“IT'S BEEN about 20 years since I last played Galway,” Tim Vine begins our interview, and that is before I have even got the chance to ask him a question. “I was just looking through my diaries; I’ve got every diary I kept ever since I started doing comedy so it will be listed here somewhere, I just can’t find it right now.”
A brief check of the Galway Advertiser archives reveals Vine’s previous Galway show was in November 1999, so his forthcoming appearance at the Town Hall Theatre on Wednesday September 5 is well overdue, to say the least.
Vine's current show, Sunset Milk Idiot, sold out its entire run at the Edinburgh Festival where he had previously won the award for Dave’s Funniest Joke Of The Fringe in 2010 ("I’ve just been on a once-in-a-lifetime holiday. I tell you what, never again." ) and 2014 ("I've decided to sell my Hoover…well, it was just collecting dust." ). He is also fresh from his success on BBC Radio 4 with The Tim Vine Chat Show, which has just finished its second series, and on BBC 1 with the madcap Tim Vine Travels Through Time.
“I was brought up on episodes of Sgt Bilko by my father,” Vine tells me when I ask about the first stirrings of his comic sensibility. “He made me watch it on a regular basis. That was my introduction to comedy. My dad is also a very funny man, he had a funny line in self-deprecation and he used to make everyone laugh, so maybe I got some of that from my dad. I loved The Muppets as well; I used to do puppet shows when I was younger and write plays and things. I wasn’t thinking about doing it as a job at that time but I had a lot of fun doing it.”
Vine was in his 20s when he began doing stand-up professionally and his trademark fondness for daft props and inspired puns has seen him compared to the late, great Tommy Cooper. He happily acknowledges the influence. “I love Tommy Cooper; that whole era of comedy, him and Ken Dodd, Les Dawson, Morecambe and Wise," he says. "I was brought up on all those and that is probably where I got my leaning towards doing jokes rather than observational comedy. When I started doing stand-up the most popular thing on the London circuit was a chatty style, but I still gravitated towards one-liners and jokes. I did a gig recently in Edinburgh and the reviewer said there was something quite nice that after an hour of a Tim Vine show you know no more about him than you did at the beginning. Some people can be confessional in their comedy but I am the complete opposite; I say nothing about myself, I just mess about.”
While many of his peers were being satirical or hard-hitting when Vine started out, he never felt any urge to go in that direction. “There were other comics doing similar things, like Harry Hill for example, I wasn’t the only one being ‘silly’,” he notes. “I didn’t feel any pressure to be edgy or sweary, in fact the opposite was true. If you’re on a bill with three comics and it’s all edgy and sweary and then I pop up with lines like ‘Black Beauty, he was a dark horse!’ it comes across as totally different. I think that contrast in the clubs helped me.”
Among the topics aired in Sunset Milk Idiot is pixie football. “That’s one of the jokes,” Vine explains. “I say ‘I’ve been playing football for a team of pixies; we still haven’t had a home game - every weekend I’m away with the fairies!’ The show is like that for an hour and a quarter, that’s the sort of thing that Galway can expect; nonsense! ‘One-armed butlers; they can take it but they can’t dish it out.’”
Whereas most of Vine’s previous shows had punning titles, Sunset Milk Idiot bucks the trend. He reveals how the title came about. “I’d made this helmet out of milk cartons and the photographer took my picture with the sunset behind," he says. "We looked at it and were trying to think of various pun jokes then I just said what I saw - ‘sunset milk idiot’. Sometimes people stare at the poster trying to work out what it means, but it doesn’t mean anything.”
The helmet in question looks home-made and indeed Vine makes many of his own props. “The helmet is a classic example of my prop-making work, a bit of masking tape and some milk cartons; that’s a happy afternoon for me.” he declares. “I do have one or two props made for me; there is a guy who makes me things that are slightly more intricate. At the beginning of this show I come on dressed as an ice cream and have a very nice swirly ice cream hat that would have been beyond my own skill set, so I had that made for me – you can’t make that out of cardboard and sellotape!”
Besides stand-up, Vine has had acting success with Not Going Out, The Sketch Show, and Blandings on television. “I do enjoy acting and I wouldn’t mind doing more of it,” he tells me. “I don’t consider myself an actor at all but it’s always a lot of fun when someone gets you to dress up. Because I get a bit nervous if I’m being told exactly where to stand – acting is a very tight discipline compared to stand-up –so if I am acting I like to play characters that are nervous. That way I can use my nerves to make them look nervous.”
Supporting Vine in Galway is John Archer. “John is absolutely brilliant,” Tim asserts. “He is a comedy magician and he appeared on Penn and Teller: Fool Us show where he was the first person who managed to fool them. He then got to open for them in Las Vegas. When people come and see this show the first half is not an afterthought where people are thinking ‘let’s just get through this’ and waiting for the second half because John is absolutely brilliant. His act really complements mine as well.”
Vine concludes our chat by promising to treat Galway to a torrent of jokes; “I used to have the world record for most jokes told in an hour – I told 499. I don’t hold the record anymore, someone in India has it and someone in Australia had it before that, but I think that still makes me Europe’s fastest joke teller. I’m thinking of using that as a calling card. But I will tell hundreds of jokes and I’m looking forward to coming to Galway. It is a family-friendly show as well so you can bring along your children.”
Tim Vine plays the Town Hall Theatre on Wednesday September 5 at 8pm. Tickets are €26 from 091 - 569777 or www.tht.ie