AFTER making his first steps in comedy in the Footlights drama club at Cambridge University, David Baddiel found huge success in partnerships first with Rob Newman and then Frank Skinner. His current show, My Family – Not The Sitcom, focuses on his mother, Sarah, who died in 2014, and his father, Colin, who has dementia. Before bringing it to Brighton and Worthing, Baddiel tells EDWIN GILSON about managing grief, his reconciliation with Rob Newman and why he is “obsessed with truth”

You started performing My Family two years ago. Looking back, do you think it was born out of a very vivid and disorientating time in your life?

A lot of that is due to the fact that my mum had recently died. A lot of people think the show is about my dad – and it is about memory, so my dad’s dementia obviously comes into it – but my mum is my star of it. When my mum died, I thought she was being idealised at her funeral.

My reaction to that was to talk about her very truthfully – as a flawed, real human being. Talking about my mother in that way seems to create a deeper memory and deeper love towards her. At the same time I was having to deal with being a carer for my dad, so there’s no question that was a destabilising time in general.

You’ve said you have “no gene for shame”. Did you really have no reservations at all about talking about the intimate details of your parents’ lives?

I’m very obsessed with truth. I want to be as true as possible at all times. That’s not a moral thing – that’s just who I am. My mother wasn’t a saint and I’d be doing her a disservice to say that she was. A lot of people come out of the show and say, “that reminded me of my mother”. Even though I’m talking about something specific, the truth of it means a lot of people will relate to it.

Would you say writing My Family was a way of processing grief?

It is that, but that’s not what it is in the foreground. The foreground is about how laughter can help you through hard times. It’s a way of bonding us together in the face of something like grief, or dementia. My mother died very suddenly and it did feel like an enormous hole had been punched in my life, though, so the show probably is a way of keeping her alive a bit longer.

Your mother and her parents fled Nazi Germany when she was a baby. Was it always your intention to inject some of that historical context into My Family?

As I went about writing it I became interested in telling some of my grandparents’ stories too. My mother’s name was not the name she used in her life – she was given another one by the Nazis. I think her mad life was a rebuke to the people who tried to make sure she didn’t have a life at all – the Nazis. In a very small, suburban way, my mum lived a mental life. She had an affair with a golfing memorabilia salesman and became obsessed with golf. That life nearly didn’t happen at all.

You recently wrote about the demise of your relationship with Rob Newman for a Guardian article. Did you have to think twice before bringing all that up again?

After I’d done it I felt a bit worried about it because me and Rob had just recently started to be friends again. I bumped into him somewhere and we were photographed together, which was quite a big thing for people of a certain age. We’re not going to be hanging out that much, but it’s nice that we’re friends again. I did try my best to make it clear in the article that Rob was doing what he did for certain reasons, and he had his side of the story…but it was all absolutely true.

The nature of that article, coming from just one member of a classic comedy duo, meant that Rob’s voice wasn’t heard anyway.

Well, Rob’s approach is different to mine. He doesn’t engage with parts of his history that he doesn’t want to. That’s fine – that’s his approach. I think he still feels quite raw, even now, about certain things that happened in Newman And Baddiel. He doesn’t want to talk about it.

Was that the way he was back in the old days, too?

He was happy to talk about everything in the old days. There was a lot of stuff said in that time that was hurtful, by both of us. There was a point in time in the early 2000s that whenever I heard about Rob, I had a sense that he had airbrushed the past out of history. It doesn’t feel quite like that now. The other day he talked quite a lot about Newman And Baddiel and what he remembers from that time.

You and Rob were the first comedy duo to sell out Wembley Arena. Were you surprised at your success?

Whenever someone says “did something surprise you?” when it’s been a success, it’s always difficult to answer. People always ask me about that in relation to Three Lions [the song he recorded with Frank Skinner and The Lightning Seeds]. I don’t try and second guess how the audience will feel, I just write what feels genuine to me and in doing so I assume it will chime with other people. This show is a stone cold example of that. Nobody else’s mother has had an affair with a golf memorabilia salesman and turned their house into a shrine to golf. But everyone has weird stuff in their family.

It must be difficult not to write with an audience in mind, especially in the early days as a stand-up.

I’ve just written from a personal perspective from an early age. Not many people were doing stand-up in the Cambridge footlights. I did one monologue about being Jewish and another about masturbation. Those things were very much parts of my life then – and still are.

Was it a difficult decision to drop your English PhD to pursue comedy? And what was it about?

It was in Victorian literature. At the time I was doing a lot of comedy so it felt I didn’t have time to give the PhD my proper attention. Occasionally now I think “I should have finished it”. But all the people who would have been proud of me for publishing it are all dead.

You constantly engage with internet trolls on Twitter. Do you use them for comedy material?

My new show is about trolls, actually. It’s not just going to be “here’s a troll” – I’ll be using interactions I’ve had with these people to talk about how we live now. It’s about how we communicate now and what it says about empathy and identity. I do see being trolled as fair material for my show, though – it’s almost a reflex now.

You’ve also written in depth about the current anti-Semitism allegations surrounding Labour. I wonder if you’ve kept your eye on developments and divisions in Brighton?

I haven’t kept track of individual MPs responses to the Corbyn situation, but I have written extensively about the situation in general. It’s gone mental now, with the Jewdas thing. I’m ticked off about that because I thought we were making headway explaining to the world why anti-Semitism on the left is an issue. Now it’s all got nasty about Corbyn going to a supposedly bad Jewish event.

David Baddiel: My Family - Not The Sitcom
Pavilion Theatre, Worthing, April 26
Theatre Royal Brighton, June 17