Now he knows how they felt. For 25 years Jeremy Paxman was the bogeyman of Westminster; the Newsnight Green Room stained with the fluids of government ministers and shadow secretaries of state. Was Paxo similarly nervous waiting backstage before his one man show, a collection of anecdotes from his decades long career?
No. Don’t be stupid. This man is used to beating up dictators, why would an Edinburgh Fringe crowd scare him?
Still, for someone used to cutting through the crap, there’s an unusual reliance on props. Roger Tilling, the voice of University Challenge, spouts pre-recorded put downs from a speaker underneath a table. A large projection screen shows some of Paxo’s greatest hits, and every spin of the question wheel is accompanied by some apt piece of music (Rude Boy, that weird song Jon Snow sang when Paxman left Newsnight, etc)
Oh yes, the wheel. Perhaps believing that only fate can question the grand interviewer, the subjects covered in each show are selected by a spangly wheel of fortune. One wonders if Paxman glued on the glitter himself. Ian Katz was clearly not the only Newsnight staffer partial to a gimmick.
In the wide-ranging opening night, topics included Mohamed Al-Fayed, hatred of old people and the endless, faceless politicians Paxman has been forced to humiliate for the public good. It should come as no surprise that he is an eloquent public speaker. For the first 10 minutes, it feels like a Newsnight episode that refuses to start. Naturally funny, he sometimes strays into a curmudgeounly rant, but there’s also a thoughtful edge too seldom glimpsed in the late-night bearpit. His thoughts on atheism and altruism are considered and inspiring. His thoughts on fly fishing and trout, less so.
The most successful moments come when batting back questions from the audience. Like they’ve spilled Mike Tyson’s pint in a bar, the public sound genuinely terrified, but Paxman is considerate in answering. Unless you annoy him. Don’t annoy him.
In truth, while there’s a lot to enjoy about this relaxed, open collared Paxman, there are a few too many distractions. Without someone to keep him in check, he has a tendency to wander from the point or even be slightly evasive: no-one in the audience will be brave enough to ask the same question 14 times.
It’s an insightful hour with one of our truly great broadcasters, but Paxo could do with getting Paxo-ed.
Paxo is at the Pleasance in Edinburgh until 25th August