British stand-up veteran Paul Tonkinson is at The Laughter Factory this week. Time Out meets the funny man
We found some choice comments from fans about you on the internet. One said: ‘The best I’ve seen since [much derided cheesy Brit comedian] Bobby Davro was in his prime’ and another called you ‘the bastard son of [ancient, toothy English stand-up] Ken Dodd’. Flattered? (Laughs). Oh I’ll take any kind of compliment. Ken Dodd is a fantastic performer, although if you’re compared to looking like Ken Dodd you might question yourself. But I’ll tell you what, at the moment we’re in such a feedback culture, aren’t we? I tend to avoid looking at it really, because you just get engulfed. You used to wait for a review in the paper or a magazine, but now everyone’s telling you constantly. You can get lost in it. I know people who are performers who will spend half a day Googling themselves.
I guess you’re not into blogging and Twitter, then? I like connection, but I like connecting with people in real time, in real space. I think it can breed a kind of neuroses, this constant need to be re-checking emails, Twitters, status updates: ‘8.25am, tea and toast, living the dream! Smiley face…’ I just find it bizarre that we’re so neurotic about status we constantly update each other about what we’re doing. I love people, but I prefer talking to them.
Being compared to old-school comics suggests a kind of old fashioned, innocent humour. Do you think you’re a different proposition to stand-ups like Russell Brand, who tend to use shock tactics? Certainly my intention isn’t to shock. I want people to have fun without necessarily shocking them – I just try to be honest. Russell Brand tends to appeal to younger people I suppose, doesn’t he? He’s more a kind of young rock star. I’m probably a bit more skiffle, George Formby-esque.
You’ve done a lot of gigs for British troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. What was that like? It’s very fulfilling because [the gigs] feel quite necessary, you know? There’s a definite urge from the crowd… they want to laugh, they feel that need to laugh when they’re in the middle of those areas. You’re there as pure escapism for them, to remind them of home and to give them a lift, so it feels great.
Anywhere you don’t like doing gigs? I found Switzerland a bit of a stretch. I dunno whether it was me or them, but I quite enjoyed leaving Switzerland.
You’ve been to Dubai a few times over the years. How do you find it? There’s this feeling of anything is possible, of ‘if we can dream it, we can build it.’ It’s extremely optimistic, but there’s also this question of: what’s going to happen? It’s got a sort of apocalyptic Vegas feel about it.
Finally, do you have a fail safe, emergency joke for if the show isn’t going well? You start bantering with the front row. You basically try to look as calm as possible while panicking. It’s like the duck looking really unruffled above water and underneath the legs are kicking furiously. If all else fails, take the mickey out of the fat bloke on the front row. Just anything to get a laugh – it’s a state of desperation, really. Dhs115, Courtyard Marriott, Green Community July 9, Rainbow Room, The Aviation Club July 10, Zinc, Crowne Plaza, Sheikh Zayed Road July 15, Player’s Lounge, The Country Club Dubai July 16, shows start 9pm. 800 4669, www.timeouttickets.com. More info www.thelaughterfactory.com.