Dane Baptiste on G.O.D.
As his G.O.D. tour arrives in Edinburgh and Glasgow, we catch up with Dane Baptiste about turning corporate ambition into comedy, his podcast and some not-so-fun facts
It's a surprise to learn that when Dane Baptiste was at university he studied something as seemingly boring as business. "Business came out of repressing comedy," he says. "I was being extra corporate because I wanted to be super creative."
But as the saying goes, it is only boring people who get bored. After all, for Karl Marx reading the Financial Times meant writing Das Kapital. For someone creative, with an inquiring mind, there's a lot to find out about the world through business. "Business is social science," says Baptiste. "When you’re living in a free market capitalist society, to be able to follow the money, to work out the ideological and behavioural disposition of a society based on money, which makes it easy to find out how the mind of that society works, [studying business] is a very good thing. And it's good for comedy as well."
It's a view he's proving with G.O.D., which now comes to Glasgow and Edinburgh as part of the show's extended tour. If you want to find out what underpins many of the world's affairs through stand-up comedy, the acronym stands for a special kind of holy trinity: gold, oil and drugs.
"G.O.D. is a lovely acronym for god," he says, "because the mechanics of those industries, and I guess of those ideologies, and their part in guiding human society, is like a god in itself. It is like any other religion that's responsible for wars, deprivation and suffering, as well as enlightenment and benevolence."
Baptiste's capacity for curiosity is also clear in one of his latest projects. With producer Howard Cohen, and with a different guest each time, his podcast Dane Baptiste Questions Everything is as loose or focused as the title suggests. It has so far included topics ranging from the trivial to more pressing matters, from racism to the TV series Quantum Leap. Guests have included MC Bushkin, Stephen K. Amos, Reggie Yates and Mae Martin.
"It can be very focussed in terms of asking questions but can also allow a broad spectrum in the method in which we discuss them. It was a really good idea and it suits me to ask questions and riff off creatives, scratching the surface of the labels which we have for ourselves, from our vocation and professions, and just finding out what makes everyone tick.
"I’m working with Howard Cohen, a producer who I’d previously worked with, to help with curating and collaborating with guests and I think it’s come out very well. There’s the potential for growth and to change the dynamic of the podcast."
For the second season, recording soon, Baptiste promises some more "controversial characters." But, he adds, "the focus is always on creativity, curiosity and inspiration."
Baptiste seems to enjoy working and riffing off others as much as he does crafting solo material. In 2015, his sitcom pilot Sunny D, for BBC3's Comedy Feeds, was green-lit into a four part series. But it's the making of the sitcom, being part of a team, which Baptiste immediately talks about. "One of the most rewarding and endearing experiences was arriving at five or six o’clock in the morning, getting on set, and seeing every single person on or [behind] camera, and people working boom mics, and all of them working towards your creative vision. It’s very humbling to see. And having someone with the legacy, skill and talent of Don Warrington indulge your ideas was amazing, and that goes for the entire cast."
Despite Sunny D's positive reception, the BBC felt the ratings didn't justify a second series (although it may say more about the paucity of comedy commissioning). Yet Baptiste remains philosophical: "For me, my ego can take the blow of the BBC saying they didn’t want to remake Sunny D, even if it was a good show," he says, adding: "For a bunch of creatives from diverse backgrounds Sunny D acted as a springboard".
Baptiste is no shrinking violet when it comes to speaking about race. A frivolous tweet by comedy website Chortle, since rewritten in acknowledgment of the criticism, about Rose Matafeo's Edinburgh Award by comedy website Chortle – describing her being the first person of colour to win the main award as a "fun fact" – is a small example of a wider problem for Baptiste. Although, a Twitter back-and-forth does strip away all nuance: Chortle was the first publication to report the fact, it was intended with a certain level of awareness and Chortle also succesfully funded two places to increase the diversity of critics at the Edinburgh Fringe this year. It isn't about a single tweet, or making out one site to be the villain, it's about all of us in the media opining on, or responding to, things we know little about: "It's more when social commentary has been made about race and there's been a low critical effort from critics who aren’t aware of race relations, or are trying to reduce it or play it down."
When Baptiste's 2014 debut hour Citizen Dane was nominated for Best Newcomer in Edinburgh, it made him the first solo black British artist to get a nod from the Comedy Awards panel. It's a fact that seems unbelievable. But with the exception of US comedian Reginald D Hunter in 2002, black comedians are conspicuous in their absence. And again, it doesn't so much speak of the awards, which have recognised many nationalities as well as comedic styles, than it does of the homogeneity of the Festival Fringe in general. Being an open access festival doesn't necessarily equate to being a level playing field, and in comedy it will reflect problems in the industry, how a lack of opportunities or an environment not appreciative of different voices will influence those who want to perform in Edinburgh. "Being the first black British nominee, and with the first solo person of colour winning this year in 37 years, I’d like to talk about that," says Baptiste. "I think it's quite bad for the British comedy industry, or the entertainment industry and society as a whole.
"My [next show] will be about what makes me angry but also why we should be angry as people and take action. I think we’ve been very much lulled into a state of comfort. Even our dissidence and our political discourse now is done with our thumbs: we need to be more active."