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“That’s the great thing; however good your adult fiction is, it’s always ‘good by a stand up comedian’s standards.’ But this is judged and sold purely on whether kids are talking about it in the playground. It’s much more direct.”His young fans don’t care about his big break in the enormously successful Mary Whitehouse Experience with Rob Newman, or his winning Fantasy Football League partnership with Frank Skinner, which took him into a lads’ stratosphere not seen since George Best played for Manchester United and including being responsible for England’s World Cup football anthem, Three Lions.Baddiel jumped off the comedy bandwagon to make programmes such as Who Do You Think You Are? and Baddiel and the Missing Nazi Billions before ploughing into adult literature.His latest novel The Secret Purposes is based in part on the internment of his grandfather on the Isle of Man during the Second World War.The writing itched the scratch left by his Cambridge University days, from where he graduated with a double first. “I was so nearly an academic,” he tells me, “I really enjoyed university,” even going on to start a PHD on Victorian Culture and Sexuality, whose grant helped pay the bills when his fledgling stand up career was launched.Instead Baddiel reached the heights of comic stardom reserved for very few. He was the first comedian to perform and sell out Wembley Stadium with Rob Newman, his TV show’s ratings were massive and he was revered by men all over the country for having it all.So why give it up? “Success is good, I’m not going to complain about that. I’m fairly happy with the way life has gone. I can’t complain, but I’d done it for 15 years and it was incredibly exhausting psychologically and physically.”Yes, it’s a new experience for me too but I hate to pass up a good idea,” he tells me, a strand he returns to time and time again.The Parent Agency is the result of his son Ezra’s observation that Harry Potter should have run away and found better parents.”It got me thinking that being able to choose your own parents would be a good premise for a children’s book,” Baddiel tells me,
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“where parents have to apply for children and kids can check out their profiles on social media and choose the best. It was the best selling Hardback of last year,” he tells me proudly and 20,0000 copies later admits: “It did all right actually.”So does he miss the comedy? “No, I’ve been doing stand up all along. My last show Fame: Not The Musical ran throughout 2013/2014 and I’m currently compiling the next. So I’ve been writing during the day and performing at night for a long time, which is exhausting.”But I thought he’d given up comedy? “I didn’t think I would go back to stand up, and then you do it, and it’s fun,” he shrugs. “The thing about stopping is that it’s hard to get back on the horse and when you do, you go through all the old anxiety of worrying about your set, the nerves, fear of failure, but when you perform all the time you are inured to all that.”Which makes it sound like a compulsion. “It is in a way because if you hear something funny you always want to try it out on an audience and see if it makes them laugh.”It is this need to get his ideas down on paper, that still drives him today. “I have an anxiety about not writing things down immediately in case someone else gets there first. Maybe that’s a throwback to my comedy days, when every joke was like a piece of gold. But now it’s the energy of the books that drive me,” he adds.”With children’s fiction you don’t have to agonise as much, so you feel freer when you write. And limiting your vocabulary is quite liberating. It means the stories are more direct and you stay in touch with your 10 year old self and can be really juvenile.”Then he pauses: “Do you remember the sketch in The Mary Whitehouse Experience where the two professors start slagging each other off like children? No one really knows how to grow up. We just pretend, so however old you get, inside I will always be 14.”
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