? Photo: Dom JolyHelsinki... or is it? Photo: Dom Joly

He segued on to ranting about George Soros, Jews and a New World Order that secretly ran everything. The COVID-19 vaccine, he told me, was a tool used by lizard leaders to control our minds. Bill Gates was apparently behind it all.

(That’s the Bill Gates, by the way, facing trial in India for killing thousands of street children during unauthorised vaccine experiments …)

To be fair, Thomas was being relatively modest. He could well have added further popular conspiracy theories, such as (another list – sorry):

• Finland doesn’t exist.

• The military covers up UFO sightings/landings.

(Though – can’t remember who said it; Gore Vidal? – I did love whoever suggested that, instead of vaguely preaching world peace, any touring aliens might helpfully use their weekend-break to explain the Riemann hypothesis.)

• 9/11 was orchestrated by [insert name here].

• Kennedy was shot by [insert name here].

• Moon landings were filmed in [insert television studio name in here].

• Pigeons (this one is slipped in for bird-fanciers; don’t mention it) have batteries and are secretly recording on behalf of dark forces.

• And (a conspiracy theory so well established as to be practically true by default) the Earth is flat.

I whip out – like a badge of honour – a survey I’ve found from a Cambridge think tank thingy…

Great British Life: Dom Joly. Photo: Spencer McPherson/Still Moving MediaDom Joly. Photo: Spencer McPherson/Still Moving Media

‘Are they a dodgy think tank?’

(Don’t sound like it. They’re the ‘YouGov-Cambridge Globalism Project’, whatever that might be.)

Anyway. So they say the idea the world is run by a shadowy single group dates from the 18th century. The 18th century!

‘That’s true. I talk about that in my prologue.’

But a shady cabal?

‘I’ve met a lot of people in power and, I’m telling you, they’re not smart enough. These people can’t run parking systems. But this idea that the moon landing never happened. The size of that lie…’

Yeah, OK. An absolute whopper. Yet this same think tank (thingy) claims that one in eight Americans actually believes the moon landings were faked…

Great British Life: Crucifixion scene in Texas, that turned out to be telephone pole engineer school. Photo: Dom JolyCrucifixion scene in Texas, that turned out to be telephone pole engineer school. Photo: Dom Joly

‘But one of the other really interesting things about conspiracy theories is, actually, once you believe in one, you tend to believe in all of them. It becomes your club; your tribe. That’s why it’s so difficult to leave conspiracies and stuff. Because you’re almost becoming a traitor; leaving your friends and accusing them of being idiots.’

I’m getting shades of the Moonies here.

‘There’s a guy called Brett Lee – no, that’s an Australian fast bowler. I can’t remember his name [Brent Lee Regan from Bristol; I looked it up]. I interviewed him and he was fully into 9/11 [conspiracy theories].

‘He’s come out of it now and does a podcast as an ex-conspiracy theorist. He almost had to go to witness protection programme.’

So, look. Whereas most of us might have waved a nervous but nostalgically fond farewell to Thomas and dog, while calling over our shoulders a sincere message about staying away from heights, Dom did the opposite.

He decided to travel the globe to immerse himself in the geography and demography of the conspiracy theory in all its multifarious glory.

CONSPIRACY THEORIES CAUSE RIOTS.

This book is an absolute one.

It begins – though please feel free to be sceptical – in Finland. Now, I don’t know about you, but the fact that I’ve never been to Finland hasn’t – as yet – stopped me believing in Helsinki, reindeer, public saunas, Petteri Orpo or Santa Claus.

That, of course, was before I read Dom’s book.

The conspiracy theory he uncovered here dates back to 1918 when (so the moon-landing/QAnon/JK story goes), Russia and Japan fabricated the existence of Finland to stop everyone else fishing in that part of the Baltic Sea. You can’t fish on a landmass, sort of argument.

So Dom and his wife Stacey get on a plane and fly to Finland.

Or do they?

‘That’s what going to Finland was about. How can I prove Finland exists? It’s actually impossible. Because everything you say, they go, ‘Ah, well: you’re in on it.’ I love that whole concept.’

Thanks to naively trusting Ryanair – who simplistically offer flights there – Dom enjoys a sauna (a scene so genuinely hilarious, I have to stop reading for a bit because my husband can’t hear the television), asks Finnish people very loudly and suspiciously if they can prove he’s in Finland, and winks at a boat captain. (Long story.)

What he doesn’t do – to my mind – is prove the country exists.

Not a good start.

From there, we rattle through theories surely not chosen solely for an excuse to travel (eh, Dom?), but very good value, whatever. This is a delicious – and often rightfully disturbing - book.

Dom’s in America, investigating people such as Alex Jones, who claimed the parents of children killed in mass shootings were actors.

Great British Life: Dom arrives at Roswell. Photo: Dom JolyDom arrives at Roswell. Photo: Dom Joly

He goes to Roswell (I mean, der). Investigates (ish) the Kennedy assassination. (Double der.) And so on.

Entertaining; very funny; informative; and strangely scary, too.

One of my favourite chapters involves Camelot Castle, an hotel in Cornwall, owned by John Mappin, heir to Mappin and Webb jewellery company. Mappin’s main claim to fame – other than up to four years’ interest-free credit on selected items – was flying the QAnon flag, and offering discounts to unvaccinated guests.

(Certainly, according to online reviews, the hotel posed a very real and present danger of being hard-sold paintings by the resident artist.)

When Dom finally gets to meet Mappin, ‘I quite liked him but the stuff he was saying – mental’. He tells Dom, ‘The problem with conspiracies is that they are constantly hijacked by the lunatic fringe – which appeals to the media.’

But – let’s get to the rub - nothing can beat Flat Earth: the people who genuinely believe the concept that the Earth is spherical is just a lot of balls.

How on Earth did this theory come about?

‘That’s one thing I did discover: Flat Earth was a sort of philosophical in-joke. It was a couple of Canadian or American stoner university professors who thought: How do we argue the most ridiculous thing ever?’

Their success must have been beyond their wildest dreams.

Great British Life: Flat earth: At the edge of the world, Fogo Island. Photo: Dom JolyFlat earth: At the edge of the world, Fogo Island. Photo: Dom Joly

So Dom and a friend hire a boat for a Flat Earther to find the edge of the world off Fogo Island, Newfoundland… well, you’ll have to read to see whether they, or the theory, fall off a cliff.

ACTUALLY, DOM JOLY IS PRETTY HAPPY, on the whole (in purely personal terms).

‘I’ve had the best parental week ever,’ he says, as we finish eating lunch. ‘My daughter graduated on Saturday from Oxford – and that was just amazing.

‘Then I took my son to the Ashes on one of the great days of English cricket. So I’ve had two of the best bonding sessions.’

He’s excited about the tour; and about the book.

Only one thing would make his life truly complete: To be able to make a living writing travel books.

There is, of course, a massive obstacle.

‘I love Bill Bryson but he’s my nemesis because my dream is not to be Trigger Happy but to be Bill Bryson.’

Currently, like Flat Earthers, Bill has it all cornered.

‘I saw him on the street two years ago. I was driving my car in London – and I’m the only person who would recognise Bill Bryson: I love him. But he annoys me so much.

‘And it crossed my mind – I could ‘accidentally’ sneeze now…’

• Dom Joly’s The Conspiracy Tourist: Travels Through a Strange World is out on November 2 (£22, Robinson). Tickets are on sale for Dom Joly The Conspiracy Tour via domjoly.tv

• Dom’s tour, in February and March 2024, includes appearances in Bristol, Cheltenham, Worcester, Swindon and Oxford.

Great British Life: The Conspiracy Tourist, by Dom JolyThe Conspiracy Tourist, by Dom Joly



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