Alexis Dubus is a comedian and actor, perhaps best known for his character and French alter ego, Marcel Lucont. Alexis studied Philosophy and Psychology at the University of Warwick, and whilst there he became part of a comedy sketch troupe known as ‘Ubersausage‘. In 2003, Alexis Dubus moved from Buckinghamshire to London to pursue his goals of becoming a comedian on the UK comedy circuit. His comedy has seem him appear on popular TV shows such as Russell Howard’s Good News and Live at the Electric. Alexis Dubus has also worked as an actor, and can be seen in some of my favourite TV shows, such as Nathan Barley and Derek. If you’re liking what you’re reading, I strongly suggest you check out Alexis’ Comedy Cul-de-Sac podcast, in which comedians tell the warts and all stories of their worst ever experiences of performing comedy. Please enjoy my interview with the hilarious, Alexis Dubus…
When someone asks you ‘what do you do for a living?’ – How do you respond?
It might sound ridiculous, but it depends on the context. If it’s someone who I instantly judge (fairly or not) to be the kind of person whose response will be “tell me a joke then” or “oh, I’ve got a good one for you…” then I’ll say “photographer,” which isn’t a total lie and is less likely to lead to demands for proof. In the past I tried to avoid that by simply saying “performer” before realising that that inevitably leads to the question “what kind of performer?” and then, more often than not, one of the above responses.
The Sea, the Sea by Iris Murdoch, inspired by another book, the thoroughly enjoyable The Year Of Reading Dangerously by Andy Miller. It’s been edging its way to the top of a pile of unread books and it seems a good one to delve into in the winter months.
What’s your earliest memory of reading?
Definitely Roald Dahl, probably Fantastic Mr. Fox. We lived just up the road from him and I remember toddling off to get our copies of Matilda signed by the big friendly giant himself at the local bookshop. Our school was invited to record a surreal segment for Dahl’s South Bank Show special in 1986, chasing a giant peach across a field. I was put in charge of a flappy seagull on a pole, which I think still resides in my parents’ loft. My love of poetry was kickstarted by his Vile Verses, as well as Gargling With Jelly by Brian Patten.
If you could encourage young people to read one book in particular, what would it be?
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Such a magical gem of a book.
When did you fall in love with making people laugh?
At university. I was studying philosophy and psychology, but spending far more time dabbling with drama societies. Having been a lifelong fan of comedy, I found myself part of a sketch group there. Mucking about in the students’ union was one thing, but heading up to Edinburgh Fringe was life-changing.
What is the worst job you’ve ever had?
There were numerous summer jobs I took as a teenager and post-university – cleaning kitchens for a succession of increasingly irate chefs, packing foil, handing out leaflets. I’ve even done several stints dressed up in various large foam outfits – comparatively, not a bad job, but when a mate spotted someone dressed as a pair of bollocks at Charing Cross station and texted to ask if it was me, I figured it might be time to pack that in.
What two pieces of advice would you give a young aspiring comedian?
Write what YOU find funny, not what you think will make an audience laugh. And do it for the love of comedy, not cash (if you’ve got talent and a bit of stamina that will come later). There’s no real fast-track scheme in the business and a comedian who arrives with an in-built comedy voice is rare. It takes many many hours of stage time to get really good and your apprenticeship’s never fully completed.
Who would you say your three biggest comedic influences are?
Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Simon Munnery and Daniel Kitson.
Do you read as much as you’d like to?
Sadly not. That time spent on stage is just the tip of the iceberg, work-wise. The writing and the admin all lurk beneath. I’m looking forward to going on tour again though, with a bag of books in tow.
Is there a book that you’ve read more than once? What is it and why did you revisit it?
Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut. It’s a relatively short book, but the concepts, the vivid language, the optimism and pessimism swirling around inside it are invigorating every time I read it. I also enjoy picking up any David Sedaris book and chuckling at a chapter from time to time. For laughing out loud, I still think TVGoHome by Charlie Brooker is one of the funniest things ever committed to paper.
What book have you recommended the most to friends and family?
Breakfast Of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut, but only after reading a couple of his other books first. It’s good to get a whiff of Kilgore Trout before he’s brought in as a main character.
If you weren’t in comedy, what do you think you’d be doing?
Wildlife photography, but still testing out gags on squirrels, gibbons etc.
What’s your favourite genre of book?
Science fiction or speculative fiction that’s grounded in reality. If it’s too escapist I often find I can’t get on board. Being a fan of a good old play-on-words I remember thoroughly enjoying Great Apes by Will Self at university, with its multiple chimpy puns. Each of Us and More Trees To Climb by Ben Moor also deal with brilliantly conceived concepts while not shying away from a pun or two.
What do you think a world without books would be like?
The more depressing corners of the internet.
Is there an author whose writing you’re such a fan of, that you’ll read everything they release?
Kurt Vonnegut, as you may have guessed already. That slightly negates the last part of your question, but I’ve still got a few recently-released short stories to read and it’s always great when some correspondence of his turns up in something like Letters Of Note by Shaun Usher.
Do you think digital books will ever completely replace real books?
Definitely not. I think books have been romanticised to the point where it would just feel wrong to be sat on a hay bale/riverbank/windy moor staring at a glaring tablet rather than leafing through a well-thumbed tome, however more practical that might be in the third example there.
What book do you feel humanity needs most right now?
The Hidden Pleasures Of Life by Theodore Zeldin. Which must definitely be read as a physical book. I was at an event recently run by my friends at Salon London in which Zeldin had organised a “Meaningful Conversation Menu,” inviting strangers to change the way they interacted. It really helps to read the book with his voice in your head. The same goes for the Alan Partridge Autobiography, I: Partridge by Steve Coogan, another worthy inclusion on the list, although possibly not this section.
If we’re going way back I’d say Silly Verses For Kids by Spike Milligan, which might seem trite, but started me off on the surreal journey that my professional life has become. As a child a lot of things don’t make sense, but when you come across something that just isn’t meant to, and is all the more glorious for it, that can have quite an impact.
Are there any books you haven’t mentioned that you feel would make your reading list?
A Fraction Of The Whole by Steve Toltz. I was recommended it as honeymoon reading by my then-fiancée, now-wife, so gleefully lay by a pool sipping cocktails while delving into a 700-page bleak but witty tale of angst, existentialism and fate, feeling reassured I’d chosen the right partner. Also The KLF – Chaos, Magic and the Band Who Burned a Million Pounds by John Higgs which is more of a wild and epic ride than many non-fiction reads.
What books or subject matter do you plan on reading in the next year?
After reading The Singularity Is Near by Ray Kurzweil a few years ago I’m equally intrigued and terrified to read up on the latest theories on mankind’s trajectory.
If you were to write an autobiography – what would it be called?
Spot The Gaul (Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love Aplomb).