Milton Jones walks the fine line between clever and stupid at Portsmouth Guildhall

Milton Jones Is Out There
Milton Jones Is Out There

Information overload for new theatre's debut

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‘People have said to me, “On one level it’s quite clever, and on another level it’s not clever at all,”’ says Milton Jones, analysing his own comedy. ‘I think that’s a compliment,’ he laughs. ‘I’m not sure. You could take it either way.’

Over the past 20 years Jones has established himself as the master of one-liners. The professor of puns. The king of the zingers. And nonsense has always played a crucial role in his streams of non-sequiturs.

Even Jones’s on stage appearance screams ‘absurd’: the wild hair, wide eyes and garish Hawaiian shirts. Put those alongside his beautifully constructed pieces of wordplay, and it’s helped the 52-year-old stand-up stand out among the T-shirt and suit-wearing comics on Mock the Week, which Jones has been regularly appearing on since 2009.

But, in his new touring show – Milton Jones is Out There – we see Jones questioning the importance of his own nonsense in our increasingly divided times. Could we see an end to the silliness and pun-foolery? Answer: absolutely not.

The blurb for the new show talks about you ‘running for prime minister’ and having a ‘manifesto of nonsense’. What can you tell us about the show?

‘As well as me doing loads of trademark jokes and little sketchy pieces, the show sees me thinking: with all that’s going on in the world, maybe I should be doing something more serious rather than talking nonsense. I seem to have a crisis of confidence in terms of: is nonsense of any value? And of course that results in more nonsense rather than less.’

Is it difficult to mould a show in that way – to include a message and a narrative – via lots of one-liners?

‘Yes, it is. I end up with a massive bag of jokes which probably don’t fit, which is really annoying.’

Is the show very political in terms of opinions or content? 

‘Not really. It’s all fairly jokey. There is one pseudo-political joke, which is as near as I get. With my stuff, people remember the joke rather than the point. Though my aim with the tour is to add in a couple of moments of pathos, really questioning whether I’m on the right track.’

The on-stage Milton is a persona, which adds another filter for any opinions. He’s a character, but he still has your name, and you don’t specifically say he’s a character. Is that deliberate?

‘No! I think if I was starting again I would give him a name. He evolved as I tried out things – he was working so I stuck with it. But there are levels to him. I can pull things back and talk about my real life, to some degree.’

The on-stage Milton has a distinct look: the hair and the shirts. Is it important for him to be visually distinctive?

‘I didn’t set out to do it, but it’s been useful “branding”. If you don’t remember the name you go, “Oh that guy with the shirts and the hair”. Originally the whole idea was that it was a signpost to say where I was coming from: it was left field.’

The shirts certainly make an impression on Mock the Week. How do you prepare for an episode?

‘Basically, you’re covering all the subjects in the news that haven’t got someone dying in them, so I go through my arsenal. A lot of people think it’s a satire show, but it’s not, it’s a joke show – which suits me.’

And a joke you performed on Mock the Week was the inspiration for the new show, wasn’t it?

‘Yes, about Boris Johnson. “An idiot with stupid hair running the country?” Bing! That’s where it started. I feel like I’m destined to play Boris Johnson at some point.’

MILTON JONES IS OUT THERE

Portsmouth Guildhall

Saturday, November 25

portsmouthguildhall.org.uk