Multi-award-winning comic Milton Jones has written several series for BBC Radio 4 and is becoming a familiar face on BBC2 panel show Mock the Week. Tonight he brings his zingy one-liners to the Hammersmith Apollo (9:30pm, BBC1). RadioTimes.com caught up with him as he nears the end of his Lion Whisperer tour of the UK.
RadioTimes.com: Your Live at the Apollo appearance airs tonight. I’ve seen you play in both large and more intimate venues – do you have a preference?
Milton Jones: The nearer people are, the better. They need to be able to feel that I can leap off the stage and slap them if necessary. If it’s too big or if they’re too far away they may as well be watching me on TV.
Your humour mixes wordplay with visual play – putting absurd images in people’s minds. Do you consciously strive to balance these different elements in your shows?
Yes, I want to put silly cartoons in people’s heads. I try to keep the element of surprise by varying the angle of attack. I deliberately mix up the types of jokes, their delivery and sometimes use props.
In your Lion Whisperer show, you added drawings to the comedic equation – was this a natural extension of the visual element of your verbal jokes?
Yes – it’s just a way of doing jokes but working back from the visual image. Hey, you’re making me give away all my secrets!
How do you work: do your one-liners flash into your head or do you spend a long time crafting them?
It’s trial and error. I follow my children round the house, reading jokes off bits of paper, and they’re not allowed to eat until they laugh at something.
Clearly, comic timing and the befuddled attitude of the “onstage Milton” have much to do with generating laughs, but a certain amount of it also depends on the cadence of your voice. Do you hear the lilt of a joke naturally or do you play about with your tone and perfect it?
I think things need to be funny to begin with, and then you can polish them up with a good vocal delivery.
Aside from in your act, do you have an interest in words generally?
Not really. I’d rather go for a run.
Audiences love the jokes you tell about your many grandfathers – and in your Lion Whisperer DVD, your “grandfather” actually appears! Were either of your grandfathers funny in real life – or are they purely a comedic device?
One was a missionary and one was a greengrocer. Both stand-ups of a different kind. Everyone’s funny if you think about them for long enough.
Do you have a favourite among your jokes?
“I was walking along the other day, and on the road I saw a small dead baby ghost. Although thinking about it, it might have been a handkerchief.”
A stand-up comedian told me about the great respect for you in the business. Do you feel a responsibility to up-and-coming comics who hold you in such high esteem?
I hadn’t noticed that. But I think it’s true that if you don’t say much, people think you’re wise. I don’t say much, but often I’m just thinking about football.
Mock the Week
Did you have any qualms about your first appearance on Mock the Week?
I wasn’t sure if I would fit in. And I didn’t. But somehow not fitting in and doing my own thing seems to have worked for me.
We’re seeing you more often as a guest panellist on Mock the Week, but I’d like to see you as a permanent team member – would you ever accept that role if it was offered?
Yes! Then slowly I would get rid of all the others and take over the whole of the BBC! On the other hand, it does eat a lot of material. Thinking about it, I’m very happy turning up a few times a series.
Just for fun
You have over 84,000 followers on Twitter – how are you finding the Twitter experience?
I didn’t join for ages because I thought my head might explode – already spending all day trying to think of one-liners. But there are some jokes that are better if you read them. Also it means I can drum up an audience at short notice more easily.
What can you tell us about your upcoming Channel 4 Comedy Showcase project?
I wrote The House of Rooms with fellow stand-up Dan Evans. It’s about me living in a big old house with my mother and some tenants. The whole production team did a great job on it. It’s very daft, and we would love to do more.
Are you a hairdresser’s dream…or their worst nightmare?
My hairdresser was horrified when he first saw me on television. But my hair grows quickly so he gets to see a lot of me, so he shouldn’t complain.
I always ache from laughing after watching your set. Who can I sue?
You may have some sort of disease. You’d better get that checked out.