This is a review of a show that took place on 2nd February 2011 at the Grand Opera House in York
Milton Jones pauses mid-way through his set and casually says “I’ll skip a bit.” Unsuspecting, we the audience stare at the eye-boggling, mad-haired comedian, pleasantly waiting for his next joke. Chirpy Irish music comes on, and Jones starts to skip around the stage, his face deadpan. Cue the slow crescendo of laughter as yet another visual pun has taken us by surprise. Yes, puns aren’t for everyone. Yes, they are often met with as many groans as laughs. But with his new tour Lion Whisperer, Milton packed out the Grand Opera House in York, and boy did we appreciate him.
The show got off to a slightly surreal start as Milton opened as “Milton’s grandfather” (i.e. Milton in a flat cap, bent over with a doddery quavering voice). This was entertaining but seemed slightly pointless as it was exactly the same type of material he used in his main set but in an old man’s voice. After he inched his way off the stage, it seemed a little anticlimactic to welcome the support act James Acaster, who provided pleasant enough observational material but got the main laughs from simulating skydiving with an audience member (don’t ask).
Milton in action is a delight to behold. Standing there with his trademark patterned shirt , mad hair and goggling eyes, he delivered joke after joke seamlessly, using props for visual puns as well. Halfway through he brought out an overhead projector (oh the memories of school assemblies) and showed us a selection of drawings, a welcome break from the onslaught of verbal puns. This is both a plus and a drawback of one-liner comedians. Each joke is a perfectly calculated structured ball of belly-laughter, but one after the one can make you desensitized to it. Observational comics take longer to set up their jokes, so you have less laughter spaced out.
Puns and one-liners are very much a Marmite thing – you either love `em or hate `em. Tim Vine, Stewart Francis, Jimmy Carr, Milton (of course), all are known for their great one-liners and puns, but they’re an acquired taste. Sitting in the audience watching Milton, a woman in front of me sat stony-faced, her face occasionally cringing in embarrassment while the rest of her family roared with laughter around her. They’re traditionally seen as “dad humour”, extremely uncool and usually thought to be the reserve of people who still think “hip” is a compliment.
There are those who prefer observational comics, with their relaxed meanderings through the absurdities of daily life. But for me, puns are the very essence of comedy. One-liners are true jokes, in the fact that they have a set-up and a punch line, plain and simple. It’s no mean feat to make someone laugh with two sentences. It must have impeccable comic timing, delivery and acting. You have to delight in the verbal, in the beauty of twisting the English language, the skill and dexterity of word-play.
I leave you with some classic Milton-isms:
- “When my grandfather became ill, my grandmother greased his back. After that, he went downhill very quickly.”
- “My mother made us eat all sorts of vitamins and supplements, until one day I nearly choked on part of The Sunday Times.”
- “I got arrested for playing chess in the street the other day. I said to the officer, “it’s because I’m black, isn’t it?”
Originally published on The Yorker 4th February 2011