Impact Arts caught up with award winning comedian Milton Jones ahead of his appearance at the Nottingham Theatre Royal Concert Hall as part of his On the Road tour. Milton talks growing up in suburbia, his outlandish shirts and his VW camper van.
Where were you born?
Kew Gardens. Not in the actual Gardens themselves, in the village near by. Not a very urban place to grow up really, although parts of it were ‘like a jungle’ – eg. the Palm House.
Is Milton you’re real name?
I’m afraid so. As a child I heard all the jokes about being ‘keen’, sterilising fluid and always having bits of food in my hair. Actually that last one might not be to do with my name. One of my ambitions is to one day over-hear someone make fun of Milton Keynes by calling it ‘Milton Jones’.
One of my ambitions is to one day over-hear someone make fun of Milton Keynes by calling it ‘Milton Jones’.
What kind of a family do you come from?
My Dad was a physicist and my Mum was a housewife. I had a nice suburban upbringing, went to a good school and mixed with normal people. Obviously my only worry growing up was that if I ever wanted to become a comedian I would have nothing to be really angry about.
Did you make people laugh at school?
Maybe behind my back, but I was always quite a quiet kid and kept myself to myself – probably the sort who often eventually gets hold of a gun and takes hostages. Fortunately I discovered acting instead.
So you wanted to be an actor?
Yes, but no-one else wanted me to – well I didn’t have much work at the time. But the thing about stand-up is that if you have the bottle you can get up and do it if you want. So I gave it a try. My first few attempts weren’t great but I was arrogant enough to keep going. When it began to work I noticed that unlike acting, you didn’t have to rehearse or share the laughs with anyone else. But also unlike acting if it went wrong there was no-one else to blame.
But the thing about stand-up is that if you have the bottle you can get up and do it if you want.
So how did you end up doing one-liners?
I’ve always had a short concentration span. I think I appeal to other people who have short concentration spans. (Not that they will have read this far.) I think if a one-liner succeeds you put a tiny but entertaining cartoon in peoples’ heads.
What’s it like being on Mock the Week?
It’s a bit like doing a comedy exam in public. The hardest part is to get a word in when other people are talking. But next series I will be distracting people with my lucky klaxon.
Where do you get your shirts?
Retro shops usually. If people don’t remember my name at least they remember the shirt. Actually people have started turning up to my shows wearing that type of shirt now. They shouldn’t do it, they don’t understand what they’re messing with!
If people don’t remember my name at least they remember the shirt.
You’ve also done 9 series for Radio 4 – which do you prefer radio or television?
Radio is great because its reading some words out while someone presses ‘record’. TV requires lots of meetings, equipment and hundreds of people – most of whom I have no idea what they do. But television is ultimately more powerful, and reaches a bigger range of people. I love Radio 4 though, it’s a bit like listening to the voice of your parents after you’ve left home. Oh yes, my Mum would often read us the Shipping Forecast until we fell asleep.
My Mum would often read us the Shipping Forecast until we fell asleep.
You’ve been around a while now – how has the comedy scene changed during your career?
Stand-up is much bigger now, but also less risky and inventive than it used to be. When I started there was an act called the Iceman who brought a giant block of ice on stage and melted it with a blowtorch while shouting weak puns about ice. Okay, he’d be unlikely to sell out the O2 Arena but the circuit has lost some of its tin-pot charm. Also all the reality competitions mean audiences often see things in terms of ‘who won?’ rather than just enjoying the variety of a show.
You have 3 children now don’t you?
Yes they are the light of my life. I forget their names. They are also my severest critics of course – if I wear the wrong thing, if a joke doesn’t work or if I consistently refuse to let them out of the fridge. My wife is an illustrator so its always been hard for us to get them to take exams seriously as they weren’t much use to us. Anyway our children will probably all rebel and become accountants.
Yes [my children] are the light of my life. I forget their names.
Tell us about the new tour show.
On the Road will contain Jokes, music, and pictures. It will also have descriptions of the tour so far – gigs in Glasgow, Narnia and fourteenth century France. Don’t come if you don’t like jokes though.
What’s the best or the worst heckle you’ve ever had?
Once when I was on stage someone shouted ‘What is this?’. It was a philosophical heckle really. I didn’t know what to reply. It was too big a question for me to answer. In a way I’d like to have ended the show then and there. But we all carried on like idiots.
Do you have any hobbies?
I like running. Its sort of the physical opposite of what I do for a living (standing still and talking). And obviously I’ve had a lot practice trying to escape from angry audiences. I still play the odd bit of football too.
I like running. Its sort of the physical opposite of what I do for a living (standing still and talking).
I hear you have an old VW camper van?
True. Its called Mother Teresa because its blue and white and old. Over the years we’ve often crammed all the kids and their stuff in and headed off to the country to solve mysteries, like they did in Scooby Doo.
What else have you been up to this year?
I spent three weeks in New Zealand in the spring. It was excellent as it is a lovely place and its still 1995 over there, which meant I could do all my old jokes. I’ve also been doing a few panel games and trying to think of TV ideas. My diary this summer seems to be full of festivals. These days any town that can get hold of a marquee and microphone seems to have a comedy tent.
Any plans for the future?
After On the Road I would like to do more TV acting, have my own TV show and maybe be in a film. Then I would like to own a castle, a small city and so on until eventually I have an empire that stretches from West London to the outskirts of China. But to be honest it’s more likely to be the same round of radio, TV panel games and odd visits to arts centres.
Milton Jones is at the Theatre Royal Concert Hall on Thursday 24th October. For tickets and more information see the website here.
Image: cakechooser.com, list.co.uk, whtimes.co.uk, bbc.co.uk