IF YOU’RE heading to see ventriloquist, comic and general show-off Paul Zerdin on his current tour, be aware that you may end up in the show.
The Londoner’s act has definitely dragged ventriloquism into the 21st century with bang up-to-date material from his characters.
Where else can you see a potty-mouthed ‘tweenager’ (Sam), a gangster rap-loving octogenarian (Albert), a talking baby… and real-life humans bent to the whim of the ventriloquist and served up as trashy talk show fodder?
“Mostly, it’s random,” says Paul, when asked how he selects his audience ‘victims’. A couple that aren’t too old to get on to the stage is a help. I’m looking for people who look like they’re having a nice time and aren’t going to be panic-stricken or freak out when they get on stage.
“There’s nothing worse than seeing people who look like they don’t want to be there – that’s not fun for anyone.
“Similarly, you don’t want someone who’s too much of a show-off, it looks like they’re set up.
“It’s a fine line. I’ll ask them if they’re up for it, if they’re not I’ll leave them alone. You have to invest in that time finding the right people, because if you pick an individual or couple who’s up for it, then the next 15 minutes are gold.
“You have to be quick but not too quick or the whole routine that follows won’t work. You learn from experience.
“I got one guy up on stage and I got the mask on him and the guy freaked out backstage. He had a strop and said ‘How dare you make me do it. I’ve come here to watch a show not be part of it’.
“But that only happened once, and I sent him back to his seat.”
That’s not the worst thing that’s happened to Paul during audience participation – one night in Blackpool got a whole lot worse. “A guy got up and stage and punched me!” he laughs.
“He didn’t like being called ugly by Sam. I don’t do it anymore, I have new jokes. He didn’t punch the puppet, which would have been funny, but he punched me.
“I’ve had people punch Sam too, which, for me, is the ultimate compliment. I was coming out of Jongleurs [London comedy club] one night and a guy I’d picked on was waiting for me outside. He said ‘You’d better tell your little mate to watch his mouth’.
I laughed it off but he said ‘No, seriously!’ That was for real. That was funny.
“The best thing is getting to work with some lovely people from the audience. It’s a really nice feeling to know you’ve come up with something original and they love it. I had a couple who sang Time of my Life and they actually did ‘the lift’, too. Probably a huge health and safety issue right there, but the audience loved it!”
Paul has kept his popular characters for his latest show and laughs: “The old man, Albert, is determined to find me a girlfriend from the audience, so we’ll be getting the crowd involved there.
“Sam has delusions of grandeur and thinks he can enter himself into Britain’s Got Talent, and the baby is becoming a rap artist. Throw in some audience participation and a little bit of magic and you’ve got yourself a truly sponge-based night of comedy.
“Sam is doing ventriloquism himself too, and has a little dummy of me. I can’t wait to test that out and see how that goes down.”
PAUL ZERDIN will be at Camberley Theatre on Friday, September 5 and Epsom Playhouse on Thursday, October 16.