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October 19, 2013

YellowBrix

Comedian Greg Davies plays a disgruntled teacher in his semi- autobiographical new sitcom Man Down. But, as he tells KATIE WRIGHT, his new career couldn't be going better IT'S the end of a long day of promotional interviews and Greg Davies is, by his own admission, exhausted. Not that the 45-year-old's complaining.

This isn't a real job, declares the man best known for his role as the acerbic Mr Gilbert in the wildly successful comedy series The Inbetweeners.

Prior to his performing career, the actor and stand-up comic spent 13 years working as a drama teacher in Berkshire and Twickenham. He's now used that experience to write Man Down, a sitcom he also stars in.

The idea first came about after he completed his 2010 sell-out stand-up tour, Firing Cheeseballs At A Dog, which was based on his teaching days.

The show centres around Dan, a man who, as Davies describes, is lost at sea and ill-equipped to deal with life.

Dan hates his teaching job, his girlfriend has just left him, his best friends are dysfunctional (to say the least) and his dad takes pleasure in tormenting Dan to within an inch of his sanity.

In the great British tradition of sitcoms, the show is delightfully ludicrous. But given Davies's former career, how autobiographical is it? There are some true stories in it, he admits, but insists they've been exaggerated for comic effect. Underneath it there is a truth to it all. The sadness of that character's life has been mine, he says, giggling again.

Some of the funniest moments of the six-part series come from the scenes featuring Dan's father in full-on attack mode, and these were very much inspired by real life.

When I was 20, my dad hid in a bush dressed as a ghost to scare me, Davies recalls. So I've taken that and run with it.

His on-screen dad is played by comedy legend (and Greg Davies lookalike) Rik Mayall, which was a dream come true for the actor.

I've been compared to him facially for so long. I never, for a second, thought he would [say yes]. He's one of my comedy heroes.

Working with his hero was a great learning experience for Davies - and not just in terms of performance.

He wanted to know why my dad was this crazy person who did all these ridiculous things to me and it was through talking to Rik that I worked it out. In real life, my dad has always thought of me as his mate, as his play thing.

Being back in a classroom gave the ex-teacher an acute sense of deja vu as the TV crew filmed in one of his former schools.

The classroom that we shot in was my real classroom when I was a teacher. It was a bit like therapy, it was very strange.

Davies was delighted to be able to cast some of the school's current pupils in the series.

Perhaps that's part of the reason Davies was a teacher for more than a decade before giving comedy a go in 2004.

Comparing himself to his on-screen alter ego, the comedian confesses he was a hapless idiot who was prioritising all the wrong things.

He says: Sometimes life just drags you along and so I was a teacher for years and years.

It's a theme that's become common in pop culture of late, the so- called 'man child' who refuses to grow up, get a job and settle down.

I am amazed how long it took me to grow up, I find it bizarre, Davies admits.

Now living in south London, in the house he bought last year, Davies seems to be well clear of his man child phase.

He's raring to get back on the road for the second half of The Back Of My Mum's Head tour, which he started last year, his face lighting up at the prospect.

I'm amazed I ever hear a comedian moaning about life on the road. It's brilliant, why would it not be brilliant? You get driven to a town where people come and see you - that's not a job! he grins.

I think comedians try to make out it's awful in case other people try and get into it. It's not awful, it's great.

Brought up in Wem, Shropshire, Davies says his favourite gigs are those close to home.

Largely, the warmest and easiest gigs I find are in the Midlands, but maybe I'm biased because I'm from there. But I love stand-up everywhere.

The stand-up shows are in the diary, but what about a part in The Inbetweeners film sequel? I'm relatively positive that Mr Gilbert will make an appearance, Davies offers, but apart from that he's got to keep schtum.

I know loads about it but I'm not allowed to tell you, he teases. Sorry, I'd be killed.

The first film had the highest-grossing British comedy opening of all time, so it's no surprise Davies is confident the follow-up will be just as good. I'm sure it'll be wonderful, they're very clever writers, he says.

The US version of The Inbetweeners TV series wasn't quite so well received.

No I haven't seen it, but the thrashing it got on the internet was endlessly fascinating to me. I'm sure they tried their hardest, he says.

Maybe Davies is in a particularly empathetic mood given the writer-actor is about to release his own series into the world.

I do feel more pressure because I've written it. The nerves are awful, he declares.

He may be feeling the strain, but behind Davies's self- deprecating wit, there's a wonderfully warm can't-believe-his-luck attitude and optimism that will no doubt see him through. As he puts it: I love this job, it's proper fun.

Man Down begins on Channel 4 on Friday, October 18

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