Brian Donaldson talks to comic Tim Vine.
Beloved of a passionate fanbase and garlanded by award judges, Tim Vine is taking a sharp left turn from his career as a one-line gagsmith and punmeister extraordinaire. Ladies and gentlemen, for one tour only (maybe), we introduce to you… – Plastic Elvis! The idea for this new tour is somehow simultaneously daft as a brush and not as crazy as it sounds.
A fan of Elvis Presley since he was a mere lad, Tim is merely paying homage to the man who entertained and inspired him the most. “He’s by far my biggest showbusiness hero: I’ve got a picture of him in every room in the house. In a way, this is actually an act I first practised when I was 11. I used to mime to the Madison Square Garden 1972 album, so really I always wanted to do an Elvis tribute act – I’m pretty sure I’m the only one, aren’t I?”
As well he knows, the Elvis impersonator industry thrived in the years after the King Of Rock’n’Roll’s death in 1977, but the record books actually mark 1954 as the moment when the first man stuck on some blue suede shoes in tribute. While the type of impersonator is wide and varied, Tim knows where his own act will be pitched.
“I am trying to do an impression of him and in between songs I do talk as Elvis, so I can’t help it being funny in a way. Some might see that as being a little bit tacky or something, but I just want to go the whole hog and walk on and try to be him all the way through. In any case, the humour in between songs is the sort of things he used to say.”
As well as getting the voice and wit right, Tim knows that he has to get the look and stage manner spot on too.
“There are some leg moves in there and the suit I’m wearing is uncomfortable. I might be at my thinnest ever at the end of this tour: if I’m still alive! Because the suit is plastic, it doesn’t breathe so the sweat stays in there.
“What I’ll do is turn the suit inside out and hang it up. On tour we’ll have to have two suits in rotation and that might be the same story with the wig. I’m thinking of growing some sideburns which will be a heck of a look if I dye them black. That will be interesting coming down for breakfast in the hotel: I’ll just be some bald guy with black triangles on his face.”
Initially encouraged by a friend and fellow Elvis impersonator to try out his act firstly in a pub and then in an arts centre, Tim used a backing track on both occasions. But he upped the ante for a one-off show at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe by appearing with a full live band, and they are all now heading out on tour.
“The High Noon Band are absolutely brilliant, so the music is great and the back catalogue to choose from is obviously incredible. The show is based largely on my own favourites so it’s not just all the obvious ones. Someone said to me that it was like watching Elvis doing an impression of me. When you see Elvis tribute acts, you don’t usually know them as anyone else whereas people coming along presumably know me, so there is some other layer there.
“Although it is funny in parts, it’s definitely not a stand-up show: we’re trying hard to underline that: it’s me as Plastic Elvis. Put it this way: if you’re the sort of person who likes my stuff and likes Elvis, then definitely come. If you like Elvis, I’d say you should come. But if you just like me and hate Elvis, it might not be your thing.”
For many years, Tim Vine has been doing a particular thing very successfully indeed. His live shows are jampacked with puns, visual gags, songs and wordplay that bamboozle and delight in roughly equal measure, featuring suitably silly yet clever titles such as Punslinger, Current Puns, The Joke-amotive, and Timtiminee Timtiminee Tim Tim To You.
Among his triumphs are winning the Perrier Best Newcomer prize at the Edinburgh Fringe of 1995 and breaking the Guinness World Record in 2004 for the most jokes told in one hour: that record stood for a whole decade. Away from the stand-up circuit, he has appeared in panto (Cinderella and Dick Whittington among them), and gained TV success in five series of BBC sitcom Not Going Out.
But the time finally came for a slight diversion in Tim Vine’s showbiz trajectory, one which he is (fairly) sure he won’t look back on with regret.
“I ummed and ahhhed about doing the tour, but finally thought that there’s no point in being self-conscious about it; I should just do it and if people want to come and see it, that’s great. But there’s no point at my age thinking ‘Oh well, I’ll do it in ten years’ time’: I’m already ten years older than Elvis ever was. So now is the time to give it a proper go.”