‘Be who you want, dress how you like’: Rocky Horror star Dom Joly talks Time Warp and travels

Nobody would suspect writer and comedian Dom Joly of being a shrinking violet. Throughout his impressively-varied career, Joly has hosted his own spoof chat show, fronted Goth-Indie group Hang David and performed an impromptu Morris dance for bemused Russians.

Of course for many people Joly is immortalised for his pranks on hidden camera show Trigger Happy TV. Particularly for his wry commentary on modern life where he bellowed ‘HELLLOOOO! I can’t talk! I’m in the library!’ into a Shrek-sized phone.

The Sunday Times contributor made his name by putting himself in the spotlight.  So Joly’s reaction at being offered the part of Narrator in the Rocky Horror Show comes as a surprise.

“I said no, instantly! It was like my worst anxiety dream,” he exclaimed.

The man himself: Dom Joly © Paul Gorra

Joly explains that while he’s used to drawing attention to himself as a giant squirrel, he has almost no experience in front of an audience. Playing the Narrator in Richard O’Brien’s renowned stage show was doubly daunting for Joly as he is used to performing his own material.

Thankfully, after finding out more about the show and ‘becoming a part of the team’ in rehearsals, Joly is now brimming with enthusiasm for the show. He even describes the part of Narrator as the perfect role for him.

Rocky Horror is a show like no other. The audience know the show better than we do and when the audience and the cast get together, it’s absolutely electric, I love it,” he said.

“I suppose what I like about Rocky Horror is that it’s sort of a hybrid for me ’cos it is someone else’s work and it is an established thing but I still get to ad-lib.”

First staged in 1973 at the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs, The Rocky Horror Show remains a cult production. Combining elements of classic sci-fi and horror films with rousing rock music, the show has toured in more than 30 countries. This 12-month UK tour from Trafalgar Entertainment has the added twist of celebrities guest starring as the Narrator, with Joly playing the role until March.

Joly describes his role as ‘a conduit between the audience and the cast’ and reveals having seen the 1976 film once, he deliberately didn’t watch it again to avoid influencing his performance.

“I just do what I think comes naturally. I try and come back at people, without taking them out of the story,” he said.

“Really until you get out in front of the audience you’ve no idea what’s going to happen.”

The cast: Kristian Lavercombe (Riff Raff), Stephen Webb (Frank), Dom Joly (The Narrator), Ross Chisari (Dr. Scott) and Miracle Chance (Columbia) © The Rocky Horror Show by David Freeman

Joly said he loves the songs, including the classic Time Warp which finds its way into most wedding party playlists. The Earworm podcaster describes the writing as ‘clever and incredibly funny’ and says he loves watching the audience’s response. He’s also ever mindful of delivering the goods to the show’s dedicated fan base.

He said: “It’s quite a discipline in crowd psychology. People doing shout outs. You can see people in the audience who haven’t been before and they’re sort of terrified! They’re thinking ‘Oh my God, what is happening? Are these people going to get thrown out?’ Then they slowly realise that it’s part of it. I try to react and not let down the Rocky Horror fans.”

The I’m a Celebrity finalist explains that as well as being entertaining, the show has also been hugely influential for many people, which he finds very moving.

“I love that there could be some 13 or 14-year-old kid in the audience who’s maybe a bit confused about their sexuality and something like Rocky can maybe make them think ‘Oh my God. I’m not alone’,” he explained.

“A lot of people who work on it have said they had that experience when they were young. I dearly love the show.”

When questioned about his scanty costume, Joly shares that as a former goth he is ‘very comfortable in fishnets’ and has received a sizeable amount of fan mail complimenting his legs.

“I walk a lot, so it’s nice to be appreciated,” he laughed.

In character: Dom Joly as the Narrator © The Rocky Horror Show by David Freeman

Joly’s celebrated calf muscles have recently made their way around the 290-mile Lebanon mountain trail as content for his new book The Hezbollah Hiking Club.

The book is out on the May 26 and is a form of homecoming for Joly.  He was born in Beirut but came to an English boarding school at the age of eight. Now 51, Joly describes his hiking experience as ‘a sort of midlife crisis’ and explains he completed the trail with his two closest friends who had never visited Lebanon before.

“When I was in Lebanon there was always a war going on, the structure of the country was so different and I was young of course. So it was an experience of going back and seeing Lebanon now, but also introducing my friends to this amazing country,” he said.

This is not Joly’s first time back to his home country, he filmed a documentary about his return to Beirut in 2005 called Dom Joly’s Excellent Adventure. It is however, the first time he and his friends ascended a mountain range on foot, much to the locals’ entertainment.

“We kept being asked by Lebanese people, ‘Why are you doing this?’ Lebanese people drive everywhere. But it was great, we had a lot of fun,” he said.

Luckily Joly’s wife surprised him with two balls of what he describes as ‘Lebanese marching powder’.

“I don’t know what they were, but it was instant. I had one and suddenly realised I was a mile ahead of everyone. It wasn’t Kendal mint cake but it certainly worked,” he laughed.

When not at home in the Cotswolds with his wife, daughter Parker, 18, and his son Jackson, 14, Joly is a devour traveller. At last count he had visited 95 countries which he has documented in Dom Joly’s Happy Hour and in articles for publications including The Spectator and The Independent.

When asked what inspires him about travel, Joly revealed it has been an obsession since childhood.

He said: “When I was growing up, all glamorous people were foreign correspondents and diplomats.  My dad was a kind of amateur archaeologist, he used to go on expeditions to Syria and Turkey. It’s just in the blood.”

Joly becomes almost lyrical when he talks about travel, saying there is nothing more exciting than stepping off a plane into an unknown place. However, he is adamant he dislikes overly-stylised travel writing.

He explained: “I dislike writing that claims everywhere in the third world is amazing, that poverty is beautiful and all the people in those countries are enlightened. I hate people who patronise locals.

“Sometimes a place is shit, sometimes places are awful and just say that. It’s a part of travel, it doesn’t mean you’re racist. Unfortunately my kids are as bad. The other day one of them told me a gap year was racist. I battle against that.”

On stage: Callum Evans (Rocky), Joanne Clifton (Janet), Stephen Webb (Frank), Ross Chisari (Dr. Scott), Dom Joly (The Narrator), Laura Harrison (Magenta), Ben Adams (Brad) and Miracle Chance (Columbia) © The Rocky Horror Show by David Freeman

Not one to let the grass grow under his stilettos, Joly has just completed filming a show called How Beer Changed the World with Saturday Kitchen Olly Smith. The comedian is also in talks about various writing projects to be announced.

But for now, he is busy donning lingerie in Rocky Horror which he says is incredibly exciting.

“It is an institution, most importantly the songs are absolutely incredible – flat-out entertaining.  What’s really exciting about Rocky Horror, is that it so inclusive. It’s basically a place where you can come and just be yourself, just be who you want, you can dress how you like. It’s slightly freeing and a great night out,” he smiled.

To find out more about the tour or to book tickets visit: https://www.rockyhorror.co.uk/

Featured image © The Rocky Horror Show by David Freeman, with thanks

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