How did your recent tour go?
The summer tour was a family-friendly show. It’s tough keeping it squeaky clean.
Do you have to watch what you say?
It can feel like I’m holding back, whereas with my upcoming show, Puppet Master, I can say what I want.
Which do you prefer?
There’s certain material I do, it’s not rude but it is adult so the kids don’t get it. There’s a routine about being schizophrenic which I did try in the family show, but they just stared at me confused!
I prefer the grown-up show, but it’s not adult as in 18 and blue. There’s colourful language and some adult content, but it’s not Roy Chubby Brown!
I do swear quite a lot when I’m talking, it’s natural, so when you’re standing on stage at the Comedy Store you swear because it’s part of your vocabulary.
Is involving the audience risky?
I love doing it, and the audience expect it – they know they are going to be involved in my shows. In my last show, one of the big things was getting people out of the audience and making them into a human dummy.
This year I’m going to take it to the next level and get a couple on stage.
I have these masks that cover their mouths, and then I control what they say.
There’s technology involved – you don’t have to have your hand up someone’s arse! It’s ventriloquism in stand-up form, but without the puppet. Like being a hypnotist – you can do anything.
Are people willing to go along?
Absolutely, but I only get people who want to be there. Last year, I had a couple who were so enthusiastic people thought they were stooges.
You started out on talent shows – how do you feel about today’s talent shows?
People are always going to want them; people watch Big Brother because they’re nosey. Everyone wants to know what everyone else is doing.
But they also love the audition processes on The X Factor when you get those complete freaks coming out who are away with the fairies. No one twists their arms, but they’re genuinely deluded, and people love that cringe factor.
Has it been good for ventriloquism?
It has made things like The Royal Variety Show cool again, because it was out in the wilderness for a few years – I was on it in those days – but the viewing figures have shot back up.
Would you like more variety on TV?
There are some great stand-up shows, but it would be great if there was something for variety, too. A good comedy magician, a ventriloquist, some jugglers – there are great acts not getting their deserved platform.
Is ventriloquism enjoying a resurgence?
Things are always cyclical. There are always small groups doing it, it’s the same for magic. Paul Daniels had a show on the BBC for 15 years, and there was Wayne Dobson on ITV – he did comedy magic. He was one of my heroes.
And as variety became less popular you had new acts like Simon Drake, who was quite dark and graphic – burning people alive. Then Derren Brown came and reinvented it again.
But there have never been that many ventriloquists – partly because it’s really difficult. It took me two years to learn the basics, but I’ve been doing it for 20 years and I’m still getting better!
Is it particularly popular now?
Some of this stuff does appear to be coming back. My friend [ventriloquist] Nina Conti is doing really well, and The Muppets movie did amazingly well – they’re making another film.
The BBC has commissioned a new Muppet chat show for next year, produced by Jim Henson, for prime-time Saturday night. If it is original and edgy, then it still has its place.
And you’ve done your own TV pilot …
We’ve been developing it for a while. It’s The Muppets meets Seinfeld. There hasn’t been anything quite like it.
Does it frustrate you that ventriloquism is seen as an outdated entertainment?
I have worked at The Comedy Store for years closing the show and I’d often get people coming up to me afterwards saying: “When we heard there was a ventriloquist on we thought: oh no, but we didn’t realise it could be so funny.”
What’s been your strangest show?
On my last summer tour I did seaside gigs, and I’ve performed all over the world. I did a gig in Buenos Aires where I flew out for a 20-minute after-dinner show in a palace.
And I’ve entertained the troops in Iraq. They were some of the best audiences I have ever played for.
Paul Zerdin: Puppet Master.
Oct 3. £16 WC1H 0AH
Tube | Euston Square