Alan Davies: 'It's a nice feeling that they feel comfortable enough to open up and chat'
Alan Davies: As Yet Untitled features famous faces telling all manner of amusing stories. The actor, comedian and QI veteran talks to Georgia Humphreys about being in charge on his own show
ENDLESS repeats of QI on Dave mean Alan Davies is - in his own words - "on the telly every day of the week, always playing the same idiotic role".
And the 55-year-old Essex-born star - who also played the eponymous role in Bafta-winning drama Jonathan Creek for 14 years - admits the thought that "no-one's ever going to cast me in an acting job ever again" once crossed his mind.
In fact, there was a time he nearly quit the iconic comedy quiz game, which he has been a permanent panellist on since 2003.
"I did a series called Whites [on BBC Two] which I absolutely loved, and that was in 2010," recalls the affable comedian.
"The cast was wonderful, the writing was brilliant, it was all set in a restaurant, it felt an absolute shoo-in for a second series - and it got canned. I didn't know why, and I was slightly concerned that if I kept on doing QI, I wouldn't get a chance to do these shows.
"That was the closest I came to knocking it on the head. And then I came to my senses and thought I was so lucky to have this gig next to Stephen Fry."
Now, most of his work is in-studio comedy, where you make a programme in one evening, such as his engaging chat show on Dave, called Alan Davies: As Yet Untitled.
"I don't want to be on a film set for weeks, I don't want to be away from my kids, I don't want to be away from my home," follows the father-of-two, who's married to writer Katie Maskell.
This is the sixth series of Alan Davies: As Yet Untitled, which was last on-air in 2017, and each episode sees the host joined at the table by four celebrity guests.
Davies has a fun fact about each guest to hand, but other than that, the conversations between the group are completely unplanned; you can just be sure there will be plenty of laugh-out-loud anecdotes in store.
"Some of the people we have on are people I've known for years, so it's really nice to see them, like Harry Hill or Bill Bailey or Dara Ó Briain.
"And then there are other people who I've never come across, who are having maybe their first time on TV. It's nice to feel connected to the live comedy world and not be some old fogey who doesn't know what's going on."
Discussing more of his favourite moments in the new episodes, Davies reveals he was reunited with Morgana Robinson and Guz Khan, with whom he recently recorded a series of Taskmaster, that will air on Channel 4 this autumn.
Other hilarious guests include Lou Sanders, who has "become a bit of a chum" because she lives close by.
"I like Joanne McNally, and Darren Harriott who I do Guessable? with. I really like Angela Scanlon."
As for the appeal of the programme, he suggests that "nothing's off-limits".
"If everyone wants to be thoughtful about, say, the pandemic - although we weren't supposed to talk about the pandemic - they can.
"Sometimes people talk about loved ones or parents who passed away, or something more personal, and we can handle that. It doesn't take long for the jokes to start flying again. That's what I quite like about it - I feel like I don't know where it's going to go."
The unpredictability of the show is exhilarating, but Davies also likes this perhaps more mature turn in his career.
"When I started on QI, I was in my early 30s, and I behaved like I was in my teens. I really was very juvenile and stupid - and it worked, playing off Stephen who was like a schoolmaster," he quips.
"My role in this show is that the people who come on trust me to steer it and trust me to be in control, and it's a nice feeling that they feel comfortable enough to open up and chat.
"It's very gratifying to finish a show and the guests go, 'I really enjoyed that, that was good fun. This is a nice show to do'. That's pleasing, because you do feel a bit like the host of a dinner party."
Davies' arrival on the comedy scene came after graduating from the University of Kent in 1988; he was named Time Out Best Young Comic three years later, and in the 1990s, he began making appearances on TV.
His writing in recent years has revolved around his memoir, which came out last year, plus there's a novel he's currently working on. But recently, he has found himself coming up with new material for stand-up routines.
"I know when I'm starting to get the itch, because I start remembering things and jotting things down," he confides.
"I do always have a few stand-up gigs booked in, just to keep my hand in, but there are no plans yet for a new show. I really would love to do a show at the Edinburgh Festival again before I die."
A few days before the phone call with Davies, former health secretary Matt Hancock's affair with aide Gina Coladangelo had been exposed.
Does he find himself thinking up jokes about news stories and current affairs without even realising?
"A little bit. But I found when I started in comedy in my 20s, there was quite a political comedy circus; that was the feeling, that you had to say something about Margaret Thatcher," he says.
"And, actually, it didn't really work that well for that many people.
"Writing those topical gags, thinking of something that hasn't been thought of by everybody else... You know, everybody's sitting around in their social groups taking the p*** out of Matt Hancock, and I'm not going to think of anything funnier than everybody else.
"What you have to find is comedy material that's unique to you and a style and the voice that's unique to you.
"It has to be your comic voice, and mine, if I start talking about Tory ministers, I just get really grumpy."
:: The new series of Alan Davies: As Yet Untitled starts on Dave on Tuesday July 27.