Super ventriloquist Paul Zerdin on his visit to Felixstowe’s Spa Pavilion in August
Paul Zerdin is our best known ventriloquist; fabulous and funny. Lynne Mortimer talks to the man who makes a living putting words into people’s and puppets’ mouths.
Paul Zerdin selects a chap from the audience. He’s a bloke of a man; big, broad chested and very masculine.
Within seconds the audience is helpless with laughter as Paul provides his “living dummy” with a high-pitched, high camp voice.
It is a modern comedy classic.You may have seen him on the Royal Variety Show or, maybe, on Youtube.
Originally inspired to learn ventriloquism by watching the late, great Ray Alan (Lord Charles, Tich and Quackers), Paul Zerdin is at the vanguard of a new, brilliant and very funny generation of entertainers.
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Born into a family of performers – both his parents went to drama school – Paul never really considered any other career than showbiz.
“I just knew I wanted to do something silly but I couldn’t quite work out what. When I was about nine or ten, I got a box of magic tricks for Christmas. And I absolutely loved it. I had always been a big fan of the Paul Daniels Magic Show as a kid. I thought I was going to be the next Paul Daniels or the next David Copperfield.
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“I was really dedicated to it and as a result my exams suffered. I got two (GCSEs) – drama and English. I was busy working doing magic in the evenings and weekends and I was making money and I didn’t really care about schoolwork.”
But the world was to be denied the new Paul Daniels because, Paul explains: “I got a book called How to be a Ventriloquist by Ray Alan. I thought ventriloquism seemed to fit the bill (of what I wanted to do). I had always loved the Muppets and Sesame Street characters, I liked the magic and I love comedy.”
And so he fastened upon the mix of comedy and puppetry he wanted to create.
“Then I got myself a job as a kids’ presenter for Disney on GMTV. I worked there for two years.”
This was when Paul was still only around 19 years old, but the job came to an end when “we were axed in favour of that bloody dinosaur; that purple thing,” he laughs.
I’m guessing this unlikely nemesis would have been loveable Barney.
“So I went out, working on my act; doing the circuits for a few years.”
Along the way he worked as a puppeteer on the 1996 movie Muppet Treasure Island which was “an absolute dream come true.”
“Then I appeared on The Big Big Talent Show. I auditioned for it and Nigel Lythgoe, who does So You Think You Can Dance and Pop Idol, was producing it. He said: “That was brilliant. I think we’re going to see a lot more of you. So I got that... got through to the final and I won.
“It was a big show for the time (1996) but it wasn’t nearly as big and it didn’t get me near the heights of Britain Got Talent and The X Factor.”
But he adds: “It got me going and got me on the Royal Variety Show and all the big entertainment type shows that were popular at the time.”
“Up until recently the Royal Variety Show has been regarded as a bit old hat but thanks to shows like Britain’s Got Talent it’s been made cool again.”
Paul Zerdin is most definitely cool and he has never been out of work, has he?
“No, touch wood, I haven’t. I always been consistently working. I’ve been lucky. I love doing pantomimes, I spent years doing summer shows in Blackpool for family audiences. I’ve been on the comedy circuit .
“I still do the cruise ships. I was on a Disney ship in the Med last week. I like the variety of it all.”
Having himself been inspired by a generation of great ventriloquists, does Paul see a new generation of ventriloquists coming up that he, perhaps, has inspired?
“I saw a clip of a kid on Britain’s Got Talent the other day. This kid did one of my lines!”
He describes his current show as “kind of like a sitcom in a way. It’s one-man, puppet, stand-up sitcom. “I’m in the middle, there to look after my dependants who are Sam and the Baby and Sam’s grandad, Albert. He’s still chasing the women, he just can’t remember why.”
Audiences can often imbue the puppets with independent life.
“There’s a moment in the show where I put the puppet into the bag and the audience are crying out ‘no, no, you can’t!
“It happened the other night and I’m thinking, okay, it’s ten o’clock at night. These are grown men and women sitting here going “No!” and I picked the puppet out of the bag and just dangled him and said, “Look it’s me. It’s me (working the puppet). Come on. “It’s weird. They know that and yet...”
He is looking forward to visiting Suffolk again, He has performed at holiday camps along the East Anglian coast and Lakenheath RAF base.
“The tour is called Sponge Fest because the puppets are sponge. It is like festival of sponge.”
“Hopefully, there’s something in it everyone will like. Hopefully, they’ll like all of it. It is a family show PG,” he says, adding that he wouldn’t advise it for young children. Then he turns the tables and asks:
“Are you coming to see it?”
“I certainly intend to?” I say
“I’ll be looking out for you,” he says.
“I’ll be at the back,” I reply hastily. Where it’s safe.
Paul Zerdin is at the Spa Pavilion on Friday, August 5, at 7.30pm.