Dave Gorman Unchained
Ahead of his Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival appearance, the comic and author on stickin' it to The Man
When Dave Gorman made a bet with his flatmate, Danny Wallace, that he would be able to locate 52 of his namesakes (one for every card), track them down in whatever country they happened to be and make a stage show of his findings, he started a conceptual comedy ball rolling that would take him to all corners of the globe and secure him a place in the pantheon of Great British comedy heroes.
The ingenious Are You Dave Gorman? was the first in a series of mission-based comedy adventures that saw Gorman explore everything from horoscopes to Googlewhacks in the search for truth, and even secured Wallace a comedy career of his own.
Publishing deals, television programmes and a stint as the first English correspondent on John Stewart’s satirical The Daily Show followed, introducing Gorman to American audiences. On the back of this success, in 2007 the 38-year old began a four month tour of small theatres across North America. His concept comedy ball bobbled to a halt somewhere outside of Wisconsin.
‘I had been to America and lived in New York for a time, but on this tour I visited many different states, smalls towns and cities that I had never experienced before,’ Gorman explains. ‘No matter where I found myself, it all looked the same. All of the motels were identical, all of the restaurants and airports and coffee shops. That experience of America was horrible. It’s not what I had expected, and it was depressing.’
On his return to Blighty, Gorman examined the reasons behind his American malaise. It wasn’t just the loneliness, the falling out with his promoters and the bad food that had got him down. He loved America - the architecture, the people, the popular culture. But there was one side of the States that put Gorman right off - the corporate side. ‘I hadn’t seen the true America and I wanted to find it.’
The book America Unchained - a Sunday Times top ten bestseller - documents Gorman’s travels from the west coast to the east coast of the US of A. It’s the story of one man’s search for the America of old, but it’s also a damning indictment of what America has become.
Along the way, Gorman had one rule to follow - whatever happened he would not give any money to The Man. No McDonald’s, no Shell gas stations, no Holiday Inns. He bought a second hand car; along the way he stayed in independent motels, ate in family run diners and stocked up from Mom and Pop’s gas station. It was a daunting task. Suffice it to say, he failed miserably.
‘I felt that I would fall over very quickly,’ admits Gorman. ‘America is a vast country and to travel from the west coast to the east coast relying totally on independent businesses was always going to be difficult.
‘One thing that people always ask me is whether I cheated or not. I didn’t. I had to use chain stores at times - as is documented in the book - and that was very disappointing. But I wrote the book to show people that I tried.'
At one point, frustrated with his almost total inability to eat, sleep or travel without the aid of multinationals, Gorman pretty much lost the plot. A vegetarian, he checked himself into a chain motel, filled up the tank at a chain petrol station and made directly for Burger King. It was the first time in years that he had eaten meat. He slept by the toilet that night. The scene in the television documentary of the same name almost brought a tear to the eye.
But it wasn't all downhill. 'In the end I fell in with America. I remember at one point we drove up a hill in the middle of the Nevada desert and the road was straight for miles ahead. There were no people around, no buildings, no cars, just this uninterrupted American landscape with a road that disappeared into the horizon. It sounds clichéd, but it was thrilling.’
Pencilled in for the 10th Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival, Gorman looks forward to such appearances. Having written America Unchained in isolation he is, perhaps, relishing the prospect of the unpredictable.
‘My type of comedy isn’t all about telling jokes, it’s about storytelling. If you work in an office and you go in on Monday morning and one fella says, ‘I’ve got a brilliant joke to tell you’, and another says, ‘I just got back from Japan, want to hear about it?’, I know which one I’ll choose.
‘I like to think of book readings as gigs really. I have an idea of which chapters I’ll read from, maybe certain aspects of the journey I’ll want to talk about. But mainly it’ll be a question and answer session, which I love. You can’t plan it, the audience set you off on tangents.’
Although Gorman admits to being a 'relatively affluent, single man who lives on his own’, you won’t find him resting on his laurels. With the television version of his radio programme Genius currently airing on the BBC, and the offers flooding in, he’s as busy as ever. But you get the feeling that maintaining a constant media presence isn’t something that interests him.
‘After everything I’ve done I’ve had offers to do something similar in the past. After Are You Dave Gorman? I got offered something on lookalikes. After America Unchained I got offered Europe Unchained. I might go back to those subjects in the future, but I don’t like going over old ground,’ he concludes. ‘I don’t want to get stuck in a rut.’
As ever, Dave Gorman is a man on a mission.
Dave Gorman will be reading from America Unchained as part of the 10th Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival at the Waterfront Hall, Saturday May 9 at 2pm. Tickets are available from the CQAF website as well as the Belfast Welcome Centre on 028 9024 6609.