On shows like Live At The Apollo and tonight’s Live From The BBC, you wouldn’t necessarily think of Dane Baptiste as a comedy firebrand.
Relaxed and in command of his audience, Baptiste is cutting but more in the surrealist Eddie Izzard mould: “If lions like Cecil The Lion don’t want to be killed, then the lion community needs to address lion-on-lion crime and absent fathers in the cat community.”
But in concert, the Londoner is rapidly developing a reputation as the Chris Rock of British comedy. The laidback style remains, but there’s a well-thought out fervour to his words.
In amongst jokes like “Dubai is what happens if you give a 12-year-old a trillion dollars in pocket money”, Baptiste despairs at the mess British society is becoming.
It’s an anger that continues when he talks to Loaded in a break from his first national tour, Reasonable Doubts. Named after Jay-Z’s album, Reasonable Doubts lays into reality TV: a fairly regular target for comedians, but not one dealt with in such savage terms before.
“The people on Made In Chelsea are already rich,” Baptiste tells Loaded. “They’ve had all the opportunities in life already, so why the fuck do they need to go on TV too?
“They just send out the message of ‘Why should I bother learning a talent when I can get on TV doing nothing?’
“Made In Chelsea people go on about their charities. You know what would be charitable? Fuck off from my TV.”
“I see Made In Chelsea people saying ‘I’ve got a charity.’ Really. You know what would be charitable? Fuck off TV and let someone with talent on. That would be really charitable, because social mobility isn’t going to happen from you being on TV.”
Baptiste grew up in Lewisham, South London, near where teenager Stephen Lawrence was murdered in a racial attack in 1993. Now 34, Baptiste became a successful recruitment consultant before first trying stand-up six years ago.
“I realised I was a parasite,” he smiles. “If everyone in society had a job they were fulfilled in, then the only people out of work would be Job Centre workers and recruitment consultants. Once I realised that, I thought ‘Why should I give a shit?’
“So once I was able to laugh at myself for what I did for a living, making a move into comedy became so much easier.”
Baptiste speaks with a straight-up determination about improving as a comedian, admitting he was too influenced by his idols when he began. He says he’s still “a white belt, maybe with a couple of yellow stripes”, but he’s moving up the ranks rapidly.
He became the first non-white comedian in years to be nominated for the newcomer award at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2013, and is now halfway through his first national tour for Reasonable Doubts, his second solo show.
“About four years ago, I stopped giving a fuck when I went on stage,” he states. “I thought I had to put on a big smiley warm personality on stage, but once I started just being myself and thought ‘I don’t care anymore!’ I became so much better.
“I know what I’m talking about now, and I wouldn’t have done if I’d got into this in my early twenties.”
Baptiste is evangelical about how comedy is ultimately an artform for equal opportunities. “Reviewers can continue to rave about posh middle-class kids from the Home Counties who make them feel comfortable,” he notes. “But the great thing about comedy is, it’s organic. Once you’re on that stage, you have to make the audience laugh. It’s that simple.”
Speaking of getting laughs, Baptiste has written and stars in his first sitcom, Sunny D, for BBC3 this spring, playing “a hyped-up version of myself”. His dad is played by Don Warrington, the comedy legend who dates back to playing the handsome lodger in Rising Damp on ITV in the 70s.
“Don was amazing,” Baptiste enthuses. “But it’s weird saying I’m in a show with him. Whenever I mention Don, any woman I know over 50 starts hyperventilating. ‘Oh Don… I’ve fancied him for soooo long.’ Come on now, ladies, please…”
“If Ben Affleck thinks he can play Batman, then I can be an actor”
Warrington, despite now being a Shakespearean actor, “has quite a bit of banter” going on too. “For the first couple of days, he was really serious,” Baptiste recalls. “But then he was straight in there with the back-and-forth.”
Would Baptiste want to follow his co-star into serious acting? “If Ben Affleck thinks he can play Batman, then I can be an actor. Come on Ben, you know you’re not Batman.” He’s better in Batman Vs Superman than Henry Cavill, though. “Yeah, but Cavill doesn’t know any better. Ben does. He knew how bad Daredevil was, and he did some good films to recover. And now this? All that hard work Christopher Nolan has done bringing back Batman and Ben’s destroyed it. So, yeah, with the right role, I’ll act. I’d love to be in a Blade film.”
Given his determined attitude in life, Dane Baptiste could probably do anything. Though don’t bank him being on the judging panel of Britain’s Got Talent any time soon.
Dane Baptiste’s is on tour until September 24. He also plays on Live From The BBC tonight on BBC2 at 10pm. For a full list of dates, see his website.
Loaded’s deputy editor John Earls has covered entertainment and sport across a range of national newspapers, plus several football and music magazines, since 1990. Follow him on Twitter at @EarlsJohn