WHEN Dom Joly was first offered a role in The Rocky Horror Show he turned it down flat.
The comic behind Trigger Happy TV says: “Musical theatre is not a good fit for me… in fact it’s my biggest anxiety. I said no it’s not my area but they explained a bit more and I thought actually playing the Narrator sounds made for me.”
Of course it’s not the first time Dom has faced a terrifying prospect and survived. Following his success at creating comedy with a hidden camera, he has indulged his passion for travel by making TV programmes and writing books about visiting the sort of places most people avoid – like totalitarian North Korea, nuclear-ravaged Chernobyl and war-torn Syria.
He insists: “Generally the world is less dangerous than people say. I’ll come back from, say, Iran, and people will say ‘Oh you’re brave’ and I say ‘What are you talking about? I went skiing and everyone was lovely’. Normally, people are so chuffed that someone has ignored all the advice that they really welcome you.
“I’ve had pretty much good experiences everywhere, except maybe in the Congo. That was pretty terrible. For my book, Scary Monsters and Super Creeps, I went there looking for a lake monster called mokele mbembe and I kayaked down a river on my own, got to a village near the lake and negotiated a guide. But then everything went crazy, the whole village got drunk – absolutely hammered – a spear came through my tent, the guide was tied to a tree and people were waving machetes around.
“I was in real trouble, I was three days from the nearest town, on my own. I got out during the night, just got in my canoe and slipped away. I never got anywhere near the monster lake but I got out alive.
“The thing is when things go wrong, there’s part of you thinking this is amazing, if I get out it’s going to be a great part of the book.”
It might seem a surprising attitude – until you realise that Dom was born in Beirut and grew up in war-torn Lebanon.
“I alternated between living in a war zone and a posh boarding school in England,” he explains. “Because the war was going on in Lebanon you couldn’t really go out and explore whereas at school there were less people shooting at me…
“Lebanon is the most amazing country on Earth. It’s so small but you can go skiing within an hour or to the beach in an hour. Growing up, there were periods when it was fine and then periods where you’re in the basement because you’re being shelled.
“That’s war I suppose…but my ‘what I did in the holidays’ essay was usually the most interesting.”
He’s visited 95 countries (“not that I’m counting”) and is heading to Yemen soon as part of his job as ambassador for Save The Children, having recently returned from the frontline in Eastern Ukraine.
In the meantime he has to face the fancy dress and audience participation of The Rocky Horror Show, which tells the story of a newly engaged couple getting caught in a storm and coming to the home of a mad transvestite scientist, Dr Frank-N-Furter, unveiling his new Frankenstein-style creation – an artificially made, fully grown, physically perfect muscle man named Rocky Horror.
Dom says, although he shied away from the show initially he’s loving it. “It’s like going into a casino for the first time and hitting the jackpot,” he says. “I’m loving it but I’m hooked for life now and yet I know it won’t get to be this good again.
“The cast are on stage, the audience are shouting and singing along and I’m in the middle trying to keep it all going. I’ve done the show 50 times and I still couldn’t tell you what the story’s about. It’s mad but everyone has a fantastic time.”
The Rocky Horror Show will be at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking, from Monday (4 March) until Saturday 9 March.