Best known for his mad scientist hair and his Hawaiian shirts, London-born Milton Jones is a one-liner comedian whose jokes and puns are delivered in a deadpan and slightly nervous style.
He spoke about his career, his television work and his upcoming tour.
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How did you get in to stand-up comedy?
Years ago, I tried to be an actor and that didn’t work. You can do stand-up really quickly if you’re prepared to get up and do it, so that’s what I did. Gradually that took over and sort of coincided with their being more of an interest in stand-up.
You’re responsible for what you write. You can do two or three shows in one night so you’re not waiting for someone else to phone all the time. Altogether, it’s a more secure way of living.
How did you get into one-liners?
I didn’t choose to do one-liners. I think I was so scared I needed to get to the joke as quickly as possible, so that’s what you end up with. If you try to get to the joke as quickly as possible, you end up with a load of really short jokes and then someone else says “Oh, you do one-liners” so you have to agree with them. That’s just how it happened.
It’s great for the telly and radio because I can get in really quickly with a joke but, if I’m doing an hour and a half show, that’s a lot of one-liners. It’s quite hard work to put a whole show together.
Is it difficult remembering all your gags?
Sometimes I don’t remember them in truth. Usually they’re clubbed together under subjects, so I do all my school jokes, all my work jokes together to give it some kind of resemblance of order. But quite often I come off stage and go “Oh, I forgot to do that.” As long as I don’t forget halfway through a sentence, I usually get away with it.
Is it hard being a Christian and a comic?
I think, in a way, I wouldn’t be a comic if I wasn’t a Christian. I wouldn’t have the courage to do it. I think it’s probably harder to be an actor than a Christian actually because you’re doing what other people have asked you to say. Sometimes you wouldn’t be sure if that you wanted to do it. Whereas at least I write all my own stuff so it’s my own fault if I don’t like what I have got.
I think, probably at the beginning, it took longer to get going because I didn’t want to go down certain roads of writing. I didn’t want to swear my way through ten minutes. I wanted to have actual jokes, and that took longer to learn I think.
You mentioned you don’t swear in your stand-up. Do you think that limits your content?
Obviously it does in some ways but the other side of that is now that I get whole families coming to see me and I’m often asked to do shows that are what they call “family-friendly,” which, if I developed another style, I just wouldn’t be able to do.
What tips do you have for anyone trying to get in to stand-up comedy?
You’ve got to try as hard as you can for two years and, if you’re not getting anywhere after that, give up. The key thing is to do as much as you can and don’t wait for the phone to ring. Turn up at clubs, get on stage, go to Edinburgh, book a show, rent a theatre.
Someone described it as learning a musical instrument, except you do your entire practise in public. There’s a lot of really funny people who give up because they can’t stand failing in public. You’ve got to develop a thick enough skin to fail in public. It’s all about being tenacious as much as being talented to begin with.
Quite a few people, who I won’t name, who weren’t funny at all but have just kept going and now they have a career. It’s about being bloody-minded that you just keep on going and, conversely, there’s some people who are really funny and have just given up.
For me, it was just I didn’t have any other thing that I was good at, so I just had to keep going. I think it’s hard if you’re multi-talented and you get a job doing something else but, in a way, it’s worked out for me because there wasn’t anything else.
You wrote and starred in the sitcom, “House of Rooms,” which was broadcast at the start of the year. What was the reaction to that like?
Well it was all good but we’re still waiting for someone to pick it up in truth. It wouldn’t fit in the Channel 4 schedule and Sky is looking at it I think so we’ll see. We’ll see with that. But I’ve got to get on with the rest of my life and doing One Night Stand and all this stuff takes my mind off it, so that’s all good.
You’re also a regular guest on Mock the Week. Is it tough being a one-liner on the show?
It’s hard to get a word in. It’s always seven people trying to fit through a door for two and it records for nearly three hours sometimes for a half an hour show. The good thing about doing one-liners is that I can get in, chuck a grenade and get out again quite quickly. If you’re a storyteller, it’s very hard to work up a head of steam to get your story in because they really only take short clips, so it’s worked for me but it’s not an easy show to do by any means.
You also do radio shows. Do you have a preference between television and radio?
They both have advantages and disadvantages. Radio, obviously, you can read it out off a script but money is rubbish. TV, I wouldn’t say the money is always good but it’s a far bigger audience and there’s nothing like being on TV for TV people to think “ooh, you should be on more TV.”
Once you’ve broken the seal of getting into TV, there’s far more work to be had, whereas you can be under the radar in radio a bit and people have no idea who you are.
Your new tour is called “On The Road.” Where did the name come from?
I couldn’t think of anything else. That’s probably not the best reason to call it that. But also, I just thought the idea for the poster could be me being on a road lying down. And yeah, that’s exactly what I’m doing. I’m on the road from January to April. It’s as simple as that really.
And what kind of topics are you covering in the stand-up?
All sorts. I mean, because it’s one-liners, I’m not sure I cover topics. The trouble with one-liners is that, after about half an hour, you can see blood coming out of people’s ears because it’s too much information.
I cover everything from politics to sport, but I wouldn’t say I covered the topics in depth. I just touch on them and do a joke and move on. It’s not rocket science.
Being a one-liner comedian, is it difficult to deal with hecklers or do you have something prepared?
I’ve got a number of bullets in my gun. The best way of dealing with hecklers is to use their own weight against them. Hecklers have usually spent five minutes thinking what to shout and then, if you engage them in conversation, they suddenly they lose their nerve. If somebody heckles you, also the whole room, temporarily at least, is on your side so they kind of want to see them slammed down.
If you engage someone in conversation usually, they usually trip up and make themselves look stupid. The worst thing that can happen is that you put someone down and they don’t really understand and they just keep going and they’re drunk and they begin to make everyone fed up. But that doesn’t happen usually when they come to see me in my own show, because they’ve usually paid money for the ticket.
The worst thing is if it’s a corporate event or something where the boss has paid and they’ve paid nothing themselves and they see themselves as the comedian – the frustrated comedian in the office, and they need to try and prove they can win.
A good heckle is great but you don’t want more than three, otherwise it begins to unbalance the show.
Do you have any other plans for the future?
Obviously there’s tour next year, radio series next year. I’m talking about other bits of telly but I don’t really know. I’m in Australia the year after but we’ll see. And there’s more Mock the Week coming back in the spring so there’s plenty to do in the time being but nothing that I’m not doing already.
Milton Jones’ “On The Road” begins in January and ends in April. Full details of the tour are available on his official website.
Dave’s One Night Stand airs Wednesdays at 10pm on Dave.