Helene Parry catches up with the surrealist comic Milton Jones, who will be bringing his latest tour ‘On The Road’ to Dorking Halls this October. The show promises to be full of one-liners, plenty of props and a self-composed rap…
Mock The Week, BBC2’s topical comedy panel show features some of the finest stand-up comedians on the scene, who skewer politicians and other newsmakers with their wit. But one panelist stands out. Milton Jones, the man with the wild hair and deafening shirts, has brought a new dimension to the show, his surreal one-liners revealing a unique perspective on life.
For instance, when actor Tom Cruise’s divorce made headlines last year, most of the panelists joked about Mr Cruise’s diminutive stature and his religious beliefs, both topics already well examined by satirists. Milton, however, mused: “Would you trust a man who’s already been on three missions, each of which he claimed was impossible?”
And, when discussing British tennis, Milton announced: “If I won Wimbledon, the first thing I’d do is sort out the one-way system.”
This October, Milton will be performing at Dorking Halls, one stop on his current UK tour. A former Perrier Best Newcomer award winner at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, he has headlined in comedy clubs for years, and is well known to Radio 4 audiences for his shows The Very World Of Milton Jones and Another Case Of Milton Jones. But he acknowledges that his increasingly frequent TV appearances have made a big difference to his career.
“I’ve done Mock The Week, Live At The Apollo, and Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow in the last 18 months,” he notes. “It’s tipped the balance a bit.”
It takes nearly three hours to record a half-hour episode of Mock The Week, he reveals.
“They edit it down and only show the best bits.”
Comedians appearing on the show need to read up on that week’s news stories.
“It’s like an exam,” says Milton. “They tell you what subjects could come up. We joke that watching Mock The Week is how students find out what’s in the news!”
The wealth of stand-up comedy shows on TV at the moment is not always helpful to new comedians starting out, he notes.
“Smaller comedy clubs complain that unless a comedian has been on TV, people won’t come and see their shows.”
Milton’s audiences range from pensioners to Goths.
“It’s nice because all the family can come out,” he says.
They in turn find it refreshing to watch a comedian who doesn’t rely on swearing and bad taste gags to get laughs. Although even fans familiar with Milton’s left-field approach were taken aback when, on his last tour, he took to opening the show as his own warm-up act, in the guise of “Milton’s grandfather”.
Milton created another engaging character in his 2009 novel, Where Do Comedians Go When They Die? The hero, Jerome, is a professional stand-up comedian who has to cope with stage terrors, slippery agents, violent bouncers and the loneliness of constant travelling while trying to maintain a family life. A story that could only have been written by someone who’s been there.
“Stand-up is a solitary job,” admits Milton. “It’s just you on stage. When you become better-known, more people come to see you, but it’s easier, because you don’t have to spend the first five minutes winning them over. You’re gambling, and hopefully, the longer you’ve been doing the job, the more you win.”
In the novel, Jerome faces a particularly cruel setback when his jokes are stolen and performed on TV by a better-known comedian. An act of theft, which effectively prevents him from using his own material.
“Smaller comedians have no redress if their jokes are stolen by writers who then supply them to better-known comedians,” says Milton. “But the better known you are, the less likely people are to steal your jokes.
“With music, there would be lawsuits in cases of plagiarism, but a comedian doesn’t want to become known for being the one who whinges.”
Milton is known for his one-liners, but for full-length shows, he varies his routines with the use of props.
“Don’t buy pizza from a sports shop,” he warns audiences, producing a dartboard from his shopping trolley.
“I break up the one-liners with props, flip charts, and music,” explains Milton. “After 20 minutes of one-liners, you can see blood coming out of the audience’s ears. I vary my angle of attack. And I’m not known for singing, but for this tour, I’ve written a rap.”
More gagster than gangsta, presumably.
The writing process varies according to how near the deadline is, he says.
“Sometimes I’ll spend 9am to 1pm thinking up ideas, and then my head’s a bit fried. It’s trial and error, sometimes. You could improvise something on the back of a line that doesn’t work, and hit on something that does.”
As satisfying as it is to write a good joke, Milton finds live performance more fulfilling:
“You’re seeing how it directly affects people. It gives you a bigger buzz. I just like it when people say they laughed. One guy told me he’d had to pull over on the motorway because he was laughing so much at the radio show. And I met a Dad with a child of seven who knew all my jokes, sang the theme song, word perfect, and asked me questions about episode seven!
“When you meet people who have clearly taken your work more seriously than you have, it’s humbling. You’re glad to have brought them joy. It’s not life saving work, but it is a privilege.”
Milton Jones will be coming to Dorking on Oct 16, 8pm. Tickets cost £21, call 01306 881717 to book.