nice interview with Paul Merton
in the Scottish paper The Daily Record
Comic Paul Merton reveals his return to stand-up will be a terrifying experience
Mar 26 2012 Exclusive by Rick Fulton
PAUL Merton is renowned on Have I Got News for You as the cool-as-a-cucumber comic that never gets rattled and always comes back with a dry laser-guided joke.
But he’s terrified returning to stand-up for the first time in 13 years as part of a new scripted tour opening in Scotland.
For Paul, who considers Edinburgh his second home, it’s not the stand-up or the audience that’s worrying him, it’s the fact he’s got to stick to a script.
For over a decade Paul’s live performances have been improvisation with his Edinburgh Fringe-regulars Impro Chums.
He said: “But I’m enjoying being terrified. There are certain visual effects in the new show and we didn’t have the chance to run those until a couple of hours before our first show in Margate, and that was a pretty terrifying time.
“At that moment I was thinking ‘why am I not doing an impro show and instead I’m walking out and asking, ‘can we have a household object?’ Why am I putting myself through this?
“In a strange way improvisation is absolutely worry-free, as long as you can stand there and do it and it doesn’t terrify you to the very boots of your soul.
“People think it’s hard to get on stage and be funny but there’s nothing to be worried about as long as you’re sober and you are with good people.”
Joining Paul for the 50-date Out Of My Head tour are Lee Simpson, Richard Vranch, and his third wife Suki Webster.
Paul’s first wife was Caroline Quentin and he then married Sarah Parkinson, who tragically died of breast cancer in 2003.
For Paul, working with his wife Suki is bliss.
He said: “If I was travelling doing a 50-date tour on my own I’d be getting home at 3am with the other half asleep and then going off to somewhere else in the morning again.
“However, if you are together you enjoy doing shows together, then there’s the socialising. Enjoying a glass of red wine and unwinding and having shared experiences about the show.
“So far you are speaking to a man that’s full of enthusiasm.
“But 30 dates from now, it might be Merton goes mental.”
The 54-year-old, from London, is one of our greatest comedians.
His surreal wit has been a vibrant part of comedy life since 1982 and he is a mainstay of Have I Got New for You on the telly and Just a Minute on the radio.
Next Monday he and Nicholas Parsons will take much-loved panel game, where players must speak for one minute on any subject asked of them, on to TV to celebrate its 45th anniversary.
For two weeks it will screen every weekday night on BBC2, with guests including Stephen Fry, Graham Norton and Julian Clary.
Paul said: “I’m shocked that it’s knocked Eggheads off the TV schedules, which is unheard of.
“So instead of them being on at 6pm we are going to be.”
But he doesn’t see Just a Minute staying on the telly.
He said: “I think it’s just for the 45th anniversary. It’s great on the radio and hopefully the devotees of the radio show won’t dislike it that much.”
It seems Paul is hardly off the telly. He’s had a highly successful stint as a presenter with documentaries on early Hollywood and travel documentaries where he visited China, India and Europe.
He describes Edinburgh as a “home-from-home” and he’s spent the last eight years performing a show at the Fringe.
He said: “I relish the chance to go to Edinburgh and not have to worry about putting up posters because people know who I am.
“There is a joy of going to Edinburgh now, without the attendant anxiety that I had in the early days when you had no money, didn’t know where anything was and had to walk everywhere.
“I remember I had no money to stay at a B&B so I had to wait in Waverley for six hours for the late train to London sitting against a wall. You can only do that when you’re young.”
Having been a key member of the country’s most famous improvisational troupe, The Comedy Store Players, since its formation in 1985, Paul relishes performing on stage.
He said: “I get such a buzz from performing live. It’s just the best rush in the world, better than anything else you can think of.
“It’s so inspiring. You just ride the wave of laughter, and then you might come up with something equally funny.
“Ralph Richardson used to talk about pushing a huge ball up a hill to the point where it suddenly gains momentum and starts rolling down the other side.
“That’s what live comedy is like. The only snag is, you have to do it while trying to look totally chilled.”
Paul stays “in the zone” by performing every week with The Comedy Store Players.
Hev said: “That feeds into everything else I do. When Have I Got News for You comes around, I don’t think, ‘Oh no, I’m a bit rusty’.
“Doing The Comedy Store Players every Sunday, you’re match fit all the time. It’s a performance muscle.
“If it’s not getting flexed, it gets flabby. That’s why people who haven’t been on stage for a while struggle when they go back to the theatre because it’s a completely different discipline.”
Paul has a very good memory for jokes. But because of that he doesn’t watch contemporary comedians like Kevin Bridges in case he hears one of their jokes, stores it away and then six months down the line repeats it on Have I Got News for You.
He said: “In the last six months someone accused me of stealing one of their jokes.
“He was still on the cabaret circuit and I pointed out that the last gig I’d done with him was in 1998.
“And he said ‘yes’.
“I thought at the time the joke was kind of similar and maybe subconsciously I’d used it, but I’m not interested in doing other people’s jokes.”
Out Of My Head will cover a variety of themes, with the overriding one being imagination. Paul said: “I went to a Catholic school. When I was 10, I wrote an essay that the nun who was teaching me really didn’t like as it was imaginative.
“According to her, if you wrote something untrue, then it was a problem.
“For years I hated that nun, but now I realise that experience was very good for me.
“Imagination has built my entire career. This is a celebration of it.”