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Good comedy needs a touch of madness; Making people laugh made him famous, but in real life, anxiety attacks once threatened to end Dom Joly's career before it began. He talks to HANNAH STEPHENSON about depression, the joy of travel and his plans to crack America.

Byline: HANNAH STEPHENSON

HE came to fame playing pranks on unsuspecting victims in Trigger Happy TV, but behind the scenes, Dom Joly was close to breaking point.

The first series of the hit Channel 4 show sparked a return of the anxiety attacks he'd suffered on and off since his late teens.

"I was filming stuff while dressed as a ludicrous Dutch tourist," recalls the 47-year-old, of the moment things came to a head. "I was wearing shorts, a red mac and a tall Union Jack hat. The joke involved me just approaching people and asking nonsensical questions using a dodgy phrase book."

Soon, Dom was engulfed by a massive anxiety attack.

"It was a difficult experience to describe, a sort of floaty feeling, almost a disassociation with reality, an out-of-body experience. It was like having a really bad, paranoid trip but without having taken any drugs. It was frightening and I just wanted to get away."

Once home, he didn't get out of bed for days and couldn't talk to anyone. A Harley Street doctor diagnosed clinical depression and advised him to go to a hospital.

"Trust me, there is nothing guaranteed to depress you more than being diagnosed as having clinical depression," he writes in his memoir Here Comes The Clown, which takes up his story from the start of Trigger Happy in 2000.

He refused to go to hospital so the doctor gave him some pills instead.

Dom was off for two weeks - but he was told that if he was off for more than another week, the show would be cancelled. The day the plug was to be pulled, he dragged himself into work. The show went on and became a mammoth hit, as frontman Dom shouted into 5ft-long mobile phones at chamber concerts and slapped parking tickets on drivers who stopped at zebra crossings.

Today, he reflects that he hasn't had an anxiety attack since those early Trigger Happy days and the experience has made him stronger, although he is still on antidepressants.

"If I can defeat stuff going on in my own head then I can take on anything that the big, bad world throws at me. I strongly believe that a touch of madness is necessary for good comedy."

e " Travel is now his main passion and he's forged a dual career as travel writer and TV entertainer. "Comedy pays the bills so I can go off travelling."

After Trigger Happy's success, he landed a contract at the BBC, but says he hated it when he was there.

"I hated the BBC, I hated every moment of it. I'm an outsider and I think I work best when I'm on the outside."

When he left, he made Dom Joly's Happy Hour, a round-the-world spoof travel series for Sky One. It was his happiest time, he recalls.

He's since written two travel books.

"I want to be the new Michael Palin, but funnier," he says. "But I'm not just doing this for the telly, I'm serious about travelling."

He's away for around half the year.

He takes his wife Stacey, a Canadian - d 10 - bu graphic designer, and their children - daughter Parker, 14, and 10-year-old son Jackson - with him when he can, but jokes that all his travelling actually "keeps my marriage incredibly happy".

trmh sliCa It isn't always easy to slot back into everyday life back home in the Cotswolds, however, after long, frequent absences.

a her life "When I come back, I always feel like a lodger. My wife has got her life set up, and suddenly there's this idiot wandering around putting his head in the fridge and turning on her telly. My wife is the complete reason that I've been able to keep a career and do what I do," he continues.

"She's just brilliant. She's grounded, she doesn't give a damn what I do and I married her before I became famous, so I know she likes me for the right reasons."

His father, who lived in Lebanon (where Dom was born), died in 2011 when Dom was a week into his first live tour. He travelled home for the funeral but says he had a difficult relationship with his father, who had served in World War II.

Dom moved to boarding school in England in 1975 and ended up staying in the UK. He says he always felt his father was disappointed that his son ended up doing funny TV.

"I was doing what my father would rather not have me do - like dressing up as a squirrel - but my dad had to take over the family company when he really wanted to be a writer. Deep down, he really resented that he couldn't do what he wanted to."

Dom now hopes to pursue his career in the US.

"The problem in England is that I'm just the 'big phone guy'. No matter how hard I try to tell people I'm much more interested in travel and I've been doing that for 10 years, people think, 'But why should we put the squirrel guy on a travel show?'."

He's hoping to do a travel show in the US based on his book The Dark Tourist: Sightseeing In The World's Most Unlikely Destinations.

"I'm going to the States where I'm known for Trigger Happy, but I'm not pigeonholed by it," he says. "America's a lot more exciting."

1. The 2. The by Paula 3. The by Diney 4. Here Come by Milly 5. Silent Scream 6. I Let You Go 7. Gray Justice by Alan 8. Game Of 9. Us by David 10. Doesn't by Sue Here Comes The Clownis published by Simon & Schuster, priced PS18.99.
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Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:May 30, 2015
Words:948
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