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HARD WORKER: Dane Baptiste

COMEDIAN DANE Baptiste writes and stars in a new, irreverent take on the sitcom, full of black British heroes from the comic urban circuit and classic acting talent like Don Warrington entitled Sunny D.

Baptiste’s character is deeply frustrated with life in this flagship, BBC Three programme. As he approaches 30, still living with his parents in his childhood bedroom, he hates his job and is desperately ambitious for the finer things in life.

“It started out as a pilot through a BBC Comedy Scheme to provide a platform for creative, experimental comedy. It was thankfully well received which lead to the series being commissioned” explains the ground breaking funny man.

He continues: “Sunny D is a very unique show and takes a lot of elements from a lot of my influences from your classic sitcoms such as Desmond’s, Dave Chapelle Show, Sister Sister & Moesha – all of which I grew up on.

“I was a Nickelodeon kid. So, it’s a combination of all of those and there are some nostalgic aspects to it, as well as semi autobiographical”.

The sitcom loosely recounts the South Londoner’s journey before fame: “It tells a story of my life before I started doing comedy. I hope that it engages my generation and the one which is coming up also”.

Baptiste is a gifted, enduring and tenacious stand up comedian who is no stranger to television, having made guest appearances on reality shows such as Mock The Week and Virtually Famous. Acting, however, is a different ball game. How does it compare? “It was a good, fun challenge!” he says.

“Working on Sunny D, I’ve taken the theatrical aspect of stand up and applied it and one of the best things is that, with stand up, you are creating punch lines and talking at people, whereas when you are trying to create comedic dialogue on a sitcom there’s the challenge of being able answer your own punch lines with another and try to write for other people.

“I was lucky because the core cast have substantial acting experience – Don Warrington is also featured, Slim the comedian. One of our country’s best black actors and, in that sense, Sunny D is like a homage to the trailblazers who came before me”.

Baptiste underwent a thorough preparation process to brush up on and develop his skills in the lead up to the filming of Sunny D: “I studied some ‘Clown’ – a genre of comedic performance to make sure that a distinction could be made between my onstage persona and on camera persona. I also studied improvisation and creative writing”.

Actors such as David Oyewole and Idris Elba have been vocal about the glass ceiling in the UK, where black actors are concerned. Is this the case for black comedians, in contrast to opportunities for black talent in the United States?

Baptiste admits: “There is a glass ceiling but the way I combat that is by taking as much responsibility for creating stuff as possible. With the team I have, if we do encounter adversity in the form of proverbial glass ceilings then we opt to just go and create our own.

“With the creative landscape nowadays – whether comedy or otherwise – we have the benefit of the internet, where you can have a direct link with your potential audience. If there’s a glass ceiling, go through the window!”

Baptiste is a testament to the importance of hard work and honing one’s craft. After starting out on the local comedy scene, he has ‘blown up’ in the last few years, headlining national tours, performing at Glastonbury and The Hammersmith Apollo.

He shares his formula for remaining grounded: “I feel like I am still in the foetal stages of my journey. There’s a lot more work to do! I realise that the people who have gone before me have done great things and I am a brick in the wall.

“I am well aware that comedy – in terms of articulating the black British experience – doesn’t begin or end with me, its just part of a long story. I deal with it by remembering that I am in this because I love it”.

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