We line up the questions for the master of the one-liner.
Where were you born, Milton?
“Kew Gardens. Not in the actual gardens themselves, in the village nearby. Not a very urban place to grow up really, although parts of it were ‘like a jungle’ – eg the Palm House.”
Is Milton your 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 overhear 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.”
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.”
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 people’s 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 buy 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.”
Do you prefer radio or television?
“Radio is great because it’s 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.”
How has the comedy scene changed during your career?
“Stand-up is much bigger now, but also less risky and inventive. 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.”
You have three children now, don’t you?
“Yes, they are the light of my life. I forget their names. They’re 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 it’s always been hard for us to get them to take exams seriously as they weren’t much use to us.”
What’s the worst heckle you’ve 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. It’s sort of the physical opposite of what I do for a living. And obviously I’ve had a lot of practice trying to escape from angry audiences. I still play the odd bit of football too.”
Do you have 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.”
•KEEPING up with Milton Jones means you can see him twice at York Barbican on this year’s On The Road tour.
The London-born surrealist comedian has been quick to add a second date on Sunday, October 13 after high demand for tickets for tomorrow’s gig.
The one-time Perrier Best Newcomer winner is a frequent panellist on BBC2’s Mock The Week and his BBC Radio 4 shows, The Very World Of Milton Jones and Another Case Of Milton Jones, have run to nine series. He has written a partially biographical novel too: Where Do Comedians Go When They Die? Journey Of A Stand-Up.
Milton performed his 2011 show, Lion Whisperer, no fewer than three times in York at the Grand Opera House in February, April and October that year.
Now he is moving to York pastures new for his Barbican debut with On The Road, a show that he says will be “clever, surreal but mainly just stupid, stupid, stupid”, as well as featuring pictures drawn by Milton.
Only limited tickets remain for tomorrow’s 8pm show but availability is better for the October date, priced at £20 on 0844 854 2757 or yorkbarbican.co.uk
Or buy in person from the Barbican box office, open Monday to Friday, 10am to 2pm.