Comedian Milton Jones looks forward to Ipswich Regent gig

He’s been branded the sultan of the surreal and British comedy’s best one-liner merchant. Entertainment writer WAYNE SAVAGE talks jokes, hair, cows and being pelted with lunchboxes with Milton Jones.

I DID a few under 18s gigs in Ipswich which were quite fun except the last one I was at,” recalls Jones.

“Just before I went on the emcee said ‘feel free to throw anything’. There was lunchboxes, teddy bears, sweets, all pouring down on the stage. Because they’d been told to do it I couldn’t really take issue with it. I got away with it but that was quite odd.”

I’d expect nothing less from Jones, probably best known as that weird bloke with the crazy shirts and crazier hair.

The star of countless TV shows and the voice of eight series for Radio 4 - including The Very World of Milton Jones and Another Case of Milton Jones - is coming to the Ipswich Regent on October 7 with new show The Lion Whisperer.

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“It’s called that for no other reason than they phoned me up and said we need a title very quickly and that was the thing on a piece of paper in front of me,” he confesses.

“It’s actually a joke in the show, but basically it’s a load of sideway jokes, some props, a character and some music. I wouldn’t look for any hidden meaning in it. It’s mostly just stupid stuff, but hopefully a great big comedy buffet that is none the less satisfying if not that nutritious.”

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Starting out as an actor 20 years ago, he tried stand-up during stints of unemployment and it gradually took over.

I’m struck by how, well, normal he is on the phone.

“I live in Twickenham, London, with my wife and three kids and live quite a normal existence until I stick my hair up and put a silly shirt on of an evening and travel around.

“My sort of style lends itself to weird ideas in your head and things have pretty much kicked off, bigger time in the last year or so with telly. It’s like putting an advert through a lot of people’s letterboxes in the country and that’s been good for me - especially the Mock the Week thing.”

He originally turned the show down, unsure if it was his thing.

“I don’t get to say much, but what I do manage to say is from a slightly different direction usually; it’s worked for me in that I’ve picked up fans of that direction. The new tour is selling well as a result.”

You never know where he’s going when he starts a joke.

“I don’t always know myself to be fair. I’m not sure it works so well with the team playing aspect because if one of the contestants says one and another contestant says two and I say pheasant it goes clunk.

“Hopefully I’m in that niche of the village idiot on the panel. It’s not an easy show to do because there are seven people trying to get a word in and the thing I say most is he de he along with everyone else. You don’t know what the others are going to say so they may cover the show in a similar way to yourself but that’s the hardest single thing really.”

So he’s always chasing the opportunity to speak?

“Yes and it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve sat there thinking right I’ve got three things I can say, waited for ten minutes and then Dara would say right moving on.”

Things haven’t always gone well when he has had the chance.

“I’ve said plenty of stuff that’s got me into trouble in that you have half a second to think you’re not quite sure if it’s funny or not and either it’s really funny or it’s going to offend someone,” he says.

“I remember once [at a gig] I was talking about sheep and someone shouted out ‘there’s noting wrong with sheep’ and I said ‘I know, I’ve seen your wife’. Then I looked round and there was this woman in a wheelchair with a drip.

“In a way it wasn’t my fault because I wasn’t being personal but I’d said something awful in the context of the evening there. Fortunately most people couldn’t see her, but even then I had to blank it out in my head really quickly and get on with the rest of the show because you know the whole thing would have fallen down if I’d tried to apologise.

“Some acts can get away with it better than others, but you have such a short time to think and the difference between gold and crap is so fine you’ve just got to take it as an occupational hazard and say it anyway.”

On the subject of animals, Jones recently tried to make a field of Friesian cows laugh in rural Hertfordshire.

Part of The Laughing Cow’s Pull the Udder One campaign, the experiment - conducted by Jones and Cambridge graduate and world renowned cow expert Bruce Woodacre - used exclusively written visual and verbal one-liners, puns and jokes to see if cows have a sense of humour.

Despite recent research finding only 40 per cent of Brits think they don’t and only 11pc thinking cows can laugh, Woodacre says: “Milton’s comedy definitely provoked a visible reaction from the herd. Most of them crowded closely round the stage and jostled for a good position. They had their mouths open and their ears laid back, indicating they were relaxed and content.

“It’s clear they were engaged by Milton and displayed behaviour that suggests they were either amused by him or they were mocking him! Not everyone was entertained though – I definitely heard some low heckling moos and there were even a few walk-outs.”

What did Jones think?

“Writing comedy for cows was very different to my day job but a comedian plays to his audience, so I wrote a raft of new material to really get under their hides. They were a tough crowd to begin with, although I’ve played to tougher and while I tried not to milk it too much when I was up there, in the end I can say hand on heart they were udderly brilliant.

“I’m pretty sure my first gig I was talked rather than booed off. I didn’t do it for ages after that and then I did okay and some went well and some didn’t actually. It wasn’t until I spiked my hair up and put on a silly shirt that it began to click. It was sort of a bit more acting as well.”

On the subject of the hair.

“I used to do it [stand-up] as myself and do the similar sort of lines and sometimes it would work and sometimes it wouldn’t. I think if you go into a club and they see a middle class bloke get up and apparently use clever words it can be a little problematic. Whereas if you look like you’re mental suddenly it’s altogether less threatening.”

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