MILTON JONES INTERVIEW
Milton Jones Interview
The top comedian on hecklers, funny hats and hitting Surrey on tour…
Given all the hype over the latest Bond movie, it seems that the theme of Milton Jones’ new tour is very on topic. Called Milton: Impossible, the show sees the popular comedian don hats, take on a car chase and an interrogation scene as he reveals his former life as a spy before opening an opticians called For Four Eyes Only… but the material was actually written some 18 months ago and was ready to hit the road until the pandemic interrupted life as we knew it.
The tour has now been rescheduled and Milton is excited to be back in front of a live audience. “The show has a bit of everything, including me as my grandad warming up the show via Zoom.”
Ah, Zoom, our lockdown saviour that turned into our pandemic pet peeve. Milton describes trying to keep live comedy going via Zoom – but it wasn’t easy. “You’d have the audience in these little boxes on a screen with the show being interrupted by them getting a Deliveroo…”
“We even did some shows in pub car parks with people sat in their cars.”
But unsurprisingly, it wasn’t the same. “People are hungry for live entertainment again – like food after a long fast.” He’s already on tour when we speak in September, and he’s heading to local venues, including Epsom Playhouse, G Live in Guildford, Richmond Theatre, and the Rose Theatre Kingston. “It’s a lot of fun to do,” says Milton. “There’s nothing like playing to your own audience who have already decided they want to come and see you. I’ve done enough club gigs in my time where you are actually interrupting people talking and you have to spend five minutes trying to win them over.”
And as a local boy – he was born in Kew and lives in St Margarets in Richmond – he is relishing the prospect of playing to a home crowd. “They’re not difficult audiences and you don’t need to spell everything out. They’re clever and sophisticated. I also have the local knowledge so can refer to places nearby. If you go to some of the big Northern towns, they hear your southern accent and you have to pass a test to see if they can trust you.”
He’s had to deal with his fair share of hecklers. His approach? “Engage with them. They’re not expecting it and don’t know what to say back. The worst one I had was, ‘what is this?’ which is hard to come back from. The thing is, everyone laughs anyway and then you engage and ask them where they are from and what they do and you usually find something to make a joke of.”
Milton got into stand-up as a means to an end with ambitions to become an actor. “You can get up and running quite quickly in stand-up and I planned to get producers and directors to come and see me. But the comedy took off. And at the same time, standup was starting to become popular on TV.” His comedy heroes were Blackadder, Bilko and The Two Ronnies. “I was more interested in sitcoms because a comedian back than was a fat old bloke who told mother-in-law and Irish jokes, which I wasn’t interested in doing and it wasn’t until I saw Saturday Night Live and the likes of Harry Enfield and Ben Elton that I thought that’s what I want to do and work out my own way of doing it.”
He has been hugely successful, notching up awards including Perrier Best Newcomer, Chortle Headliner of the Year, and he’s just written his tenth series for Radio 4. “The job has moved on a lot from when I started out. It used to be known as ‘alternative comedy’ but now it’s just comedy and you can even do a course in it at university.”
So, how do you write a joke? “There’s nothing like people buying tickets for a show you haven’t written to make you get a move on! But I’m constantly on the look-out for words or situations I can use and exaggerate and turn upside down. I then test it out and whittle it down. I need around 200 to 250 jokes per show – as they’re one liners of around 10 to 30 words, it’s about getting the words in the right order so you put a cartoon in people’s minds and then pull the rug out from under them. And that takes practice and testing.”
It’s not easy being funny. The tour is long and goes on until May. He is also doing another series for Radio 4, more of the hugely popular Mock The Week, and hopefully some festivals in the summer. He also hopes to get back into acting at some stage.
He’s a busy man. When he’s not working, he likes chilling at home. “I love how green it is around here but my non-working dream weekend is to stay in. I’ve been able to travel the world and back on the basis of telling stupid jokes, and so when I can I do actually enjoy staying in of an evening and watching TV as that’s not what I do normally. I like coming home and staring at the walls to be honest!”
See Milton: Impossible at: Epsom Playhouse, 1 November / G Live, Guildford, 6 November / Richmond Theatre, 7 November / Rose Theatre, 2 February