The fantasy game

David Baddiel has gone from star presenter of television’s Fantasy Football League, to pop star, partly responsible for England’s devastatingly catchy Euro96 theme tune. Now he has written his first novel, as

Teddy J amieson discovers.

hey’rc all at it now, aren’t they? Ever since Ben Elton published his first novel Stark a few years back, every Tom. Dick and Hugh Laurie who ever pedalled a punchline has banged out a book.

The latest comic to turn comic novelist is Fantasy Football League favourite David Baddiel. His debut novel may come trailing an approving quote from Ireland’s finest writer Roddy Doyle, but Chelsea’s most famous fan outside Government is ready fora bit of flak.

‘l‘m expecting people to have a pop at it,’ admits Baddiel. ‘Litcrary critics are snobbish about comedians writing novels. They don’t seem to mind them writing scripts, but novels are seen as a posher form and should be off- limits. Yet most comedians since 1980 have been writers as well.’ For Baddiel, the printed page is a natural progression.

Billed as a novel ‘about sex. sleep and skewed clocks’, Time For Bed catalogues the love life of Gabriel Jacoby. a serial insomniac obsessively in love with his brother’s wife Alice. A situation fraught enough you might think, but that’s before Gabriel starts to date his brother’s wife’s sister. even though she doesn’t have Alice’s ‘fantastic tits‘.

Gabriel also has to deal with his parents who are not the best advertisement for married life, and the fact that his 35-year-old, balding, Bradford City flatmate is having a drug-induced nervous breakdown. Oh, and his cat hates him.

‘lt’s overwhelmingly about an obsessive, fixated idea of love and the differences between that and real rclationships,’ says Baddiel. ‘Gabriel’s stuck where he is and can’t see any reason to move on. He thinks, “I can’t be with Alice so I might as well mire myself.”

It’s a situation Baddiel admits he is familiar with: ‘I could have ended up like that if I’d allowed myself. There have been points in my life where I developed a romantic obsession, but not in so fixated a way.’

In the end, though, the difference between writer and character is a matter of the imagination. ‘No one apart from the cat is real,’ says Baddiel. ‘A couple of characters were kick- started by people i know, but they became completely different as I wrote them.’

As one would expect of a presenter of Fantasy

‘Myself and Nick Hornby are different from Loaded. We talk honestly about male interests, which happen to include football or, in my case, watching pornography, self consciously.’

Football League, Time For Bed is a pretty blokish read (though the beautiful game is kept deliberately on the touchline). There are disquisitions on 705 TV, the problematic pleasures of pornography, the attractions of anal sex and the music of the Carpenters.

Just another example of the return of the lad? Baddiel thinks not. ‘That’s an overused term.’ he says. ‘Myself and Nick Hornby. say. are different from Loaded. We talk honestly about male interests, which happen to include football

or, in my case, watching pornography. self

consciously. Loaded deliberately takes the laddish option and trumpets it at all times. Nick said to me laddishness has been mixed up with men talking about what they like and I think that’s true.’

What truly distinguishes Time For Bed from being just another bloke book is when Baddiel breaks through the scar tissue of irony and starts dealing with the real life fall- out resulting from messy family lives and a real sexual relationship. It was that possibility, impossible in stand—up, that really attracted Baddiel to the novel form.

‘lt sounds really poncey, but after a while, you do feel the limits of stand-up, just in terms of the detail you can go into,’ he says. ‘You have to cut to the punchline.’

Baddiel’s career in comedy started in the Cambridge footlights. ‘I had a vague notion that’s why I went there,’ he says. ‘But when I came to London I realised that that was completely wrong for the mid-SOs.’

Reinventing himself, he spent years doing open spots. gigging on the London cabaret circuit and popping up to Edinburgh every August, before linking up with fellow comedian Rob Newman on radio. After a hugely successful, student-friendly partnership, Baddiel teamed up with friend and flatmate Frank Skinner on the couch in Fantasy Football League, where he has spent the last few years making fun of Jason Lee’s hairstyle and Peter Reid’s simian qualities with some success. It even led to a number one single in a collaboration with The Lightening Seeds, with the official anthem for England’s Euro96 bid ‘I got a fair amount of hate mail from Scottish people from that.’

With the novel, he’s now branching out. Next up is a screenplay for director John Hughes (The

Breakfast Club, Pretty In Pink). Does this mean there’s no prospect of a return to stand-up?

‘l toy with the idea quite a lot and Frank. bless him. is always telling me I should go out and do live comedy.’ says Baddiel. ‘But there’s two problems. One is inertia and. though there’s a lot of silly mystification of comedy. it is nerve- wracking to do. The longer you don’t do it. the longer you think. “Why the fuck would I want to?”

‘l’m not driven to do it the way I was. When I

was younger I really. really wanted to do it, it was really important to me. It might be that I’m not as driven at 32 as l was at 25.’ Time For Bed by David Baddiel is published by Little, Brown at £12. 99. David Baddiel will be appearing at Dillons, Glasgow on Thurs 26 Sept at lpm; George Square Theatre, Edinburgh on the same date at 7.30pm. See Book Events for details.

Radio Days: Bob Newman (left) and David Baddiel teamed up to terrortso the almaves

The List 20 Sept-3 Oct l99613