Dave Gorman’s show, Genius, is returning to our screens as part of the BBC’s autumn comedy season. Scott Matthewman talks to the travelling comedian about touring and a darts obsession
“The idea was to make it more informal,” Gorman says of the revamp. Gone is what he describes as the “tongue in cheek formality” of having a celebrity guest judge individual ideas, as they had done for three successful Radio 4 series, as well as on the television transfer. “I think on radio, people got it. Radio 4 is a more formal place in the first place, so we appeared to be mocking that a little bit. But with TV being a slightly different medium, when we did that kind of ‘we’re taking ourselves very seriously, finding geniuses and it will be good for the country’ thing, it sort of looked like we meant it.
“The tongue in cheek element wasn’t always apparent, even though it was there in our intentions. So we wanted to make it more relaxed and more of a conversation.”
The second series, which forms part of the BBC’s autumn comedy slate, replaces the solitary celebrity guest judge with a pair of guests and an audience made up of people who have submitted ideas. The result, says Gorman, is “kind of the show we always wanted to make. We just couldn’t do it when we started.
“When we started on radio, the hardest thing was to find the ideas in the first place and encourage people to send them in to a show they’d never heard of. After three series on radio and going into the first series on TV, we were looking at a pool of maybe a thousand ideas to pull from. And then, because of the way the first series went, we started series two with a pool of about ten thousand ideas as our starting point.”
With an audience of 70 potential geniuses each week, the six-part series requires 420 members of the public. “If you take that out of a thousand [submissions], the standard is going to be average. Whereas if you select 420 from a pool of ten thousand, you can stay in the top 10% of ideas. And that makes for a more exciting, more improvised, more ‘in the moment’ show.”
Genius is just one addition to Gorman’s growing list of broadcast presenting jobs. Since October 2009 he has presented a weekend show on music station Absolute Radio. But while he is far from the only comedian to make the transition to radio DJ, he has also moved into more unusual areas, anchoring the European Darts Championships from Germany in July for digital channel Bravo.
The move came, he says, “basically, because I like darts. I’ve been tweeting about darts, discussing it in public and on my radio show many times. It’s a genuine passion I have for it.
“I went to the Players Championship in Purfleet in January, and a sneaky ITV cameraman took a shot of me in the audience. I was unaware of it until I got home and found 50 tweets from people saying, ‘Was that you? At the darts? What’s going on?'”
As the channel’s first venture into sports presentation, Bravo was keen to do something different, he says. “And then my phone rang, and they asked if I would like to do some presenting. And because it’s something I love and I had the weekend free, of course I was going to say yes.”
The decision was not without its critics, though. “In this horrible industry way, there was someone within my management company who was ever so slightly concerned that Bravo being a smaller channel might be bad for my image, might be this, that and the other, all sorts of nonsense like that.
“But I think if you were flicking through the channels and found me presenting a cookery show, where I’d be exposed as someone who clearly has no interest in cookery, you’d think I was just cravenly seeking employment any which way I could find it. And that would be a bad thing. I think anyone who happened to tune into the darts and saw me would know that I was genuinely passionate about it. In which case, I couldn’t give a stuff what channel it’s on or what anyone else thinks of it. It’s clearly something I’m doing because I enjoy it.”
Gorman has also recently returned to stand-up, with a tour that saw him cycle to the most extreme points north, south, west and east of Britain, stopping off to perform comedy routines every evening. It was a return to more conventional comedy after having made his name with narrative shows including Are You Dave Gorman?, Googlewhack Adventure and Reasons to be Cheerful. “I was intending to do a bike ride, and at the same time, my manager was trying to persuade me to go back on the road. At some point, it made sense to put the two together,” he says.
“A lot of people were saying, ‘Is it going to be a show about the ride?’ I sort of don’t like it when people say they know what you’re doing. So, in a deliberate way, I did a straightforward stand-up show, just a man and a mike.
“It went better than I was expecting. But when you’re doing a bike ride to those four cardinal points, you can’t really go any which way – you have to go on a particular route. There are loads of parts of the country it doesn’t hit. So lots of venues that weren’t on the route were asking for the show. So I did another tour in the spring with more conventional transport – car, train, whatever – but the same show.
“Actually,” he continues, “what happened was that although it’s not one of those narrative shows, it sort of grew into something which has a narrative and a plot of its own. It appears like I’m just jumping from subject to subject but actually it all has to happen in a particular order, and by the end things start to come back and people realise that, even though it wasn’t me telling a story, it kind of is a story in its own way.”
As for the future, Gorman has no firm plans as yet, other than preparing for his forthcoming marriage. “Even then, most of the work that I do isn’t really much planned. I just stumble into things from time to time.”
The scope for future Genius projects is wide open, he says. “As far as the people who work on the show are concerned, from the first day we started on the radio show, our attitude has always been ‘send us more ideas’. When the series goes out, there are always a wave of ideas and then in between it sort of fades away a little bit. Obviously, if we’re going to make more, we’re going to need lots more ideas from the public. So we don’t wait for someone to say yes, we are going to commission [further series] and then try to encourage ideas.
“Our attitude is that we’ll always make more. To be honest, even if BBC2 decided against it, I know there’ll be a home for it somewhere. Radio 4 would love us to be making more and we’re not able to at the moment.”
One idea Gorman is keen to explore is the idea of one-off radio specials to tie in with Radio 4’s occasional themed season. “Maybe we’ll be able to do an Olympic Genius or a Credit Crunch Genius, while continuing the normal format on TV. That would be ideal.
“It’s a nice way of not burning ideas we’d love to use in the TV show, and gives it something different so there’s a justification for doing one in one place and the rest of it in another.
“So it’d be nice. And we all feel very grateful and loyal to Radio 4 for having given us the opportunity in the first place.”
* Genius starts on Monday, September 27 on BBC2
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