9:00am Saturday 2nd February 2013
By Duncan Hall
"Every joke is like tapping on the shell of an egg, and eventually the shell breaks. You can see people when it works – they’re not smiling, giggling or cackling, they’re laughing a lot at the ridiculousness of it.
“It’s all about getting the jokes in the right order – and to find that takes trial and error.”
Milton Jones has spent the last few months doing just that with a series of warm-up shows, before taking his new tour on the road.
“It gets about 2% better every time,” he says deadpan. “As long as I do 50 shows I should be OK...”
Inhabiter of hideously tasteless shirts, possessor of permanently ruffled hair and master of the one-liner, Milton Jones has become a regular face on television screens, thanks largely to appearances on BBC Two’s satirical panel game Mock The Week and Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow.
But his long career stretches back to winning the Perrier Award for best newcomer at 1996’s Edinburgh Fringe, and recording a stack of BBC Radio 4 comedies, including three series of Sony Award-winning The Very World Of Milton Jones between 1998 and 2001.
“Radio is a good training ground,” he says. “You have to use all this material as you’ve got to fill all that time and you have that interaction with the audience.
“The thing I like about radio is you can be writing the script as the audience are coming in. With TV they want to know two weeks in advance what you’re going to do because of the sound and lighting. There isn’t as much room for spontaneity – but then it is much more influential than radio. Each genre has its own advantages.”
He did think twice about appearing on Mock The Week, where his surreal one-liners have found an unlikely home.
“I wasn’t even sure if it would work for me as a showcase,” he admits. “I’m grateful for it. I think it has changed in character since Russell Howard and Frankie Boyle moved on – it has become less combative.
“The way it’s set up is seven people trying to fit into a door for two – there’s a dramatic tension on the show. There’s no lazy waiting around, everyone is trying to get their oar in quickly before the subject moves on. It is difficult for people doing it for the first time.”
His style of comedy has proved to be a boon though.
“It is harder for someone who does stories or rambling stuff,” he says.
“They have to edit a two-and- a-half hour recording into a half-hour show. Short bits are good!”
The television appearances have solidified his public image – moving from unfortunate jumper choices to horrific shirts.
“Doing more TV made me think: ‘At least if they don’t remember my name they will remember the shirt’,” he says. “I used to wear jumpers more, but it was too hot on TV with the lights and stuff.
“People turn up to my shows now wearing those kind of shirts – I’ve cornered the market.”
For this tour he has even had two specially made as it is becoming harder to find original retro shirts.
“A shirt for me has to be when you can’t tell if it’s really good or really bad – when you can’t believe they put orange and green together...”
When it comes to writing his live shows he admits he starts with a high concept idea.
“It will all be about one thing,” he says. “And then I do three jokes and run out of ideas.
“When you do one-liners you have to sew lots of bits together and vary the formulas, otherwise after 20 minutes people have blood coming out of their ears. There’s too much information – you have to vary the angle of attack!”
This sees Jones work in songs, props, character comedy and an overhead projector into his show, as well as communicating directly with his audience.
“The worst that can happen is people guessing what you’re going to do next,” he says. “You’ve got to keep one step ahead as much as you can.”
At the heart of his set are his perfectly crafted one-liners.
“If I’m working on something it only adds ten seconds to the show,” he says. “You can write as many brilliant jokes on paper as you want, but until you’ve found a real audience you won’t know it’s strength or weakness.
“It’s a very honest artform. If I haven’t had a laugh for three lines then it’s not working!”
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