Stand-up, radio and TV comedian Milton Jones talks to JODIE JEYNES about his new tour, Mock The Week and why he wears those loud shirts and messes up his hair.
That comedian with the shirt and the hair – it’s a vague description but one that will bring Milton Jones to mind for anyone who’s ever seen him.
‘It’s a signpost,’ says the 48-year-old comic with the loud shirts and mad hair.
‘When I started out, I’d be at a difficult club somewhere and people had no idea who I was. It took them five minutes to work out the angle.
‘But this says immediately, ‘‘left field”,’ continues the comic who delivers his surreal, pun-based one-liners with a deadpan, neurotic air.
‘It’s also an aide-mémoire.
‘People can’t always remember your name, but they think “oh him. He does that thing” as opposed to being just another talking head,’ explains Milton, while in the middle of preparations for his forthcoming tour.
‘I’m doing several “work in progress” shows and it’s a massive scrabble to get all the props and bits,’ he says.
‘I’ve written all the jokes and I’ve done a couple of warm-ups. But there’s a difference between having enough material and having a show that’s balanced and feels like a show.
‘Doing one-liners, there’s a danger that it will feel like a list of jokes, so I’ve got pictures and music.
‘It’s that that takes the time – trying to make it something coherent. But I always forget the props until the last minute,’ puffs Milton, who – as we speak – is scouring shops for a dressing gown, as if finding all those loud shirts wasn’t enough.
It’s for the character of his granddad, who appears in live shows as the support act
‘I don’t know where old men buy their dressing gowns these days,’ says an exasperated Milton. ‘All I can find are young trendy Gap type ones that you’d see in a cereal ad.
‘They’ve probably had them for years.’
Some fans enjoy Milton’s granddad as much, if not more, than the main act. So they’ll be pleased to learn that we may be seeing more of him in the future.
‘I’d quite like to do a show with old footage of yesteryear and him giving an entirely alternative commentary on it, like a mockumentary,’ reveals Milton.
It was an unusual move, coming on stage and pretending to be someone else for the first part of his live shows. Milton says, it wasn’t an inspired idea, it just came out of necessity.
‘I wrote some jokes about the First World War and I couldn’t really say them as myself, so I thought maybe I could say “my granddad used to say...” I had a whole pile of jokes like that.
‘Also, doing one-liners, I’m always looking for ways to make it a bit different. A different voice and a different historical perspective breaks things up for the audience.
‘Otherwise, blood starts to seep out of their ears after about 20 minutes because, with one-liners, there’s a lot of information to take in, especially if you’ve had a drink.
‘You see the audience start to drift away because they can’t quite keep up,’ continues Chortle’s Headliner of the Year 2012, who won the Perrier Award for Best Newcomer in 1996 and was nominated for the main award the following year alongside Graham Norton, Al Murray and The League of Gentlemen.
He also won a Sony Award for his radio show, The Very World of Milton Jones; a silver Sony Radio Academy Award in 2012 for Another Case of Milton Jones and Best Comedy Performer Award from Time Out.
Milton has also recorded two live DVDs and written a novel called Where Do Comedians Go When They Die?
But he originally planned to be an actor.
‘Acting wasn’t really working,’ explains the star.
‘But, in stand-up, you can get up and do it much quicker and you’re not dependent on rehearsing with others.
‘Occasionally I go back to it. House Of Rooms [a sitcom which sees Milton and his mother living in a big house in which they rent out their spare rooms to a variety of tenants] is vaguely acting.
‘I’d like to do more of that,’ continues Milton who, in real life, lives in Richmond with his wife and three children.
His comedy debut also coincided with ‘comedy mushrooming and becoming far more viable as a career’, he says.
‘There had always been cabaret style comedy, but at the end of the 1980s there were grass roots anti-fascists like Ben Elton and Alexei Sayle being sort of political in pubs and clubs and working men’s clubs. A new generation of outspoken people emerged.
‘Then Eddie Izzard started doing nonsense, talking about everyday things as well as politics,’ remembers Milton.
‘Ten years ago, it was more of a minority interest, but people know what comedy is now. It’s not alternative any more.
‘It’s largely to do with Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow, Live at the Apollo and TV panel games,’ he explains.
‘But clubs are having a hard time now.
‘Attitudes towards comedy have changed and so has the format.
‘A lot of audiences want to know who’s been on TV and the Britain’s Got Talent effect means that, at the end of a show, you get people saying: “who do you think won?”
‘But comedians who are lucky enough to have been on TV can get bigger audiences at their shows,’ adds Milton, who undoubtedly owes much of his fame to TV panel game Mock The Week.
‘Because of Dave [the TV channel], it looks as if I do one episode every three days, he laughs.
‘In fact, I’ve done between 15 and 20 episodes and I’ve only been in the last three series. Although we’re filming more in June, July and September.
‘At first, I wasn’t sure that it would work for me. It seemed quite blokey and pushy. But, because I did my own thing, it’s been good for me.
‘There are seven of us, so that splits us up and makes us more palatable. Like a meal, it’s nice to have a bit of this and a bit of that and people have their favourites.
‘The problem is the competitive element. It’s like seven people trying to get through a door for two.
‘It’s quite scary for people who’ve never done the show before. But it’s a great chance to get some exposure.’
It certainly worked for ‘that comedian with the shirt and the hair’.
‘Now people turn-up to my shows wearing shirts like mine,’ beams Milton.
‘It’s given me a merchandising angle.’
Milton’s Work In Progress show has a sold-out date at the Ashcroft Arts Centre in Fareham on Thursday. Then the fully-fledged act comes to Portsmouth Guildhall on April 11 and Southampton on April 17.
Tickets cost £20 from (023) 9282 4355 (Portsmouth) or £22.75 from (023) 8063 2601 (Southampton).