David Lionel Baddiel (/bəˈdiːl/; born 28 May 1964) is an English comedian, novelist and television presenter. He worked alongside Rob Newman in The Mary Whitehouse Experience and partnered with Frank Skinner. Baddiel is a screenwriter and a published novelist, having written the children’s novels The Parent Agency, The Person Controller, AniMalcolm, Birthday Boy, Head Kid and The Taylor TurboChaser.
Baddiel was born on 28 May 1964 in Troy, New York, and moved to the UK with his parents when he was 4 months old. He is the second of three sons.
His parents were both from Jewish families. His father, Colin Brian Baddiel, was Welsh-born from a working-class background and worked as a research chemist with Unilever before being made redundant in the 1980s, after which he sold Dinky Toys at Grays Antique Market. His mother, Sarah, was German-born, and was a five-month-old refugee child when she was brought to the United Kingdom in 1939 by her parents after escaping from Nazi Germany, where her father, Ernst Fabian, a victim of the Kristallnacht pogrom, had been stripped of his assets. Soon after their arrival, Fabian was interned as an enemy alien on the Isle of Man for a year. He had mental health issues, sometimes requiring hospitalisation, for the rest of his life.
Baddiel grew up in Dollis Hill, Willesden, north London. He attended primary school at the North West London Jewish Day School in Brent, and was then educated at The Haberdashers’ Aske’s Boys’ School in Elstree, a public school near Borehamwood, Hertfordshire. He studied English at King’s College, Cambridge, where he was a member of the Cambridge Footlights, and graduated with a double first Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree. He began studies for a PhD in English at University College London but did not complete it.
The Mary Whitehouse Experience and Newman and Baddiel
After leaving university, Baddiel became a professional stand-up comedian in London, as well as a writer for acts such as Rory Bremner and series including Spitting Image. His first television appearance came in one episode of the showbiz satire Filthy, Rich and Catflap. In 1988 he was introduced to Rob Newman, and the two formed a writing partnership. Subsequently, paired up with Steve Punt and Hugh Dennis, another comedy duo, they began writing and performing in The Mary Whitehouse Experience on BBC Radio 1, where the show ran for four series and a special. This success led the show to transfer to BBC2, where it ran for two series, after which both duos decided to end the show. During this time, Baddiel also co-hosted the Channel 4 programme A Stab in the Dark.
After The Mary Whitehouse Experience, Baddiel and Newman re-teamed up for Newman and Baddiel in Pieces, which ran for seven episodes on BBC2, featuring character sketches, monologues, and observation routines. Despite a fraught working relationship, the show saw Newman and Baddiel find enormous success as live performers, held up as examples of comedy as ‘the new rock ’n’ roll’, with their tour (Newman and Baddiel: Live and In Pieces) culminating in the first-ever sold-out gig for a comedy act at Wembley Arena, playing to 12,500 people. Despite this success, increasing tension between the pair led to them announcing the tour would be their last together. Their final tour was the subject of a BBC2 documentary, Newman and Baddiel on the Road to Wembley.
Baddiel and Skinner
Baddiel subsequently met and began sharing a flat with fellow comedian Frank Skinner. Both lifelong football fans (Baddiel is a Chelsea F.C. fan), the pair created, wrote and performed Fantasy Football League, a popular entertainment show based on the growing fantasy football craze. Running for three series on BBC2, followed by a series of live specials throughout the 1998 World Cup and then again through the 2004 European Championship, as well as a series of podcasts for The Times from Germany at the 2006 World Cup, and another series for Absolute Radio from South Africa during the 2010 World Cup (amassing over 3 million downloads). During this time the duo also twice topped the UK Singles Chart with the football anthem “Three Lions”, co-written and performed with The Lightning Seeds. The song was originally written as the England football team’s official anthem for UEFA Euro 1996 and was subsequently re-recorded with updated lyrics as the unofficial anthem for the 1998 World Cup. The song won the hearts of many England fans and has had unofficial re-writes for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
After ending Fantasy Football League, the pair took an improvised question-and-answer show to the Edinburgh Fringe which then became a television series, Baddiel and Skinner Unplanned, which ran for five series on ITV, as well as a West End run at the Shaftesbury Theatre in 2001.
The pair also appeared on a celebrity special of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? in 2001, becoming the first celebrity contestants to reach £250,000 for their charities, the Catholic Children’s Society and the Imperial Cancer Research Fund.
On the Official UK Charts on 13 July 2018, the song Three Lions by Baddiel, Frank Skinner and The Lightning Seeds also re-entered the charts at Number 1, celebrating the progress of the England national football team at the 2018 FIFA World Cup with the phrase “it’s coming home” featuring heavily on social media and television.
Baddiel has received criticism for his blackface impression of black footballer Jason Lee on the programme, which involved him wearing a pineapple on his head and blacking up. Lee said he considered this a form of bullying. Baddiel has issued a number of apologies on social media and in an article for The Daily Telegraph, saying it was “part of a very bad racist tradition”, but Lee said in 2020 that he had never received a direct apology from Baddiel or co-host Frank Skinner over the series of sketches. According to Lee, “It wasn’t like I was looking for one, but I’ve never met them in person. If I met them in person, it’s a conversation we would have.” He added, “Baddiel and Skinner, did they realise the impact of what they were saying, how it affected so many people? Especially a hairstyle, you’re talking about ethnicity, a lot of black people would wear dreadlocks and feel deeply offended by someone who’s getting mocked for a similar hairstyle. The implications were far wider, and it wouldn’t happen today.” A letter from Baddiel was published in the Guardian in September 2013 in which he said “perhaps” blacking-up was deeply wrong.
In his book Jews Don’t Count, Baddiel addresses the controversy. He calls his performance “racist”, but also writes, “What the apologies make no difference to is the recurring presence of that photo on my Twitter timeline. Particularly since I started speaking out publicly about anti-Semitism… In fact, it can seem that what the people demanding apologies from me is not apologies. What they seem to want, really, is silence.” He also complains about the fact that figures like Malcolm X, who made anti-Semitic statements, are not considered unqualified to speak about the racism that they themselves experience as African-Americans, but that he, a Jew, is considered unqualified to speak about anti-Semitism owing to racism in his past. He claims that this indicates a “hierarchy of racisms”, where anti-Semitism is perceived as being less important and less serious than other forms of prejudice against ethnic groups.
Baddiel has written four novels: Time for Bed (1996), Whatever Love Means (2002), The Secret Purposes (2006) and The Death of Eli Gold (2011). In June 2015, Baddiel published his first children’s novel, The Parent Agency, which won the LOLLIE award (formally the Roald Dahl Funny Book Awards) for ‘best laugh out loud book for 9–13-year olds’ and is now being developed into a feature film, also written and produced by Baddiel, by Fox 2000 Pictures. His subsequent children’s novels include The Person Controller (2015), AniMalcolm (2016), Birthday Boy (2017) and Head Kid (2018). He wrote The Boy Who Could Do What He Liked, a short story published for World Book Day in 2016.
In 2001, Baddiel wrote and starred in Baddiel’s Syndrome, a sitcom for Sky 1 which also starred Morwenna Banks, Stephen Fry and Jonathan Bailey, which ran for fourteen episodes. He also wrote the comedy film, The Infidel, starring Omid Djalili, Richard Schiff, Matt Lucas and Miranda Hart. Baddiel has since adapted the film into a musical with music by Erran Baron Cohen. Baddiel directed the production which ran at London’s Theatre Royal Stratford East in late 2014. Baddiel’s other writing credits include The Norris McWhirter Chronicles for Sky 1, which starred Alistair McGowan and John Thomson and which Baddiel also directed, and two episodes of the ITV reboot of Thunderbirds, Thunderbirds Are Go!
In 2004, Baddiel created and hosted Heresy, a BBC Radio 4 panel show which sees celebrity guests trying to overthrow popular prejudice and received wisdom. The show is currently in its 10th series and has been hosted by Victoria Coren since 2008, with Baddiel returning regularly as a guest. In 2014 Baddiel created and hosted Don’t Make Me Laugh, a new panel show for Radio 4 that tasks guests with talking for as long as possible on obviously humorous subjects without getting laughs. The second series aired in 2016. In 2015, he created and fronted David Baddiel Tries to Understand…, a BBC Radio 4 show which sees Baddiel try to understand famously complex subjects as suggested by his followers on Twitter, and has now run for three series.
Baddiel has appeared in shows including Little Britain, Skins, The Life of Rock with Brian Pern and Horrible Histories and is a regular guest on panel shows including 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown, QI and Alan Davies’ As Yet Untitled. In 2016, he fronted a four-part travel documentary for Discovery entitled David Baddiel On the Silk Road, a 4,000-mile journey to explore the most famous trade route in history, as well as presenting two episodes of BBC2’s Artsnight and becoming a regular presenter of The Penguin Podcast in which he interviews authors about the objects that inspired their books, which has seen him interview guests including Johnny Marr, Zadie Smith and Ruby Wax. Other documentaries he has fronted include Baddiel and the Missing Nazi Billions (BBC2), Who Do You Want Your Child to Be? (BBC2), World’s Most Dangerous Roads (BBC2), and an episode of Who Do You Think You Are? (BBC1). He appeared on Desert Island Discs in 2018.
Baddiel has also filmed a documentary about his father’s dementia, The Trouble with Dad. This was screened on Channel 4 in 2017.
In 2019 Baddiel featured in Taskmaster series 9. He won one episode and finished fifth in the overall series.
In January 2021, it was announced Baddiel would appear as a contestant on the 4th series of The Great Stand Up to Cancer Bake Off, which aired in Spring 2021.
In 2013, he returned to stand-up comedy with his critically acclaimed show Fame (Not the Musical), which ran at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe before transferring to London’s Menier Chocolate Factory and a subsequent nationwide tour. In Spring 2016 Baddiel premiered a new show, My Family: Not the Sitcom, again at the Menier Chocolate Factory; the confessional show tells the true story of Baddiel’s recently deceased mother and dementia-suffering father.
Following a five-week run, the show transferred to London’s West End in September 2016 for another five-week run at the Vaudeville Theatre. In spring 2017 it was announced that the show would return to the West End for one final ten-week run at the Playhouse Theatre in March 2017. In the same month, it was announced that the show was nominated for an Olivier Award, in The Entertainment and Family category. The show was performed as part of the Montreal Comedy Festival in 2017 and will tour the UK in 2018. Most recently, Baddiel took the show to a four-city tour of Australia. His new show about social media, Trolls: Not The Dolls, tours the UK in 2020.
In October 2019 Baddiel’s play God’s Dice was produced at the Soho Theatre, London. The title is an allusion to Einstein’s view of quantum uncertainty: “God does not play dice with the universe”. The work deals with “an ageing [quantum physicist] seduced into supporting a radical religious sect”.
Baddiel is a Labour Party voter, but does not describe himself as a “Labour supporter”, saying “I would never support a political party like that, regardless of what I believe personally. My job is to be funny and that might involve me being funny at the expense of whoever’s stepped in shit that week.”
In February 2016, Baddiel commented on the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader, saying: “I think it’s interesting to think that we’ve got a proper left-wing Labour politician. My main thing about Corbyn is I think the scaremongering about him by the right-wing press is so absurd it makes me want to support Corbyn, even though in some ways I might not. Some of the people around him I personally wouldn’t trust but I think he himself is a decent man.”
In April 2017, he wrote an article for The Guardian in which he was critical of Ken Livingstone and his comments regarding Adolf Hitler and Zionism, but also made clear that he was not a Zionist, didn’t “hold with religion being the basis for statehood” and did not support what he called “the appalling actions of the present Israeli government.”
In March 2018, Baddiel appeared on Daily Politics, in which he described antisemitism as “sort of invisible” to Jeremy Corbyn and others on the political left because they are focused on “fighting the good fight against capitalism”. In February 2020, Baddiel told The Guardian that Holocaust denial is “a direct way of saying Jews are liars, Jews have tricked the world for their own gain, Jews are the most evil, pernicious race that exist. It is hate speech. There’s no other conclusion.”
In February 2021, Baddiel’s book Jews Don’t Count was published by TLS Books (The Times Literary Supplement).
Baddiel is a patron of Humanists UK and the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM). He acted as compere for the Stand-Up to Stop Suicide event organised by Claire Anstey and the charity, and has appeared on radio advertisements publicising the issue of young male suicide.
In February 2009 he and several other entertainers wrote an open letter printed in The Times supporting leaders of the Baháʼí Faith then on trial in Iran.
Following his experiences with his father, Baddiel has worked closely with a number of charities supporting the victims of dementia and their families. He performed a special one-off charity gala of his My Family: Not the Sitcom show at the Vaudeville Theatre with all proceeds from the evening being split between the Alzheimer’s Society, The National Brain Appeal and The Unforgettable Foundation. There were also collections made for the charities throughout the run of the show.
In 2017, it was announced that Baddiel would take part in Comic Relief’s Red Nose Convoy, in which three pairs of celebrities travel in convoy from Kenya to Uganda delivering aid.
Baddiel appears as the narrator in the 2018 short film To Trend on Twitter in aid of young people with cancer charity CLIC Sargent with fellow comedians Reece Shearsmith, Steve Pemberton, Helen Lederer and actor Jason Flemyng.
In March 2019 Baddiel hosted Comic Relief does University Challenge on BBC as part of Red Nose Day.
Baddiel has two children with his partner, fellow comedian Morwenna Banks – a daughter Dolly (born 2001) and a son Ezra (born 2004). They live in North London. He has two brothers – Ivor, who is a writer, and Dan.
Baddiel’s book, The Secret Purposes, is based in part on the internment of his grandfather on the Isle of Man during the Second World War. His father is from Swansea and his mother was born in Nazi Germany, a swastika appearing on her birth certificate. An episode of the BBC’s genealogy series Who Do You Think You Are? investigated his heritage in some detail, but failed to prove his theory that his mother had been secretly adopted from another Jewish family who had no hope of escaping. Despite his upbringing, he has described himself as a “10 out of 10 atheist” and as a “fundamentalist” “Jewish atheist”. Baddiel suffers from insomnia.
He is a big fan of the rock band Genesis and introduced the band at their Turn It On Again: The Tour press conference in 2006. He also provided sleeve notes for the reissue of the album Nursery Cryme as part of the Genesis 1970–1975 box set. Baddiel is a fan of the band’s former lead singer Peter Gabriel. A diarist for The Times once incorrectly reported that he had been “loud and offensive” while attending one of Gabriel’s concerts, something Baddiel has referred to in his live act.
Baddiel is also a fan of David Bowie and marked the singer’s 65th birthday in 2012 by expressing a desire on Twitter to see him come out of retirement. Baddiel attended the tribute concert to Bowie at London’s Union Chapel following the musician’s death and addressed the audience, describing Bowie as “the greatest tunesmith we have”.