New Internationalist

A word with Dave Griffiths

Web exclusive

From battles with French Connection to banishing Bashar al-Assad, the comedian spills the beans to Jo Lateu.

Who or what inspires you?

Bill Hicks inspired me to get into comedy. His message of ‘just because the government tells you to do something doesn’t mean you should do it’ has always been true to my heart. All people who fight for a better existence inspire me, from the protesters of the Arab Spring to Amnesty International and Greenpeace to Morgan Spurlock and Mark Thomas. Without these people exposing the injustices of this world, we’d surely be at the mercy of self-serving politicians and corporations.

If you could banish one person from the earth, who would it be and why?

[Syrian] President Bashar al-Assad. He’s the great pretender. For years he sucked in the West, saying he was a reformer, but when it came down to it he was just like any other tyrant and mercilessly slaughtered his people rather than give up any of his power and wealth. And his wife should be stripped of her British citizenship so she can’t just breeze back to Britain when the going finally gets deservedly tough for the Assads.

Can comedy be a tool for political and social change?

Hundreds of comedians and comedy programmes have been censured by governments over the years, which is a clear sign that it’s a strong tool for political and social change. Comedy – from cartoons to stand-up – can change people’s perceptions of what is right and what is wrong. Bill Hicks was banned from performing in several US states and taken off the Letterman show because he was making people question the power of giant corporations. Muslim comedian Shazia Mirza was punched in the face by a Muslim man because she was a woman and shouldn’t have been voicing her opinions in public. This resulted in Muslim women getting together to fight against the repression of women around the world. Recently, Egyptian comedian Bassem Youssef was arrested for mocking the Egyptian government and comedian Beppe Grillo won 25 per cent of the vote in the Italian elections. If these aren’t instances of social and political change, I don’t what is!

Do you think humour is a universal language?

Definitely. I was married to a Polish lady whose father couldn’t speak a word of English (and I couldn’t speak a word of Polish), but we used to laugh all the time just by the actions we made to each other. That’s why Benny Hill and Mr Bean are loved throughout the world. Never have I seen so many different nationalities laughing at one joke as when I visited the Tower of Pisa: everybody loved the joke of pretending to hold up the tower.

I enjoy using comedy to wind up authority figures like the police who take everything so seriously and believe they’re always right

Who makes you laugh?

There are so many comedians that make me laugh that it’s hard to condense and there are still so many I haven’t seen yet. What really makes me laugh is comedians that show us the ridiculousness of life, question authority and delve into the human condition. Bill Hicks was an expert at this, as are Mark Thomas, Stewart Lee, Daniel Kitson, Reginald D Hunter, Louise CK, Doug Stanhope, Sarah Silverman, Bill Burr and Tina Fey. There are far fewer comedy programmes make me laugh now compared to in my youth, the exception being Peep Show. I hark back to the days of Not The Nine O’Clock News, Spitting Image and Monty Python – they all enraged the establishment.

Your latest show is called ‘CU in court’ and relates to your run-in with clothing brand French Connection. Can you tell us a bit about this ‘David vs Goliath’ battle?

‘C U in Court’ is about my legal battle with French Connection over a satirical t-shirt I had printed as a mick-take of the FCUK brand. I wore this t-shirt with CNUT on the front and French Correction on the back while performing at The Comedy Store, but what I didn’t realize was that there was someone from French Connection in the audience. A week later I received a letter from one of the most powerful law firms in Europe, Davenport Lyons, threatening me with an injunction and possible criminal proceedings for trademark infringement. Once I got over the shock, I realized they were infringing other international company logos, including Ford, Pepsi and Mars, and consequently these firms took legal action against French Connection, costing FCUK millions. My show highlights the double standards, intimidation and ruthlessness of giant corporations.

Is comedy a form of defence or attack?

I mainly use comedy as a defence. It’s a protection thing. At school, if you made a bully laugh they would generally leave you alone. But I have also used it to attack people who are picking on someone smaller than themselves. I also enjoy using comedy to wind up authority figures like the police who take everything so seriously and believe they’re always right. I don’t recommend this strategy though, as it has got me into hot water on several occasions!

What are you politically passionate about at the moment?

I’m particularly passionate about major corporations paying their tax in the country where they take people’s hard-earned money. It’s crazy that if I’m a day late paying my taxes I get threatened with imprisonment while these major companies get taken out for a meal by the Inland Revenue and let off the millions they owe. This government’s change of heart has only come about due to pressure groups such as UK Uncut. Don’t even get me started on the fact that the banks, the City, whoever they are, say that if they don’t pay them their stomach-churning bonuses they will leave the country. Let ’em leave and good riddance, I say!

Have your Welsh roots influenced your brand of comedy?

My grandfather was an undertaker and my father loved Tommy Cooper and Max Boyce, so this Welsh combination definitely had an influence on my brand of comedy. The Welsh are generally quite a gentle race and I’ve definitely picked that side of things in my comedy. I like people to leave my gigs feeling good about themselves and believing anything is possible!

Dave Griffiths: C U In Court, The Tron, Edinburgh Fringe, 3.40pm from 1 August 2013.
For details, dates and tickets, visit the Edinburgh Fringe website.
CU In Court website: C U In Court.

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