Danny Wallace – In Conversation

Media studies degrees have forever divided opinion amongst the broadcasting community when it comes to attaining a career in one of Britain’s biggest media establishments. For years, students were put off from enrolling in courses which contained the dreaded “M” word through fear of missing out on a career in their desired field. Yet for writer Danny Wallace, graduating with a degree in media studies from the University of Westminster, set himself on the path to success. Joining the BBC as a junior producer at the somewhat tender age of 22, Danny was in the perfect place to oversee the creation and development of BBC Three which sparked a revolution in comedy. This was the era which saw an unprecedented explosion of comedy talent and BBC Three provided the perfect platform to harness such a smorgasbord of talent.

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Meeting Noel Fielding and Julian Barrett would promptly change the course of Danny’s career which eventually led to him securing a producer’s role on The Mighty Boosh. However, this had been several years in the making as Danny had known Noel and Julian since their early days and had since become an important player in their development. He was there for every step of their journey and remembers using disused warehouses to put on live performances of early material. Danny saw these shows and instantly became their most loyal champion as he could see massive potential in the concept. Securing a meeting with the BBC’s John Pigeon would ultimately lead to The Mighty Boosh’s debut on Radio 4 with Danny as producer and the rest is history. Radio 4 were extremely reluctant to have such an irreverent, surreal show on their network but it was as a result of John Pigeon’s foresight that The Mighty Boosh was able to grow.


 In a disused studio in Shoreditch, the elements of The Mighty Boosh were able to come together but Danny always thought the show would work better if it was visually understood. Therefore with the creation of BBC Three, it seemed appropriate for the show to make its way to TV alongside other Radio 4 alumni Little Britain and latterly People Just Do Nothing. Empty warehouses now became television studios and later sold out arena shows, as the cult of The Mighty Boosh soared, spawning three TV series and two stage shows. Danny remains incredibly proud of his contribution to this influential comedy franchise and over two decades on, the legacy of The Mighty Boosh is still firmly felt throughout the annals of TV comedy.


Still under contract with the BBC, Danny made the swift transition to TV presenter, hosting everything from the Saturday night reality show He’s Having a Baby to the celebrity panel show School’s Out. For Danny, this was a somewhat unexpected career change from cutting edge comedy and as a writer, it was a total culture change from his day job. To be one of the corporation’s go-to TV presenters was a surreal experience for the writer who had spent the majority of his career behind the scenes or involved with the underground comedy scene. Therefore finding himself fronting a Saturday night prime time show was a complete revelation.


Leaving the BBC in 2002, Danny followed his passion for documentary making and together with his friend Dave Gorman, he produced Dave Gorman’s Important Astrology Experiment which was to inform the next chapter of his career. Over the next few years, Danny would front a number of real life documentary series including Where’s My Robot in which he investigated whether artificial intelligence shall one day become part of domestic life. This led to the fascinating documentary for the BBC’s Horizon where he fronted the episode Chimps Are People Too which surrounded the surprising similarities between humans and chimpanzees. This showed another side to Danny’s formidable broadcasting style, showcasing his enormous talent not just as a broadcaster but an investigative journalist.


His vast broadcasting experience made Danny the obvious choice to present the second series of the BBC reality series Castaway in 2007 where thirteen members of the public inhabited a desert island. Devoid of many of the artificial features of commercial reality television, this was much more of an experimental social experiment of how people interact and survive without any of the features of modern life and how quickly they build a society. For Danny, this was the ultimate character study of human behaviour in their most natural habitat. It wasn’t concerned with arguments or overly glamourised formats, this was reality television at its purest and for the thinking man. This appealed to his analytical eye and made the ten week series thoroughly enjoyable for all.


Beyond broadcasting, Danny is a hugely successful novelist and filmmaker. His 2003 novel Join Me tells the extraordinary story of how he created a real life cult by encouraging strangers to do one nice act for others every day. The word cult has taken on a lot of negative connotations in recent years which compelled him to attempt to make a positive cult where each and every action was a force for good. This went viral with tens of thousands of people joining the cult with the view of making the world a better place. In such divisive times when there’s so much hate and violence on our streets and via social media, Join Me is the perfect example that there is hope for the future of mankind and together we can make the world a beautiful place.


Wallace’s second book Yes Man continues the fascinating philosophical themes of anthropology and is based on his own social experiment when he had to say yes to everything. For six months, he set himself a challenge to agree to every offer which was put to him from passionate clipboard warriors to a focus group of alien believers. This gave him a very unique insight into British society and how people interact with different cultures and walks of life. Yet what he didn’t account for was interest from Hollywood surrounding the possibility of adapting the concept into a blockbuster movie starring Jim Carrey. In 2008 Yes Man premiered in cinemas around the world, grossing over 223 million dollars…not bad for a writer from Dundee!


Despite transatlantic success, Danny is unique as a performer to be able to master so many different disciplines in entertainment. In 2018 he joined Radio X, fronting the weekend morning show with a vast selection of indie anthems interspersed with entertaining conversation. Like most accomplished broadcasters, Danny works best when he’s surrounded by an ensemble team and Radio X has allowed him to do just that. Radio remains his favourite medium as it’s far more intimate than television and it’s possible to cultivate an audience in a way that is impossible on TV. It’s instant interaction and that’s exactly what Danny thrives upon. It’s clear that radio is where Danny feels most at home and long may he reign over the airwaves.


Attempting to capture and sum up Danny Wallace’s contribution to post millennial pop culture could be compared to finding a needle in a haystack. There’s so many accomplishments in so many diverse disciplines and an unprecedented number of accolades from shows, films, movies, articles or documentaries that this write-up doesn’t do justice. In nearly eight years of running the podcast, I’ve been lucky enough to meet some fascinating people who don’t fall into any category of performer, they merely flirt with each and every entertainment discipline that they can lay their hands on. Yet Danny Wallace is a master of all which he conveys and is the perfect definition of versatile. It was a pleasure to welcome him to Beyond The Title and with such a formidable career behind him, it’s exciting to see what awaits him next!