Dane Baptiste says he can’t wait to work with The Big Issue. Image: Louise Haywood-Schiefer
Writer, presenter, stand-up comedian… Dane Baptiste has accomplished much in his 38 years. But he’s not about to slow down – instead he’s joined The Big Issue as an official Group Ambassador. And we put him straight to work. Baptiste caught up with vendor George Anderson on his pitch outside BBC Broadcasting House to explain what the role means to him.
“I really want to help people who feel they may be close to or experiencing sleeping rough or homelessness to know they’re not alone,” Baptiste says.
As a renowned observational stand-up comedian, writer and podcaster, Baptiste is as popular as he is provocative and political. He made history in 2014 as the first Black British comedian to be nominated for a comedy award at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
He has since made acclaimed appearances on Live at the Apollo, Mock the Week, 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown, Children in Need and Comic Relief alongside his fast, frenetic, fresh and funny sitcom Sunny D (the first new commission of a Black sitcom by the BBC in 20 years) and his BBC Three entertainment show Bamous.
“Homelessness might become a reality for more of the British population than they would care to acknowledge,” Baptiste continues.
“There is a stigma attached to homelessness. But we’re not dealing with some kind of underclass of people that have made successive bad decisions in their life. These are people that have been affected by economic policies that are out of their control. The ramifications of the austerity that has been executed by our current government and has been over the last decade or so is massively damaging to all of us. For me, it’s unlawful. It’s definitely immoral.
“And those same policies, if unchecked, are going to start affecting those of you who consider yourselves productive parts of society as well. So I want to help people to come together collectively for a solution, which benefits the majority.”
Baptiste joins actors Christopher Eccleston, Daniel Mays and Sophie Winkleman, politician David Lammy, architect George Clarke, dancer and choreographer Sherrie Silver and youth champion Jack Parsons as a Big Issue Group Ambassador. He was moved to join The Big Issue after a chance meeting with another Big Issue Ambassador, senior firefighter, academic and writer Dr Sabrina Cohen-Hatton.
“I met Sabrina Cohen-Hatton on the daytime TV show Steph’s Packed Lunch,” he says.
“She spoke about being an ambassador for The Big Issue. People can have preconceived notions about someone’s life if they have experienced sleeping rough or being homeless. She has turned her life around. It made me aware that homelessness is a very close reality for people now. I found her very inspiring and wanted to get involved because we are in an economic crisis. And I’m always trying to find ways to help and raise awareness.”
Baptiste is also keen to kickstart conversations around homelessness within the Black community – hoping to help shine a light on hidden homelessness, sofa surfing and links between mental health and homelessness.
“Homelessness is seldom discussed within the Black community,” he admits. “But when we see the erosion of social services and housing services, Black Britons are very much over-represented and have a lack of access to resources and a lack of awareness. I’d wager that most of the people I grew up with, if they ever found themselves homeless, wouldn’t know where to go in order to receive any kind of help or support groups.
“I want to see if there’s something I can do in terms of collaborations between The Big Issue and charities or organisations that provide those services.”
The south-east Londoner considers working with The Big Issue as a natural extension of his work. “A large amount of the work that we do as comedians is people watching,” he says.
“I was just with George on his pitch outside the BBC and he was really on the ball. It’s ironic – Big Issue vendors observe people and their nature from so many different walks of life, so they have a similar insight into contemporary behaviour to comedians.
“And homelessness is as real an issue as ageing in our society at the moment, with our current state of economic inequality. The economic crisis is at the forefront of most people’s minds.
“Like most comics or observational comedians, I try to discuss experiences people can relate to. And the cost-of-living crisis is the most encompassing and most relatable issue most people are dealing with in their day-to-day lives now.
“So if I am going to make effective observations about our current social state, then I need to be involved. If I’m going to opine on an issue, I really want to know about it.”
Baptiste has read the magazine for years, he says.
“The Big Issue is one of the only publications I know of whose editorial isn’t influenced by corporate interests,” he said. “That is so important, especially nowadays when we seem to be in a post-truth era. I gravitate to it more and more for the integrity of the journalism.
“And the times in my life as an artist where I’ve been seeking truth to use as a basis to inform my material, The Big Issue is the kind of literature I go to. I pick it up from different vendors all across the country – I share the commissions – because being a comedian is very much a journeyman occupation.”
Asked for a final message for Big Issue supporters, Baptiste says: “First of all, thank you, just from a humanitarian perspective, for continuing to drive to help people who are less fortunate. That seems to be a rare sentiment in the world right now.
“I hope that by being an ambassador, I can encourage people to come together, have empathy for others and that we can all work towards raising our basic living standards for people of all walks of life. Because united we have the power.
“That would be my big message.”
This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income.To support our work buy a copy! If you cannot reach your local vendor, you can still click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue today or give a gift subscription to a friend or family member. You can also purchase one-off issues from The Big Issue Shop or The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play.
Urgent action is needed to prevent even more people being pushed into homelessness. A secure home is the first step in addressing the cruel cycle of poverty to ensure people can fulfil their potential. Join us to keep people in their homes.