Some might call it a strategic portfolio career – Dom Joly calls it making his own luck. The British comedian is also a travel author and columnist and a former TV researcher, diplomat – and waiter.
He became infamous in Nineties Britain for his comic pranks (although he hates that word) with a giant mobile phone and a squirrel costume in Trigger Happy TV.
So what happened when his infamy came to an end?
“I think it’s weird to have a career strategy,” says the comedian, who attended last week’s Emirates Festival of Literature, where he spoke on a panel about the Post Career World. “I do anything that interests me. You spread the net everywhere and take what you get. Most people do the stupid things first – I did it the other way round.”
Because before he became famous for his TV comedy show, life had been a lot more serious.
Joly, 47, grew up in Beirut with his family (his sister still runs the family shipping business there), leaving at 18 to study Arabic and politics at university and becoming a diplomat for 11 months. “I spent 11 months at the European Commission saying, ‘I’ll refer that back to Brussels’,” he says.
Next came journalism – the New Statesman magazine and a position as a producer on a political chat show, until he was sacked aged 30 for orchestrating a prank on the British politician David Mellor.
He became a producer for a political comedy show and started doing hidden camera stunts, culminating in Trigger Happy TV. “I hadn’t spent my life dreaming of going into comedy,” he says, “But writing doesn’t pay well. I fell into comedy through politics. I’m a political anorak.”
But Joly never gave up on writing; he has had a column in the UK newspaper The Independent for the last 15 years and even reported on the Beijing Olympics for the publication.
Then came the books – starting with a spoof autobiography in 2004, a real one last year and three travel books including The Dark Tourist, in which he visits Chernobyl, North Korea and the assassination sites of the US.
In his own column, he claims that he “magnificently failed” at surviving in a post-career world. “I think I ended up urging a lot of young people to quit their jobs, while their parents watched in horror,” he writes, with clear delight.
“I would probably have had more success if I’d just stuck at comedy,” Joly admits. “Sacha Baron Cohen was around at the same time as me – I was also offered a film and told to go to the US, like him, but I had just had a kid. And I have a low boredom threshold.”
To top up his salary, Joly has also appeared in UK celebrity TV shows like I’m A Celebrity, Splash and Celebrity Total Wipeout, as well as hidden camera adverts – most recently one for the British National Health Service.
“You make your own luck,” he says. “I’ve had four or five opportunities – you jump on them. Spot it and go for it. With a lot of blagging too.”
One of those opportunities has proven to be a hot-air balloon called Patches. When Joly overheard a client of his sculptress wife, Stacey, telling her she was selling her hot-air balloon for Â£5,000 (Dh26,212), he decided to buy it. Then he tweeted about it and ended up getting lessons from champion balloonist Andrew Holly in Italy – and now he’s ready to take his pilot’s exam.
Thanks to that, on top of discussions to reboot Trigger Happy TV, he’s recently had an offer to fly around all of US in Patches for a travel show.
Avoiding boredom definitely does seem to be a career theme for Joly. “My first job as a waiter lasted a day,” he admits. “My father was old school – he said, ‘Leave a job once – OK. Leave a job twice – you’re a flake.’ He’s the opposite to me.
“I earn money to live the life I want to live. Family and fun are the most exciting things in life.” The Jolys are regular visitors to the UAE, he says – daughter Parker, 15, just made a trip here on her own, and the family often stay with friends who live in Dubai.
“I’m permanently on the road,” he says. “I do comedy about every three years to pay the bills and then I travel until I run out of money.”
So how should children today find their career? “The world is totally different – I don’t think you should put all your eggs in one basket”, he declares. “People who survive are those who can jump.” Dom Joly doesn’t just jump, he positively bounces.
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