I’d be wear­ing the most aw­ful clothes on stage if it wasn’t for my wife Suki...


Llanelli Star - - SPOTLIGHT -

Do you en­joy tour­ing with your Im­pro Chums?

I’VE not done it for a cou­ple of years. It re­ally all started with a gig in In­dia in 2004. A bunch of us went over there to do im­pro and it went very well.

It was an ex­traor­di­nary re­ac­tion from the au­di­ence. They had seen the Amer­i­can ver­sion of Whose Line Is It Any­way? and we had stand­ing ova­tions at the end of the show ... every night.

I asked the guy who had brought us over if this was a nor­mal thing and he said stand­ing ova­tions were as rare in In­dia as they were any­where.

I re­mem­ber we did a Bol­ly­wood dance and we were tak­ing it very se­ri­ously, but the au­di­ence found it very funny be­cause we got it so wrong.

Some of the best gigs we have ever done have been the ones in In­dia.

What was your first re­ac­tion when you were in­vited to go there?

I WAS very ner­vous go­ing on a long haul flight. I’d had a bad ex­pe­ri­ence on a flight four or five years ear­lier when we hit clear air tur­bu­lence, which is quite rare. It put me off flying, the plane drops and peo­ple with­out seat belts were in­jured, so I was not keen on flying.

But I went to Heathrow and did a fear of flying course. They show the ex­tremes of tur­bu­lence that you get and show how no jumbo jet ever crashes through tur­bu­lence.

I went to the cock­pit and saw what the pilot sees. You are high above the clouds and there’s no sense of speed.

It’s very serene and peace­ful. (Laughs) I’ve just come back from a 12-hour flight so the course works.

I used to say I could go any­where I wanted to in Europe by train.

Trains are my favourite form of travel.

What are the travel ar­range­ments for the tour?

IT’S a bit of in­dul­gence, but we’ve got a bit of a rock ’n’ roll tour bus.

It’s a dou­ble decker and on board there is a kitchen area, toi­lets, bunk beds and there’s a space at the back were you can watch DVDs.

In some ar­eas, if the back­stage is not par­tic­u­larly nice, we can stay on the bus, and we can get back to Lon­don af­ter­wards, even if it’s two in the morn­ing when we get home. It’s bet­ter than stay­ing in a ho­tel.

The bus has many ben­e­fits and it gives ev­ery­one a bit of space.

It is im­por­tant that you all get on when tour­ing. You don’t have to be the best friends in the world but you have to en­joy each other’s com­pany and trust comes into that.

The thought of im­pro ter­ri­fies many co­me­di­ans. What is the ap­peal for you?

I WENT to see im­pro in 1985, more than 30 years ago now, and I thought ‘this is im­pos­si­ble. It can’t be done’. I re­mem­ber talk­ing to a waiter once in an Ital­ian restau­rant about what I do and he was say­ing ‘this is im­pos­si­ble’ and he was right.

But we all use im­pro in life. You never write down the words you are about to say be­fore you say them.

The very na­ture of con­ver­sa­tion is im­pro ... we just add the ex­tra el­e­ment that it had to be funny to a pay­ing au­di­ence.

Your wife Suki Web­ster is part of the tour. Do you en­joy work­ing to­gether?

I DID panto in Wim­ble­don re­cently and was leav­ing at 10.30 in the morn­ing and com­ing back at 10.30 at night so we were apart for a long time; like a lot of cou­ples do­ing sep­a­rate jobs. It’s good that we can do this to­gether and ev­ery­one in the show is there on merit. You’ve got to be up to scratch.

Is there one thing you al­ways take on tour?

I’D BE wear­ing the most aw­ful clothes on stage if it wasn’t for Suki. I’m a bit clothes blind.

I know peo­ple no­tice what you are wear­ing on stage, like if your shoes don’t match, but the thing is I don’t look at what I’m wear­ing.

I would strug­gle to re­mem­ber what colour trousers I am wear­ing now if I didn’t look down.

(A quick pause) They’re ac­tu­ally black, which goes with any­thing, and I’ve got a blue jumper on. They were just the near­est clothes I put on to­day, but they could be or­ange with a green jumper. I just don’t take no­tice of clothes.

I did an edi­tion of Just A Minute re­cently and started with ‘I was talk­ing to my tailor’ and Nicholas Par­sons in­ter­rupted me to say: “I can’t be­lieve Paul Mer­ton has a tailor’ and the au­di­ence roared. I found it rather in­sult­ing, but Suki stops me look­ing a com­plete twit when I go on stage.

What ideas do peo­ple sug­gest for the im­pro com­edy rou­tines?

PEO­PLE of­ten shout out things or places they are scared about – ceme­tery, op­er­at­ing the­atre, abat­toir. It can be quite dark.

(Laughs) We al­ways re­serve the right not to take the first sug­ges­tion.

I go on for five minutes be­fore­hand just to get the au­di­ence used to what the show is about and to re­as­sure ev­ery­one that we are not go­ing to pull out any­one on stage. We are not go­ing to pick on any­one.

We ask some­times for a char­ac­ter from his­tory ‘like’ Henry VIII or some­one from fic­tion ‘like’ Harry Pot­ter. That stops any­one sug­gest­ing those two oth­er­wise we’d con­stantly been do­ing Harry Pot­ter and Henry VIII.

Do you ever get ner­vous be­fore­hand?

BE­CAUSE the show does not ex­ist in any form un­til we say it, there’s noth­ing to worry about. No im­pro is the same.

I’ve never had a bad im­pro gig. It might not be the best sound or stag­ing and the venue might not be right, but it terms of what we are ac­tu­ally do­ing you al­ways find some­thing quickly that works.

Any favourite com­edy mo­ments?

LEE (Simp­son) once did a thing years ago. He was do­ing a cater­pil­lar com­ing out of a co­coon and turn­ing into a but­ter­fly while singing like David Bowie.

It was just an ex­traor­di­nary thing, beau­ti­fully done and very, very funny. I’ve never for­got­ten it.

■ Paul Mer­ton’s Im­pro Chums tour with Lee Simp­son, Richard Vranch, Suki Web­ster, Mike Mc­Shane and ac­com­pa­nist Kirsty New­ton runs un­til June 11. Go to paul­mer­ton.com for ticket de­tails.

Paul Mer­ton

Paul Mer­ton and his Im­pro Chums (clockwise from left) Richard Vranch, Lee Simp­son, Mike Mc­Shane, and Suki Web­ster (Paul’s wife)

Paul (cen­tre) on Whose Line Is It Any­way? in the 1990s with Mike Mc­Shane, Ju­lian Clary, Josie Lawrence and host Clive Anderson

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