Published: 05/09/2014 16:50 - Updated: 05/09/2014 17:08

Stand up provides Paul with all the kicks he needs

Paul Tonkinson
Paul Tonkinson

THERE was a time when if you wanted to see Paul Tonkinson being funny, all you had to do was switch on your television.

As presenter of Channel 4’s The Big Breakfast and BBC2’s The Sunday Show, Tonkinson was just a click away from viewers.

Now, other than the odd stand-up guest appearance on our screens, the best place to see him is in person — and that is just the way he likes it.

"I’m not really interested in that any more," he said of his presenting days, admitting that in hindsight he might have held out against the "filthy lucre" promised by television companies.

"I’m more interested in just the purity of stand-up. I’ve done a fair bit of presenting, but it’s something that doesn’t particularly appeal or excite me that much. My main excitement in life is stand-up comedy.

"There’s a rawness, a feeling that anything could happen, and that’s intoxicating."

Tonkinson will be in Nairn on Saturday where, he promises, a certain vote happening later this summer might get a mention.

However, unlike seemingly every other comedian in Britain, this will be Tonkinson’s first Scottish visit of the summer.

While his peers were performing on the Edinburgh Fringe, Tonkinson was enjoying a family holiday in California.

That was pleasure, but increasingly the Yorkshire-born comic finds that working as a stand up comedian involves plenty of international travel.

Supporting Michael McIntyre on his world tour took him to Norway, Dubai, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

"We played to 12,000 people in Johannesburg. It was the biggest comedy audience they’d ever had in Africa — and I was on first. That was, as Alex Ferguson would say, squeaky bum time," he revealed.

"That’s the great thing about working in the industry. You can have great gigs to 80 people and you have to be really in the room with them, but when you do an arena show, you play to darkness and work purely on the laughs. That’s actually quite pleasurable because the laughs are always quite big.

"It’s always just people in a room and you’re trying ti make them laugh, but ideally, once you get past 2000, it gets a bit broader, so 2000 is probably the ideal."

Big gigs might lose some of the intimacy of a smaller venue like Nairn Community Centre, but that does not stop a skilled stand-up from developing a rapport with his audience, even including one on one chats.

"People still like the absurdity of chatting to one person when you have got 12,000 in front of you," he said.

"It’s arguable easier to have a good gig in front of 12,000 than it is to 20 sometimes. When you have 12,000 people, they are normally a bit excited about being there because there are 12,000 people. To die in front of 12,000 would be horrendous, but there’s the other side of the argument is that if you only get a third of the audience laughing, that’s still 4000 people."

Performing to the troops, as Tonkinson has in Afghanistan and Iraq, brings its own challenges.

"You never know what you are going to get with army gigs," he said.

"They all know each other, so you don’t have to spend time uniting the crowd and most of the time they really want a laugh. The disadvantage is that they aren’t drunk — and sometimes morale can be quite low or maybe they’ve just come back off patrol and something disturbing has happened. I’ve had some of the best gigs in my life at army bases, and some of the toughest as well. They are just completely different."

They also come with unique interruptions. None of Tonkinson’s other shows have forced him to dive to the floor when a mortar attack is announced, which must put day to day heckling in perspective.

"Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a courageous individual. The only way you get through it is by abstracting it and not thinking too much," Tonkinson stated.

"I’m not particularly pro-conflict or the reasons why we were there, but it was interesting to chat to the young people over there. It was almost as much off-stage as on with those gigs. You almost had a pastoral role, bringing them a little bit of normality."

• Paul Tonkinson appears at Nairn Community Centre on Saturday 6th September at 8.45pm along with compere Stephen Carlin and comedian and mind reader Doug Segal as part of the Nairn Book & Arts Festival in association with Wild Night comedy.

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