Brian Donladson talks to the puntastic Tim Vine.
With Sunset Milk Idiot, the name of his new pun-packed touring show, Tim Vine has done something a bit different. The former star of BBC sitcom Not Going Out, a Guinness World Record holder for most jokes told in an hour, and winner of Sport Relief’s darts tournament in 2016 suggests that you can try as hard as you can, but you won’t find a clever bit of wordplay anywhere in that title.
“Lots of comedy acts have no puns in their shows but a pun in their title while I quite enjoy the fact that I have loads of puns in this show but none in the title,” says the man whose previous shows have indeed had puntabulous names such as Punslinger, The Joke-Amotive and the amusingly elaborate Tim Timinee Tim Timinee Tim Tim To You. “It’s just describing what’s on the poster: there’s a bit of a sunset colour, and there’s an idiot with some milk bottles on his head. The title made us laugh because the photographer, my tour manager and myself had spent so much time thinking of a pun for it.”
While much of contemporary comedy offers some sort of autobiographical elements, top punmakers such as Tim are quite simply on a perpetual hunt for the finest jokes they can dream up. But once you have a full hour-plus of gags, there are other challenges to putting a show together, such as the order you tell those jokes in.
“There’s a vague science to this but you certainly make sure there are good ones at the beginning and at the end,” Tim admits. “I end with a song. So, rather than bringing the house down, I try to bring the floor up. My support act John Archer will do the first half, then I’ll do an hour or so and then maybe the audience will want me to do some jokes I’ve done before. I’m happy to do that, but jokes are probably best the first time or couple of times you hear them.”
One thing Tim is most unlikely to do prior to his tour is pop into his nearest comedy club and check out the latest offerings of similar wordplaying stand-ups. “Me and Milton Jones have chats about this sort of thing because we hone similar areas, but there’s a slight wariness about seeing each other’s show because sometimes it can be a bit uncomfortable waiting to hear a joke that you might also have. Having said that, I did see his show recently and there weren’t any moments when I screamed ‘No! I’m going to have to chop that’!”
As with most comedians, when a tour approaches there’s a distinct need to put other projects to one side and get on with writing that new show. Just before he hit the nation’s roads, the BBC broadcast the latest instalment of his Tim Vine Travels In Time comedy, the filming of which took up a solid period towards the end of 2017. Once that programme was in the bag, it gave him the chance to put the hours in on concocting some quality gags.
“Most days I will think of a joke, but I’ll not wake up every morning and immediately start comfort rocking and yelling different words out at the wall. Things will just occur to me as I’m pottering around, but getting ready for a tour, I have to make more of a concerted effort. So when I see the first dates of a tour looming, suddenly I get into that frame of mind that I’m looking for things or I’ll book a room and just write all day. And then I try them out on an audience. If a joke isn’t going down as well as I’d hoped, you try and tinker with it but eventually you just have to admit that you’re wrong about it. Sometimes there are jokes that I’ve done one way round and it turns out it works better in reverse.”
While he’d like to do a bit more acting at some point (as well as Not Going Out and Tim Vine Travels In Time, he made a brief cameo appearance in Neighbours back in 2009: “I was at the Melbourne Comedy Festival at the time, I didn’t take the trip all the way over there for one line!”), for now he’s preparing to get in amongst his fans across the country and making them laugh (albeit with the occasional groan thrown in). Touring, of course, has its ups and downs.
“The upside is that I tour with my gang, John Archer and my tour manager Andrew Jobbins, and the three of us have a great time. If you’re driving around and staying in hotels, it does help when you’re all very good friends. If you didn’t like those people it would not be very nice. Generally, when you’re on tour, audiences come along because they already know the kind of thing you do and they like it, so when you walk on you’re already in credit a bit.
“Still, that always amazes me. I look through a crack in the curtain and see people coming in and I think ‘”ho are these people and why have they come to see me?’ The downside is that it’s very tiring but I head that off at the pass now by having Sundays and Mondays off. One of the catchphrases that I chuck out there in the van is ‘I could live like this’. But, you know, it’s not a bad life.”
Sunset Milk Idiot stops over at Birmingham Town Hall on Friday, 16 February and Saturday, 17 February. Tickets