NEAR the end of our conversation, one that has ranged over and around social media trolls, his mother’s sex life, the eroticism of golf, how fame can send some people (though not him) mad, masculinity, the New Lad, his inability to tell a lie and the stultifying boredom of growing up in Dollis Hill in north London, David Baddiel offers up a line that combines both how he sees himself with the sometimes bluntness of his sense of humour.

“I am an intellectual,” he tells me. “It’s a terribly difficult thing to say in Britain, because people think you’re a c***. But there’s no getting away from it.”

For some, Baddiel will forever be the bloke sitting on a sofa with Frank Skinner, beer in hand, joking about footballer’s haircuts, when he's not "singing" Three Lions. Or maybe he’s the other one alongside Rob Newman, the first comedians to sell out Wembley Arena in 1993, the moment comedy became the new rock and roll in the parlance of the times.

And yet Baddiel is also a novel writer, a playwright, a political commentator at times (he’s turned up on Peston and Question Time). He is someone who is interested in quantum physics and will soon be seen as presenter of an upcoming BBC documentary on holocaust denial.

Are all these things mutually exclusive? Well, yes, if you are one of the reviewers of Baddiel’s 2004 novel The Secret Purposes, which he based on his grandfather’s internment during the Second World War.

More than 15 years on Baddiel still remembers it. He parses it thus: “This novel has things to recommend it, but does David Baddiel really expect us to forget that he’s the guy on telly drinking beer?”

“Why are those two things impossible to go together?” Baddiel wonders, “Unless you’re a terrible snob?”

Today, Baddiel is drinking peppermint tea upstairs in a north London pub. He has walked here today from home half an hour away, which he shares with his partner Morwenna Banks and their two teenage children. He is a little out of puff when he arrives, as one might expect of a man who is 55 and doesn’t go in for Tom Cruisian levels of physical upkeep. But only a little.

He doesn’t write adult novels anymore, although he says he would like to in the future. These days Baddiel is a very successful writer of children’s books. “There are no gatekeepers in children’s literature. There are children who like what you write because it’s funny.”

Read More: Frank Skinner on life after alcohol

And, in the last few years, after effectively giving up stand-up, Baddiel has also returned to the stage. First, in 2013, his show Fame: Not the Musical discussed celebrity culture and our obsession with it. My Family: Not the Sitcom followed in 2016, in which he told the story of his mother’s adultery with a golfing memorabilia salesman. The shows, like the novels, he says, feel (though he hates the term) age-appropriate.

That is very much the case with his latest show. Trolls: Not the Dolls, among other things, takes in anti-Semitism, the death of politeness and, as might be obvious from the title, the corrosiveness of social media. It is about how we live now, he says.

He promises there are laughs in it. But it comes from a serious place. Baddiel joined Twitter not long after it started. “It was lovely and fantastic for about 20 seconds before the first trolls turned up.”

Now, he thinks, this new technology is transforming us. “I’m thinking of doing a documentary – if I can talk the BBC into doing it – called something like, ‘How Social Media Changed Everything’. I see social media mainly just talked about as if it has just changed us technologically and in terms of data. I think it has changed absolutely everything. It has changed truth, it has changed culture. It has certainly changed the way that we relate to each other and in a very short amount of time.”

And so, Trolls: Not the Dolls will be about why everyone’s so angry, what social media’s doing to public discourse (and comedy too). It will take in Brexit, Trump, and climate change, all told through Baddiel’s Twitter feed and the reactions to it down the years.

“My contention is even people who are living without social media are not just aware of it, they are affected by it. I say in the show, ‘Can’t you feel it? Can’t you feel the anger on the streets and outside parliament and inside parliament?’”

Recently, Baddiel watched a clip from Question Time in 1997 during which a member of the audience is having a real go at Tony Blair. “He really disagrees with Tony Blair but everything about it is polite. There’s no shouting and screaming in the audience. So, there was a time not very long ago where people could disagree about politics without it turning into a f****** shouting match.”

This new public culture – let’s call it “default hostility” – is one of the reasons Baddiel agreed to do the documentary about holocaust denial, he says. Go back 15 years and he might not have done it.

“I might have agreed 15 years ago you shouldn’t give these people airtime. Now I think they have airtime, just not on the mainstream screens. You can’t ignore it anymore. There’s been a huge mobilisation of what used to be fringe ideas and fringe discourses allowed by social media. Things that no one would ever have given any countenance to, they can now all get together and make those ideas hurt.

“People with very extreme beliefs will always shout loudest and to some extent will always find their compatriots quickest. That mobilisation happens because of social media.”

On Twitter, Baddiel has himself been attacked and abused, but he often hits back. “I feed the trolls for a very specific reason which is, I’m a comedian. And sometimes I see them saying things to me and I do get upset and then, seconds later, I think, ‘Oh, material. I’ve thought of a response to this.’

“And not only is that entertaining personally, it really dissolves the abuse. There’s a weird thing that happens within me. I may be very upset for a second, but if I think, ‘I’ve thought of something very funny to say,’ I am quite excited and don’t feel upset anymore. And so psychologically for me that’s positive.”

He recognises that approach is not for everyone. “Zoe Ball said to me yesterday, ‘I just have to turn away, otherwise it ruins my day.’ Women get it worse.”

We talk about the media’s complicity in all this, our love of turning a few angry Tweets into a headline, how we let it set agendas. But really, he says, it’s the way social media reifies our cognitive biases that is a problem. It’s too public to allow people to back down, he suggests, to say to the other party, you might have a point.

“It’s one public statement butting up against another public statement and that is not nuanced.”

The result? An erosion of tolerance, Baddiel thinks. “If one of the great British virtues is tolerance then, yes, it is getting eroded because people are much angrier.”

And that anger, he suggests, is becoming normalised. Everything has become about winning and losing, he says. In the show, Baddiel talks about Piers Morgan using Twitter to attack JK Rowling in 2017.

“He said, ‘JK Rowling supported Miliband, Clinton and Remain. That takes some wizardry to be wrong so often.’ What I point out is she’s not wrong, is she? She was on the losing side and that’s different. She herself got 12 rejection letters, I think, for Harry Potter. She was ‘losing’ all that time, but she wasn’t wrong.”

“The idea of who has the crowing rights, who gets to do the 12 laughing emojis is very dominant now.”

We’ve come a long way from making jokes about Jason Lee’s hairstyle on Fantasy Football, haven’t we?

Time for the back story. Here’s a question I don’t think I’ve had the chance to ask anyone before. David, was your mum’s erotic poetry any good?

“It was terrible, but it was brilliantly terrible.”

Said erotic poetry was one of the highlights of Baddiel’s last show My Family: Not the Sitcom, which looked at his parents with a joyfully amused eye. It was his mum Sarah’s use of misapplied inverted commas that was comic, he says. “She included inverted commas around the phrase ‘nibble my clitoris,’ for example.

Baddiel was invited onto the Guilty Feminist podcast because, host Deborah Frances-White told him, it was so unusual to hear a son talking about his mother’s sex life unjudgementally, particularly when it was her transgressive sex life. “Which is was because it involved adultery,” he explains.

“But I am intensely unjudgmental in general, I would say.”

His mother Sarah, who died in 2014, became obsessed with golf after starting her affair with the golfing memorabilia salesman. “For years I have known this is funny because golf in our house is a sort of eroticised thing. And it’s the least erotic thing ever.”

My Family: Not the Sitcom was a huge success. Baddiel was even invited to take it to Broadway (an offer he turned down in the end). It connected, I suggest, perhaps because it’s about that moment when we realise our parents aren’t just parents, but human beings too.

“Absolutely, although my parents were quite mental. My dad is still alive. He has advanced dementia. They were singular people in very different ways. My mum was unbelievably over-romantic, trying her best to live this weird Mills & Boon life in Cricklewood in our very mundane, lower-middle class house in Dollis Hill.

“And my dad was the most male man I’ve ever known. Intensely male. Much more male than I am. I think I’ve got some very no-nonsense things about me which come from him, but it’s all mixed up with my mum’s softer, romantic side.”

He tells me a story about his dad, Colin. When Baddiel worked on a documentary about his father’s dementia the director asked him if his dad had ever told him he loved you. “And I said, ‘No, of course not. He’d never say that.’ The director turned the camera on my dad and says, ‘Your son is saying you never loved him.’ And my dad says, ‘That’s bollocks.’

“I remember thinking that’s amazing because that is the closest we will ever get to my dad saying he loves me. He won’t add, ‘F*** off, of course I love him.’ But it is implied.”

His pen portrait of his father makes me think of the David Baddiel who first emerged into the public eye back in the 1990s, first working with Rob Newman but particularly with Frank Skinner on Fantasy Football. My image of Baddiel, at the time, was of someone who was concerned with very male subjects; football, pornography. It felt at the time, I tell him, something of a reversal of what alternative comedy had been about.

“It was a bit,” he accepts. “If you want to be new you want to say something different. It wasn’t just me and Rob. Jack Dee, Jo Brand, Eddie Izzard, God rest his soul, Sean Hughes, we talked mainly about ourselves. It was more personal and confessional.

“And I was probably slightly more male. I was happy to talk about pornography, about sex in quite a male way and, yeah, talk about football or whatever.”

A couple of days ago, he says, he was reading an interview with Alexei Sayle in which the Liverpool comedian vented about what he called “that Skinner and Baddiel laddy shit.”

“But I don’t think it was as self-consciously laddish as all that really,” Baddiel suggests. When he was on Fantasy Football, he recalls, he would be given a beer to drink during the show. “I don’t really like beer. That’s one of the weird things about me and Frank being ‘lads’. He doesn’t drink and I hardly drink. He’s a devout Catholic and all the time during that period I was monogamous. The idea that in the nineties we were drinking and shagging was sadly not the case.”

How does he look back on his younger self? “One of the things I do think about me is I am wearily me. I think only one thing has probably changed me in my entire adult life and that is having children. That has actually shifted who I am. In a good way. It made me more empathetic, less self-obsessed. I wouldn’t say I was ultra-selfish, but I think I was pretty self-centred. I still am in lots of ways. Suddenly, I was forced to see things from someone else’s point of view, my children’s. And that was really good for me.”

He accepts that his partner Morwenna Banks, herself a comedian and writer, perhaps best known to many Scots for her work on comedy Absolutely, has had an influence on him too. “Morwenna is a deeply empathetic person and that was good for me because I won’t shift an iota from who I am for anyone.

“I am incredibly confident in my own skin. That doesn’t mean I think my own skin is the best. Lots of things about me I would prefer to improve. But I am very confident in who I am, and I always was and continue to be.”

That stability was good when he found fame suddenly thrust upon him. His professional career as a stand-up started in 1986. Within four years he was on TV as part of The Mary Whitehouse Experience.

“People can be rocked and really destabilised by fame and I don’t think I was. I have a tendency towards sometimes being a depressive and I think fame didn’t help that.”

But even then, Baddiel says, he really enjoyed it. “There was a lot of bollocks, and Rob Newman had gone mad and we split up because he was affected, I think. But in the main looking back on it thinking f****** brilliant, what an amazing thing.”

It is almost time to go. Before he does, Baddiel starts talking about his new show again. He worried that he’s made it sound depressing. Not the case, he insists. “The show very much takes us into the darkness and comes out of it.”

Is there hope then? He cites what happened when he was attacked by anti-Semites and how people on Twitter had his back. “Maybe we are in an end-of-days battle or maybe we who are not trolls are the larger contingent and we can make fun of them and we can commune, and it will be okay. That’s how the show goes. Whether I actually believe that, I’m not sure.”

It’s the day after Monty Python’s Terry Jones died. We discuss the outpouring of love online for Jones after his death. That’s something, he argues. “There is lots of loveliness there. It’s quieter, the loveliness, that’s the problem.”

Maybe we need to learn to speak up. David Baddiel can give us lessons.

David Baddiel’s new show Trolls: Not the Dolls is at Aberdeen’s Music Hall on March 5, Rose Theatre Edinburgh on March 6, Motherwell Concert Hall on March 7 and the King’s Theatre, Glasgow on March 8. For more information visit 

Confronting Holocaust Denial with David Baddiel is on BBC Two, on Monday, February 17, at 9pm

With thanks to the Lord Palmerston, Dartmouth Park Hill, Tufnell Park, London, NW5 1HU: