Interview with Dave Chawner, comedian and mental health campaigner

We speak to Dave Chawner about his two solo shows, 'Underdog' and 'Mental', heading off to Edinburgh Fringe

Interview with Dave Chawner, comedian and mental health campaigner


Could you first introduce yourself to the reader?

My name’s Dave, I’m 5’7’’, a Capricorn, a Mrs Doubtfire obsessive with a terrible taste in music (I’ve only really just discovered Fleetwood Mac!)

How would you describe your show?

Well, I’m actually doing 2 solo shows in Edinburgh. The first is about how dogs are better than humans. It’s a show all about dogs, defeat and determination. During the pandemic, I thought it was incredible how we clapped for people that can sometimes get looked down on with sniffy snobbery. Jobs like cleaners, shelf stackers and bus drivers were celebrated. That’s what this show is about - celebrating underdogs everywhere. 

The other show is all about mental health, rather than mental illness. A couple of years ago I was on BBC Breakfast talking about comedy and mental health and the producer said “I’ve never had any mental health” and it made me realise that people never differentiate between mental health and mental illness. So, no wonder people can be a bit queasy to talk about mental health because they always think about things going wrong in the ol’ upstairs department. I think comedy is the epitome of good mental health, and this show is all about an initiative I’ve created called Comedy For Coping - teaching people with mental health problems stand-up comedy as a method of building their confidence, communication and connection with others to combat loneliness and literally provide a platform for them to stand up for themselves. 

Why do you want to perform at Edinburgh Festival Fringe?

When I was 14 I listened to Steve Wright interviewing Dara Ó Briain about The Edinburgh Fringe on Radio 2. That was the first time I’d ever heard about it, and it sounded incredible. 8 years later I went for the first time and it was better than I could ever have imagined. I’ve been going up for over a decade now and each year it gets better and better. Every day feels like the last day of term, and there’s so much excitement, creativity and fun. I can’t gush about it enough! 

What differentiates it from other festivals?

Everything at Edinburgh just feels bigger. I love doing comedy festivals, it’s why I got into comedy in the first place, but Edinburgh is like Glastonbury - that’s not to say other festivals aren’t incredible, amazing and brilliant in their own way, but Edinburgh is the biggy! 

What first motivated you to enter the industry? Who were your inspirations?

I used to go to a wonderful comedy club that ran every 2 weeks down in Southampton. It was incredible. I loved it. The thing I loved the most was that the comedians were all freaks! And, they didn’t apologise for it. They celebrated difference, they stood out rather than trying to blend in and I thought that was amazing. 

How has your background, upbringing and education had an impact on your artistic career? 

My school was the most underfunded school in Staffordshire. It was so poor that when we were in sixth form they couldn’t afford to decorate our little area. However, the school was filled with brilliant people, so we made a pact with the head of sixth form that, if we bought in our own paint, paintbrushes and everything we need, she’d give us the keys to the school over the summer to decorate. We bought crates of beer, installed a Hi-Fi and got to work. All those brilliant people, although not working in The Arts, really impacted me and made me think, if you want to go for something, don’t hang around, just do it. 

What is your earliest childhood art memory?

Potato shapes with Miss Deen! 

If you didn’t have your current job, what would you probably be doing?

Reading articles like this. 

Did Covid-19 change the way you create work? Do you approach shows with a different mentality now? 

Absolutely. I think I was in danger of taking The Fringe for granted. I love it, it is the highlight of my year, and now it’s taken a break, I cannot wait to get back. 

Describe the last year in 5 words or less?

Let’s not repeat it

Do you subscribe to the idea that art should be exempt from ‘cancel culture’? 

It always makes me laugh when people say ‘you can’t say anything anymore’ because it always makes me want to know what they really want to say, but feel that they can’t! Believe me, when wonderful acts like Scott Capurro, Paul Chowdry or Nish Kumar perform they don’t hold back. 

If you could work with anybody, from any point in history, who would you pick and why?

Oscar Wilde - now I know that sounds all fancy, but the bloke was an absolute duuuuuuuude! I wrote my dissertation on him. I’m a big fan (even if it does make me sound proper snooty!)

What advice would you give to someone who wants to take a show up to the fringe?

Do it, do it, do it

When and where can people see your show?

Show Name - Dave Chawner: Underdog

Venue - Laughing Horse @ The City Cafe, 19 Blair Street, EH1 1QR

Dates  - August 4th - 28th

Times - 20:00 / 8pm

Price   - Pay What You Can

Show Name - Dave Chawner: Mental

Venue - Laughing Horse @ Cabaret Voltaire, The Long Room, 36-38 Blair Street, EH1 1QR

Dates - August 4th - 28th

Times - 17:00 / 5pm

Price - Pay What You Can

And where can people find, follow and like you online?

I’m terrible with social media, I’m on Twitter @DaveChawner (but I’m rubbish at it) or you could find my Facebook profile, or MySpace.

Header Image Credit: Dave Chawner


Flo Cornall

Flo Cornall Kickstart

Flo Cornall is an English Language & Linguistics graduate who is a self-acclaimed film enthusiast, critic, and writer. She attributes her film taste with her star sign (Gemini) which means she'll watch anything from Cheetah Girls 2 to Twelve Angry Men. From her background in performance poetry, she is a big believer that great artists aren't born but made and is passionate about making the arts sector more inclusive. Flo is a recipient of PA Media's Future of Journalism Fellowship award, a former BBC New Creative and is part of The Guardian's BAME All-Editorial scheme.

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