Wem's Greg Davies makes it big
17:10 13 April 2011
Comedian Greg Davies talks to Richard Aldhous about laughter, learning and life in Wem
There is so much to distinguish Greg Davies apart from all the other headliners currently on the UK comedy circuit, and his 6ft. 8ins. frame is only one part of the package... albeit a sizeable one.
Over the past few years, a new brand of quipster has leapt onto our TV screens and lured us into large auditoriums on a promise of laughter. In their number are lapsed actors, failed pop stars and frustrated middle-class biochemists. But few can boast the title of former schoolteacher, and a Shropshire fanatic to boot!
"I think people find this schoolteacher thing hilarious," he says, "I always get asked if I was actually any good. Well, how do I answer that?
"If youre funny and working in education, I think the perception is that youre either inspirational or awful. So which was I? I suppose that depends on who you talk to. I frequently meet ex-pupils who seem to think I didnt totally ruin their educations, so thats something. And I met one last week who said you were a well good teacher, you didnt make us do anything... which Im sure would thrill the education authorities."
With such glowing references, maybe we should be thankful that Gregs comedy curriculum is a touch more rigid. The 42-year-old funny man is en route to another destination on his current UK tour, entitled Firing cheese balls at a dog... (sometimes its best just not to ask).
Hes had a chest infection of late which has meant conserving his vocal chords for each evenings stand-up performance, but the doctors advice takes second place when it comes to talking about the things he loves.
"Back in the days when I used to have a real job, the idea of doing this for a living was something of a dream. But never an impossible dream, given there was always so much material out there.
"The school I attended as a youngster Thomas Adams in Wem was jam-packed with fascinating, unique and hilarious characters. Even 30 years on, I still spend an inordinate amount of my time talking about them. Otherwise I gather my material with a massive scythe, and people seem to like it the comedy that is which is good because going out on stage used to make me feel like I was going to have a heart attack. Ive managed to channel that a little more positively now, and I must say, it feels bloody marvellous."
Yet while the adulation echoes nationwide, home still represents somewhere special for Greg. He was born in St Asaph in Wales, but his family soon moved over the border to Wem.
"My parents still live in Wem," he continues. "I loved growing up in Shropshire and family life was a great deal of fun.
"Many comedians say it, but my family are much much funnier than me, so its always great getting back there, which has been quite a bit lately. I still have good friends in the town and I recently filmed a gig in Shrewsbury for Dave (the channel, not some random bloke) which was really enjoyable.
"Sure, I live a rock n roll lifestyle like any former teacher, but a perfect weekend for me would be around family, friends and a walk up Grinshill if I have a rare burst of energy. You have to reward yourself with a pint or two at the end of it, and I have so many happy memories of The Castle public house in Wem, so that would be on the radar too. The pub has been rather neglected since I left Shropshire but has recently been taken over by a chap I went to school with, and his family. They are doing a brilliant job of returning it to its former glory a proper pub where everyone feels welcome."
It must be said though, as far as privacy goes, Gregs not in a great position. He towers above most mere mortals anyway, and as well as every former teachers fear of being accosted by an ex-pupil, he now has to counter the added demands of hungry autograph hunters, particularly given the success of cult E4 comedy hit The Inbetweeners.
Its a show that has been nominated for Best Situation Comedy at BAFTA twice, while also scooping a British Academy Television and British Comedy award. Naturally, Davies scarcely had any trouble adapting into the role of Mr. Gilbert a schoolteacher!
"The Inbetweeners has been superb," he says. "It has been taken on in the US now and weve a film out in the summer, so it really is something that continues to grow. We knew the scripts were funny but no-one predicted how many people would relate to it. Its a very exciting thing to be a part of, and with some other bits and pieces in the pipeline, not to mention the tour, its keeping me busy."
So does this hectic schedule mean that Gregs forays back to the home comforts of Shropshire are going to become all the more rare?
"No chance I love the place," he fires back. "It is truly a county of unspoilt beauty. It seems to be somewhere that people dont think to explore too much, and for those of us in the know it feels all the more special for that. For me its the clean air, the clear night skies, but most of all the people. There is a fantastic spirit of lets just get on with life. I travel around a lot and I cant help but find that rather lacking in other places.
"And tell me theres a view in the world any better than that seen from the top of Grinshill near Clive (the village, not some random bloke). Its incredible. I have been looking at it since I was a toddler and it has never failed to take my breath away... although admittedly, more recently this might be more to do with my level of my physical fitness."
Its a love affair thats undoubtedly replicated arguably Wems finest export since English professional wrestler Neil Faith, The Whitechapel Ripper, if you will! So given that Greg possesses such statue-esque proportions, surely his biggest compliment back to Wem and Shropshire as a whole would be a monument to take pride of place in his home county?
"Its an idea, and not a bad one. Although if Im honest, I dont think Ive quite earned my statue yet, although I must be quite high up the list of potential names. Apparently some bloke called Darwin deserved a monument in Shrewsbury all I can say is he must have been one hell of a farmer."