Life Is Pain doesn’t immediately appear to be the most enticing of headline grabbers when having to fill seats for a comedy tour.
However, the new show from Alan Davies, his first for more than a decade, is rich in autobiographical detail and more besides.
“The title is a bit tongue in cheek,” he says, obviously keen to banish any thoughts that this is a night out exclusively for the moribund and the depressed.
“I touch on all kinds of stuff, from becoming a dad, things that happened during my childhood, but there’s some stuff about sex toys and Chris Hoy’s genitals. It’s a mixed bag.”
Much has changed in the life of the 47-year-old comedian – a permanent fixture on our TV screen as Stephen Fry’s sidekick on QI and as supernatural sleuth Jonathan Creek.
He’s become a dad for one thing, to a three-year-old girl and a boy, aged two.
Becoming a dad in his 40s has evidently turned his world upside down. When I ask him if parenting was a shock to his system he replies: “My system is continually shocked by the whole extraordinary effort of it. It’s great and wonderful, but it’s extremely demanding and so tiring.”
One could imagine his lengthy list of tour dates being perceived as nothing but a ploy to get him out of the house for a bit of peace and quiet.
“And that’s exactly right,” he laughs. “Being on tour and going to places like Swansea is like having little day trips, but yes it is a good excuse to get out of the house.”
Life Is Pain – which brings the Hay Festival to a close this weekend – actually started its evolution in Wales. Some of the early tour dates last September were in Aberdare and Cardiff, but Davies reckons the show has changed a lot since then.
“The show has grown and evolved, I’ve been chucking in a couple of new bits and I dare say it will change again by the time I arrive back in Wales in November for a last hurrah in Wrexham and Aberystwyth, just as the DVD (of the show) comes out for Christmas,” he says.
Making a return to the live stage after such a lengthy absence was a difficult process for the comic, but one he knew he had to endure.
“It turned out to be really good fun, in the end. I booked a little studio theatre near my house and did an hour – the first four or five times I came home and said to my wife, ‘This is a disaster I’m never going to be funny again!’,” he says.
“Any comedian who hears me say that will say ‘yep that’s exactly how it feels at the start when you go back in trying get something together’. But gradually it came together and then I went down to Australia and did some warm up gigs and found that I had the hunger back to be on stage and do it again. It was a really nice feeling and turned out much better than expected,” he says.
Davies says that touring has put the equilibrium back into his life to the point where he can maintain a happy work-life balance.
“It’s a good way for me to work – I can plan my own diary and no-one can cancel the show after six episodes,” he quips (with an obvious pop at BBC bosses who cancelled his TV series Whites after six episodes in 2011).
“So I can go and do four shows a week and spend the rest of the time with the kids.
“I didn’t really enjoy the last time I toured because the tour was densely packed and it was very tiring night after night. I also had two or three other things on the go at the same time. My then agent thought I should make hay while the sun shone, so I was writing a sitcom, doing a documentary, going on tour, never having a day off, it wore me out. I stopped enjoying it.
“The whole point of me doing stand up was so I didn’t have to have a proper job – that was my original thinking.
“Now I’m a bit older and wiser and I make sure that I can get to the theatres in a good frame of mind and enjoy doing the shows.”
The fresh-faced comedian with his distinctive mop of curly hair might be a veteran in comedy terms, but it’s worth noting that relative newcomer John Bishop is only six months younger than him, while Mickey Flanagan – another newbie in comedy terms – is three years older.
“I guess I was pretty young when I started out,” says the performer, who played his first gig in 1988, aged 22. “Sometimes I feel old, especially when I try and get out of bed in the morning, or when I’m running around the park with the little ones, but when I’m on stage I feel I’m getting better.
“The two best stand-up performances I’ve ever seen were Bill Crosby at the Royal Albert Hall and Dave Allen in the West End. Both of those guys were in their 60s when I saw them and both of them got standing ovations, so I think I’ve got a way to go yet.”
While the comic recognises that shows such as Live From The Apollo, Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow and Mock The Week have made household names out of stand-ups, allowing them the freedom to tour extensively in front of huge crowds, the downside has been that grassroots comedy has suffered.
“The local comedy club where everyone came through like myself, Jimmy Carr and Michael McIntyre, a lot of those places are struggling because people are thinking – ‘well Mickey Flanagan is going to be here in the next month then Jimmy Carr is coming the week after and then Sarah Millican is playing’. Then once you’ve bought a pair of tickets for each show that’s £150 and your comedy spend has gone.
“I know a lot of the smaller comedy clubs are finding it difficult at the minute, which is a great shame.”
For the future, Davies, it seems, is happy to plough his own furrow. He confesses he doesn’t harbour any ambitions to emulate the arena-sized success of the Michael McIntyres of the world.
“I played one or two big theatres on my last your and always think about a thousand people is about right for a really good night. If there was the demand for me to do a week at the O2 I might be persuaded,” he snorts, incredulous at the thought.
“But at the moment I’m quite happy where I am.”
Alan Davies Welsh tour fates
Where: Hay Festival
Tel: 01497 822629
Where: Brangwyn Hall, Swansea
When: June 26
Tel: 01792 637300
Where: Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff
When: July 28
Tel: 029 2063 6464
Where: William Aston Hall, Wrexham
When: November 26
Tickets: £25, £20 concessions
Tel: 01978 293293
Where: Aberystwyth Arts Centre
When: November 28
Tel: 01970 623232