Interview: Milton Jones
‘Mock the Week is a bit like doing an exam, you hope the bit you revised comes up or you look a bit of an idiot sitting and smiling there.’ DAVID HOLLAND talks to comedian MILTON ‘the one with the shirts’ JONES.
Milton Jones, ‘the man with the loud shirts from Mock the Week,’ is best known for his groan-worthy puns, crazy hair and the confused look of a neon-clad drunk. But in interview and he is a far cry from his stage persona; well spoken and intuitive, he has a disarmingly middle class manner.
After studying drama at Middlesex University, he says he broke into stand up “trying to work as an actor, but not working much,” but has says he has no desire to tour with it at risk of being “typecast”, easy after a year of being broadcast to millions on TV.
He claims to be constantly writing new material, testing it on his family who can be trusted to “give an honest answer.” His children also try to sell him jokes, he says. Any successful entries? “One or two of them have crept in, the trick is to say that it’s rubbish and then they go away and I use it.” He chuckles like a pantomime villain.
Milton Jones on Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow
His one-liners are easy to remember and reproduce, so plagiarism is a real concern. He has no qualms with people using them in pubs, but there is a distinct bitterness in his voice when he talks about professional stand-ups stealing his material. “[Some comics are] more karaoke machines or jukeboxes. Those of us in the business know who they are.
“They take your ‘car’ into the garage, [take] files of the serial numbers and gives it a re-spray; they find a way to make it their own.” He’s too polite and too professional to name names, but hints that “some of these people are more famous than you might think.”
Milton began writing whilst at university and in 2009 published his first book, Where Do Comedians Go When They Die? The book chronicles the tales of a stand up comic and focuses on the journeys he makes, all recounted from a Chinese prison.
He describes it as being “a third autobiographical, a third about people I know and a third…made up… I do like to think the essence of it is entirely authentic.” He is enormously humble about it. “I felt I was having a very privileged life and experiencing things other people hadn’t.” He calls it “an honest tale of what life is like as a comic on the road.
“The social dynamic [of touring] is very odd,” he continues. “I’m often on my own and drive all day, I’ll talk to hundreds of people in the evening but then I’ll be the last car out of the car park at the end of the night.” In fact, Milton’s touring experience seems to be more melancholic than hilarious. “It’s still very enjoyable, just nothing about it is at all normal.”
He is warm towards his fans but admits “you don’t necessarily want to go for a drink after a show with everyone who wants to go for a drink with you.” Understandable.
The tour has been extended, as has his fan base, after a year of high-level exposure on shows such as Mock The Week and Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow. “It’s like putting a leaflet through everyone’s door, suddenly people know who you are.” He seems to embrace fame as instrumental to his success. “People know who I am so I don’t have to win them over in the first place,” he says.
Comics often hate the competitive nature of shows like Mock The Week. “It’s a bit like someone’s had the idea to film dogs fighting… No one turns to you and asks what do you think? As a visitor it feels wrong to cut across the regulars.” Yet, by “doing your own thing and not trying to be like the others,” Milton’s surreal jibes have proved a refreshing change from the political rants of other comedians. He plans to return to the show in the summer series, but he’s acutely aware of the difficulties of coming out of it looking good. “[The show] is a bit like doing an exam, you hope the bit you revised comes up or you look a bit of an idiot sitting and smiling there.”
For the future Milton says he is working on a book that is more “one-linery and cartoony,” as well as a pilot for a sitcom for Channel 4 that is set to be filmed over summer, and a pilot for Dave called Milton’s College of Knowledge. “For the first time in a long time,” he says, “I know what I’m doing for the rest of the year.”
The Lion Whisperer, Milton Jones’s 2011 show, hits the Corn Exchange on the 29th April.