King of the pun Tim Vine on his quick-witted return to Norwich
PUBLISHED: 17:31 09 February 2018 | UPDATED: 16:18 10 February 2018
With a world record for most jokes in an hour to his name and a BBC1 sitcom, pun-loving comedian Tim Vine is heading back to the region with his latest show that boasts a strangely un-pun laden 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.
With Sunset Milk Idiot, the name of his new pun-packed touring show, Tim Vine has again gone against the perceived view of his comedy and gone for a title that is something 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.
“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,” he laughs. “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.
Not that it is that easy. For most of us, remembering a joke’s punchline doesn’t come that swiftly. So just imagine standing on stage in front of a live audience, shooting off one-liners faster than the proverbial speeding bullet. He famously broke the world record for the most jokes told in an hour (499, just in case you were wondering).
“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 word-playing 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’!”
Tim says his love of wordplay came thanks to encouragement from his former English teacher, Mr Moss.
“When I was about 11 or 12 years old, I wrote little plays that he used to let me rehearse during lessons and then perform in front of the whole school,” he recalls.
Later on, performing to paying comedy punters was the real test of confidence. He used to play back recordings of early comedy gigs to his dad.
“I had one of those Dictaphones tucked inside my top pocket and dad used to think it very funny even when I said, ‘listen to this’, and it was a whole audience yelling at me,” says Tim , whose older brother is Radio 2 broadcaster and journalist Jeremy Vine.
“I remember once, I was compèring and each time I came out to introduce another act, I’d ‘die’ a bit more. Then this one time, somebody called out, ‘We like you, but you’re not funny’. It was a start!”
It certainly was and he now has appearances at London’s Palladium and Edinburgh accolades to his credit, including the coveted ‘Best Joke’, which he scooped for the second time in 2014 for the quip: I’ve decided to sell my Hoover…well, it was just collecting dust.
Does it matter to him that his family still approves of the act? “Yes, it probably does,” he says. “Especially if I try jokes out on them and they don’t laugh. However, I don’t take that as meaning that they won’t work.
“Jeremy sometimes attempts to tell my jokes when he does the handover on his Radio 2 show. But I find that hilarious because he’ll be talking to Ken Bruce and then say, ‘Yes and my brother had a joke about that’, before telling some terrible Jeremy Vine version of it. I’ll immediately text him with the words, ‘well, it was close’.”
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.
Tim was filming the latest instalments of his BBC1 sitcom Travels In Time, about a time-travelling antique dealer, before he had 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,” he says of the writing process. “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.”
He is now on the road and 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,” he says.
“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.”
• Tim Vine is at Norwich Playhouse on February 13, 8pm, returns only, 01603 598598, norwichplayhouse.co.uk