Interview: Dom Joly

Dom Joly at 131 The Prom in Cheltenham

Dom Joly at 131 The Prom in Cheltenham - Credit: © Thousand Word Media

Dom Joly of Trigger Happy TV fame (the hidden-camera show) is a Cotswold Life columnist. And, yes, we know: we’ve even recently interviewed his pig, Wilbur. But here’s the thing. Dom’s latest book, Here Comes the Clown, is so utterly hilarious, Katie Jarvis can’t resist taking him to lunch and allowing him to run up a large Cotswold Life bill

Dom Joly at 131 The Prom in Cheltenham

Dom Joly at 131 The Prom in Cheltenham - Credit: © Thousand Word Media

This is how posh No 131 Cheltenham is. On my way to the ladies, I bump into Jeremy Wade (of River Monsters) in the foyer. Then I get stuck in the ladies, having used hand-cream so luxurious that I can’t turn the door handle.

Yes, it’s that posh.

This is the sort of place you adopt as your office, if you’re famous. “I pretty much live here,” says Dom Joly, as we sit down at a lunch table. (Not ‘his’. I didn’t think to ask for his.)

Dom Joly is famous, but only ironically. He’s seen too many of fame’s ups and downs. He’s seen the up side, where you can book a table at the Ivy, even though they haven’t got one. “I’d never been remotely interested in the Ivy until someone said to me, ‘Hey! You can probably get in now!’ So I got Stacey [his wife] to ring up because she’s Canadian and it sounded good: ‘I’m calling from Mr Joly’s office. Can I have a table?’ And they said, ‘When would you like it?’ And I was like, ‘YES!’”

He’s seen the down side, in what we will refer to (as does the rest of the Joly household) as the ‘Higson incident’, commemorating the moment Dom approached his comedy hero Charlie Higson (of The Fast Show) at the Orange Book awards. “Higson looked at me for a second as though checking for a concealed weapon. He then turned and resumed talking to the two people [he was with], and I was cut adrift.”

(So that’s Ted and Ralph ruined for me.)

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And then there are the vagaries.

“There was an autograph place in Regent Arcade – it’s closed down now – that sold photos of Muhammad Ali and stuff. They had one of me with the big mobile, which was going for £12 when Trigger Happy was at its height, but which went down to 99p at its lowest. I used to ring up every six months to find out a) whether anyone had bought it; and b) what the price was. I think below 99p they just burnt it.”

Dom Joly at 131 The Prom in Cheltenham

Dom Joly at 131 The Prom in Cheltenham - Credit: © Thousand Word Media

I’m sort of not really meant to be interviewing Dom Joly. Only because I’ve recently interviewed his pig, Wilbur (almost certainly an Ivy heavyweight); and because Dom, of course, is a Cotswold Life columnist.

(“Is Cotswold Life paying for lunch? In that case, I’ll get something back from them – 400 oysters, please.”)

We don’t want overkill.

But his latest book of memoirs, Here Comes the Clown: A stumble through show business, is up there with the funniest things I’ve ever read (1066 and All That; Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy; Fifty Shades of Grey). It’s all about how he started his career in telly – mainly by dressing up as a giant penis; and by getting David Mellor, former Cabinet minister, kicked in the face by a football while being interviewed on College Green. It’s about how one of his big breaks came when the Paramount Comedy Channel employed him, thinking he was a different Dom. It’s about Trigger Happy, the hidden-camera show that made him famous, where he shouted into an oversized mobile in libraries and art galleries (“I’M IN AN ART GALLERY. YEAH, IT’S RUBBISH!”), and crawled his way at snail’s pace across zebra crossings, dressed as a snail. How, post-Trigger Happy, he started his first day working for the BBC by reversing into a car driven by a ‘moron’ in the Wood Lane car park. The moron turned out to be the Head of Light Entertainment.

I don’t want to spoil the book’s anecdotes for you (though they’re legion) but, to give you a flavour, one of my absolute favourites involves an off-screen visit by Dom and Sam Cadman – his Trigger Happy compatriot and cameraman - to the famous Carnegie Deli in New York, where a condescending waiter unwisely corrects Dom’s request for a salt beef sandwich.

“’You mean pastrami, right, buddy… you Limeys need to learn to speak American,’” the waiter guffaws.

Dom is instantly contrite. “I stood up and looked at the man intently. ‘Sir… I can only apologise for this misunderstanding… I am mortified by this and can only hope you accept my most sincere apologies.’ The waiter looked at me as though facing a mental patient.” There’s another apology, at length, when the waiter brings the sandwich; and another before Dom leaves. “That night we rang the deli from the hotel and asked to speak to the waiter whose name, we knew, was Joe. When he came on the line, I explained that I was having difficulty sleeping because of the embarrassment of the linguistic mix-up that morning.” Over the next week, the waiter receives a further nine apologetic phone calls, two letters, and an enormous bouquet of flowers.

“I’m really glad you liked that story,” Dom tells me, between oyster-swallows, “because, to me, it’s the true essence of what makes me laugh. It’s going a real distance to do something pointless and annoying. That really tickles me. The moment the guy came up to us, Sam and I looked at each other: ‘You’ve taken on the wrong table here, buddy!”

Does Dom still call him?

“The last time was about nine months ago. He’d gone, finally. I was slightly worried that he’d died. I suppose I could have sent a wreath: ‘I know you’re gone but terribly sorry’.”

Indeed. While others treat pointlessness with ill-judged contempt, Dom takes it into the realms of art. Such as when he and a camera-crew flew to Newfoundland solely to frighten an Eskimo. Once they got there, they were undaunted by the news that Newfoundland doesn’t have Eskimos, and nevertheless drove for four hours before finding an enormous frozen lake with an indigenous chap ice-fishing in the middle. Cameraman in position, Dom crept slowly across the lake, holding (as if I need say) a large pair of cymbals. “Finally, I got right behind the fisherman, who had not heard me approach. I lifted the cymbals and smashed them together. The Eskimo/fisherman jumped out of his skin, and I turned and legged it back to the van.”

(Honestly, do ‘Youtube’: World Shut Your Mouth, cymbal man.)

Dom shakes his head. “I’m sure he didn’t live in an igloo but I love the idea of him going back to the igloo that night and Mrs Inuit saying, ‘Had a good day fishing?’ and him going, ‘Yeah, it was a bit weird, actually.’”


Dom Joly doesn’t really order 400 oysters. (He just wants to frighten the editor by tweeting a photo intimating that he has.) But he knows oysters are pretty much zero-calorie and he’s trying to lose weight.

“I’m just about to go on The Island with Bear Grylls. I said I’d never do any more reality [who will ever forget his I’m a Celebrity with Gillian McKeith? A trial far beyond paella eyeball or turkey testicle meal-challenges]; but this is a charity one and it’s amazing. You’re left on this desert island for 20 days, two hours off the Pacific coast of Panama. It will be a great weight-loss programme for me; but I actually want to lose weight before I get there because all the others will be chiselled men, wandering around in thongs.”

Is he going to have to strangle fish with his bare hands?

“On the last one, they put pigs on the island, caught one and killed it. I literally could not do that. I looked at Wibur and he looked at me: he’s signed me off but he’s checked the indigenous pig population of Panama.”

The series might not play to Dom’s absolute strengths (“I’ve booked myself in for a sneaky course with the Bushcraft Company but I’m hoping my job will be to lie around, strategizing, while the younger Adonises do all the chopping”), though it does play to his interests.

“Travel – it’s all I want to do. There’s nothing better in the world than setting foot in a new country for the first time. That’s the most exciting thing in my life.” In point of fact, Dom Joly is the world’s finest living example of career advice that goes, ‘Find out what you want to do and then get someone to pay you to do it’.

“I’m doing a new book this year which will be the return of the Dark Tourist [his 2010 travel book on the world’s most unlikely holiday destinations]. I’m going to more weird places – Rwanda, Algeria, Iraq, Kashmir, Turkmenistan.”

Plus, Amazon has commissioned him to drive round America on a dream trip, to be released as a series of podcasts… How on earth does he get these gigs?

Dom Joly will be appearing at Bath Literature Festival on Saturday, March 5 at 8pm in the Guildhall