MICHAEL McIntyre calls him “simply one of the greatest comics around” and says nobody makes him laugh like Paul Tonkinson.
Twice Paul has won the Comedian of the Year award in the London listings magazine Time Out’s annual prize-giving, and he is in demand internationally too, whether playing the Montreal Just For Laughs Festival or entertaining the British Armed Forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, performing to 2,500 troops in 45 degree heat in the desert. However, it has taken the badgering of his fellow professionals to make the Scarborough-born stand-up, XFM radio presenter and marathon runner take to the road for his first national tour.
What took you so long, Mr Tonkinson? “Well, I think it’s just that it’s the first time I’ve done a lot of dates together. I’ve previously done clusters of shows, but this will be 38 dates.
“So it feels more momentous as they’re strung out in a line from last September to March, rather than doing a few here and there,” says Paul, who will present his Fancy Man show at Harrogate Theatre on February 2 and at the Hyena Lounge Comedy Club in City Screen’s Basement in York the following night.
“Whereas sometimes you’re on a bill with other comics, this is just me for two hours, where you can entirely set the comic agenda – unlike those nights when other comedians can dictate the night and talk about subjects that queer your pitch before you go on. At least when it’s just you, you’ve only got yourself to blame for how it goes.”
Paul has a confession to make. “I should have got round to touring much sooner as I’m really enjoying it, and I’m really forward to going to Yorkshire, as I’m definitely feeling the call for home,” he says, ahead of concerts in Barnsley, Sheffield, Bradford, Doncaster and The Library in Leeds on February 23, as well as Harrogate and York.
One date stands out above all others: his homecoming gig on February 22 at the Scarborough Spa Theatre. “Old Max Jaffa territory,” he reminisces. “My home town,” he adds, as if breathing in the sea air.
“As you get older, you get more of a desire to connect with where you’re from. Maybe it’s your reclamation of youth and how much fun it was, but it’s also a reconnection with the past that shaped you.”
Paul, 43, married, with three children, lives in London.
“I’m from Scarborough, my wife is from Wakefield, and we’ve created this Yorkshire enclave there, so you appreciate it more,” says the former presenter of BBC2’s The Sunday Show and Channel 4’s The Big Breakfast – and a winning contestant on Channel 4’s Celebrity Come Dine With Me too.
The tour’s Fancy Man title partly plays on his switch from the East Coast to the Big Smoke to pursue his career. “It’s playing on a man going away to London to make his fortune – and I use that loosely though there’s no real theme to the show,” he says.
So, what does Paul mull over in Fancy Man? “There’s a lot of family stuff as always, stuff I’m experiencing, like being with the same partner for 20 years,” he says.
“I’m reflecting on love, discussing that thing of just growing old together and how wedding anniversaries aren’t really a celebration but an appraisal, watching each other eat and trying not to fall out in our conversations.
“My wife always insists on sitting with her back to the wall just so she can have something different to look at.”
Other Tonkinson topics include “having kids, being a dad, letting go of your youth and getting pleasure from different things”. Such as?
“I used to get pleasure from clubbing but now I’ve gone out and bought a butter dish, because clubbing is something I experience every 18 months, but butter I have every day so why not have it at the right temperature?” ponders Paul.
The day-to-day idiosyncrasies of early 21st century living will set him thinking too, and his temperature may rise at the thought of wasteful heating, leading to his urge to turn off the heat in his home when he feels too hot. “Just wear more clothes; that’s the solution if anyone complains about switching it off,” he suggests.
And then there is the seemingly mundane, harmless issue of bread. “I talk about diets and how people are becoming scared of bread – like the ‘No Bread Sandwich’ at Pret A Manger capitalising on our new fear. It’s salad in a box so why not call it that?” he asks.
• For Paul Tonkinson, Fancy Man tickets, phone 01423 502116 for Harrogate; 0871 902 5726, York; 01723 357 869, Scarborough, 0113 244 0794, Leeds. You can also book online for his 7.30pm show gig at hyenalounge.com