It should have been idyllic – moving from the crowded, noisy city to a rural manor house with more bedrooms than a boutique hotel. But when comedian Jack Dee upped sticks to the south coast of England with wife Jane and their children it wasn’t the bucolic bliss they’d imagined.
‘I was in a position where I had enough money to move, the kids were getting bigger and I thought, “I’ll do up this house and I will have everything I want there and never have to do anything else”,’ he says. ‘But I didn’t think it through and I found out it was not for me. We hated it. We couldn’t live with the silence. And it was claustrophobic. If you have some issue in your house, before you know it the whole village knows about it.
‘So we moved back to London. But even having made that mistake, Jane and I still sometimes think, “Oh, why don’t we buy a place on the coast and look at the sea all day?” We’re idiots like that.’
Jack Dee as new country dweller Steve in Bad Move. Things go wrong from the start in this hilarious new sitcom
There was, however, a creative silver lining to the experience: Dee, 55, has turned it into a new sitcom, Bad Move, in which he stars alongside fellow stand-up Kerri Godliman.
The couple play Steve and Nicky, who have moved from Leeds to a particularly unappealing part of Yorkshire known to the locals as The Dip because it has no broadband signal and is prone to flooding. Things go wrong from the start, and they’re plagued by a host of ghastly neighbours.
If you make a lot of money, he explains, you have quite a few choices, which include the opportunity to get more things wrong. ‘People could look at what I did with the house and think, “What an idiot”, whereas if I had spent it all on cocaine they’d think “That’s cool”.’
The move to the country was a rare misstep for Dee, whose successful 30-year career began after an open-mic slot at London’s Comedy Store in 1986. His stand-up career peaked with a nomination for the Perrier Award at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 1991. The next year he landed The Jack Dee Show on Channel 4 and by the mid-Nineties he was an established comedy regular. So to what does he think he owes his enduring appeal? ‘It’s not a looks-orientated business,’ he says earnestly (and I suspect with significant understatement). ‘It is about content and delivery.’
Dee with co-star Kerri Godliman in a scene from the sitcom
Dee’s famously deadpan patter and ability to take on hecklers has seen him survive several comedy trends. He did once try to “do jazz hands” and smile more on stage, but it was a disaster and he now sticks to the more morose routine that helped make his name. In fact, the greatest surprise on meeting him is that he’s thoroughly pleasant and regularly bursts into hearty laughter.
‘People are always surprised that I laugh a lot more and smile a lot more than they think I will,’ he admits. ‘I exploit the whole thing of looking miserable because that is my resting b**** face, and there’s no point fighting that. But if I’d met Tommy Cooper, I’d have been really surprised if he was nothing like that in real life – but I’d also have been unnerved if he’d been exactly like that.’
Part of the reason for Dee’s success is his everyman approach. His jokes are often close to the bone, but he has admitted to past indulgence in drink and cigarettes, and to suffering from depression. Does he still count himself as a ‘middle-class weekend binge drinker’?
Part of the reason for Dee’s success is his everyman approach. His jokes are often close to the bone
He laughs. ‘Yes, probably. I am greedy.’
Long-suffering wife Jane is all but ignored when he’s writing a stand-up routine, he confesses, which he’s doing now for the first time in four years. Being back on the circuit means he’s made friends with young comics such as Seann Walsh, but pals from further back, like Jeremy Hardy, Jo Brand and Mark Lamarr still make him laugh.
‘Mark is probably not the easiest person in the world to get on with but I like him,’ he says. ‘He emailed me the other day and started it with “Hi Jack, long time no care.” Brilliant.’
‘Bad Move’ is on Wednesday at 8.30pm on ITV1