Puppets rib me over theatre tour laughs America’s Got Talent winner Paul Zerdin

Ventriloquist and comedian Paul Zerdin. Photo: Steve Ullathorne

Ventriloquist and comedian Paul Zerdin. Photo: Steve Ullathorne - Credit: Archant

America’s Got Talent winner Paul Zerdin is happy to be home. He talks to entertainment writer Wayne Savage about the States’ reaction to a Brit winning the show and new tour Spongefinger.

Ventriloquist Zerdin is glad to be home. When I caught up with him, he’d just finished Cinderella in Plymouth and was enjoying sitting in his Wimbledon kitchen, mug of hot coffee in hand, looking out at his wintery garden.

Last time we spoke was when the America’s Got Talent winner appeared at a Macmillan Cancer Support charity gala at the Ipswich Regent just before heading off for a residency at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas.

“It went really well. It’s a bit of blur to be honest. I’ve been asked to do some more shows there. Last year I was literally back and forth between New York and London, LA and London or LA and New York so it’s been a bit mental. It was nice to settle down somewhere for a few weeks and not have to get on an aeroplane for a while,” laughs the comedian, described as a ventriloquist for the South Park generation.

“I love America, it’s given me lots of opportunities - TV, one-off shows, one-nights, some Vegas gigs - I’ve got lots of work there this year. I had the opportunity of touring there but I wanted to tour here.

“Winning the American show has opened so many doors, particularly at home which is what I hoped it would do... It sort of reminded people ‘oh yeah, we remember him, he won the American show, let’s get him on ours’ - it definitely kicked my British career up the a**e so I’m very grateful for that.”

Zerdin, bringing new show Spongefinger to the Norwich Playhouse on April 11, experienced a little bit of negative publicity after he won the show with people asking “who’s this British guy winning our show, why doesn’t he do Britain’s Got Talent”.

“The prize for winning that (BGT) is to appear on the Royal Variety Performance. Having done it three times already I thought it would look a little odd rocking up on Britain’s Got Talent, a bit desperate and a bit like I’m cheating. “I pointed out actually only one of the judges (on AGT) is American and it’s open to everyone. On BGT we get lots of foreign acts... I don’t think it matters. At the end of the day it’s a variety show, it’s about getting to see as many good acts as you can.

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“So I thought I’d try a different market and because it was so far away in the States I figured that if it didn’t work out nobody would be any the wiser. I forgot about social media. Luckily it turned out alright.”

Zerdin, who shot to fame when he won LWT’s The Big Big Talent Show in 1996 - has been credited with making ventriloquists, labelled as a little odd in the past, cool.

“Most ventriloquists I’ve encountered have been a bit weird but I like to think I’m pretty normal. I went to a ventriloquist convention 20 years ago in America and they really are weird. I think the soft muppety puppets are more likeable than the old fashioned dolls and everyone loves the Muppets so I decided early on I would go for that style. Also, my show is peppered throughout with stand-up about me being a ventriloquist and the fun, or trouble, I get into using it in my everyday life,”

All the characters who helped him win AGT - including stroppy Sam, grumpy old man Albert and cheeky Baby - will join him on Spongefinger. It’ll be different from his routines on the American talent show.

“There’s some of the material in the new show but because the actual spots on AGT are so short I’m able to do the proper version of the routine or gags I had to re-write for the TV show. So the spots were like a commercial for the full live show.

“It’s a little bit naughtier than the last tour... It’s not be being rude for the sake of it but you’ve got to be very careful what you say on live, primetime, television in America. American audiences, in my experience, can be a bit sensitive.

“I’ve been entertaining US audiences on and off for the last 25 years on cruise ships so that gave me a head start and to be honest I find they laugh at much of the same stuff as the Brits do. I’m just aware that maybe I slow down a bit for the US audiences as I do speak quite quickly and to the Americans I do have an accent. Some of my material is a bit colourful, a bit edgier and you can definitely get away with more for a British crowd. This is a way for me to stand on stage and say what I want to say, it’s a bit of therapy really,” he laughs.

The differences between us and America features in the new show.

“I started to do material when I got back from America about how amazing the experience was but also the downside to it. We’re very different even though we speak the same language, kind of. It was lovely to come back and go ‘actually, (everything) isn’t *******g awesome, sometimes it’s ****,” he laughs.

“It’s nice to be home and be normal, talk normal. There’s a bit more of me in this show, it’s perhaps my most honest show to date. The puppets are ribbing me slightly like ‘you won AGT, you played Planet Hollywood, Vegas, the Hollywood Dolby Theatre, Radio City in New York; what the **** went wrong’. There’s a lot of fun to be had from this.

“I’m looking forward to introducing Sam, Albert and Baby to audiences across the UK - although Sam is definitely getting too big for his boots, having demanded his own dressing room.”

And if people don’t like it?

“It wasn’t me (who said) it, it was the puppets now **** off,” he laughs.