“People have said to me, ‘On one level it’s quite clever, and on another level it’s not clever at all,’” says Milton Jones, analysing his own comedy. “I think that’s a compliment,” he laughs. “I’m not sure. You could take it either way.”
Over the last 20 years Jones, who appears at York Barbican later this month, has established himself as the master of one-liners. And nonsense has always played a crucial role in his streams of non-sequiturs. Even Jones’s on stage appearance screams ‘absurd’: the wild hair, wide eyes and garish Hawaiian shirts. Put those alongside his beautifully constructed pieces of wordplay, and it’s helped the 52-year-old stand-up stand out among the t-shirt and suit-wearing comics on Mock the Week, which Jones has been regularly appearing on since 2009. But, in his new touring show Milton Jones is Out There we see Jones questioning the importance of his own nonsense in our increasingly divided times. Could we see an end to the silliness and pun-foolery? Answer: absolutely not, as I quickly find out when we meet in a London café.
What can you tell us about the show?
As well as me doing loads of trademark jokes and little sketchy pieces, the show sees me thinking: with all that’s going on in the world, maybe I should be doing something more serious rather than talking nonsense. I seem to have a crisis of confidence in terms of: is nonsense of any value? And of course that results in more nonsense rather than less.
Is the show very political in terms of opinions or content?
Not really. It’s all fairly jokey. There is one pseudo-political joke, which is as near as I get. With my stuff, people remember the joke rather than the point. Though my aim with the tour is to add in a couple of moments of pathos, really questioning whether I’m on the right track.
The on stage Milton is a persona but he has your name, and you don’t say he’s a character. Is that deliberate?
No! I think if I was starting again I would give him a name. He evolved as I tried out things – he was working so I stuck with it. But there are levels to him. I can pull things back and talk about my real life, to some degree.
What are the key differences between the persona and the real Milton Jones?
I think most comics are accentuated versions of themselves, to some degree. I am, apparently, quite clumsy and I don’t approach things particularly rationally. I quite often see the other side of things. The differences are, hopefully, I’m not socially obtuse. I’m quite conventional – I’m married, I have three kids, a house… – so it’s almost an escape from normality. I don’t have to be responsible. I don’t have to pay car tax.’
The on stage Milton has a distinct look. Is it important for him to be visually distinctive?
I didn’t set out to do it, but it’s been useful “branding”. If you don’t remember the name you go, “Oh that guy with the shirts and the hair.”
Milton Jones appears at York Barbican on September 30. For other Yorkshire dates on the tour visit www.miltonjones.com