Milton Jones, king of the surreal one-liners, talks to Jonathan Langley about being funny for a living and finding refuge in faith
Q: Does it feel ‘rock ‘n’ roll’, being a successful comedian?
A: Perhaps on the outside, but the nitty-gritty is that it requires hard work to write new jokes, and sometimes I feel more like a paid driver than a performer. You spend more time in the car getting to places than performing. I don’t think I could go and do a normal job now, though. I don’t think I could do a nine to five. I’m unemployable!
Q: How do you feel about being known as a Christian comic?
A: I’m a comic who is a Christian, rather that a Christian comic, so there’s nothing in my material that is particularly evangelistic or anything. The nice thing about being on the circuit and being with a load of other people is that they see you as you are. And if you’re a Christian, or of any other faith, you’re there on show, all the time. Once you’ve nailed your colours to the mast, then people are watching to see whether you live up to that. In a way, that’s quite healthy. I would hate to be doing church halls, when the very point of being a Christian is that Christians should be getting out and doing things.
Q: Is that difficult?
A: Sometimes it feels like playing football with two referees. There’s what is acceptable to the crowd and what is acceptable to my conscience. And if you keep on doing this long enough, your conscience gets a bit grey and muddy and you’re not quite sure. You have to keep trying to renew a freshness about it, which is not always easy to do in comedy clubs.
Q: Is ‘cleanness’ what defines your comedy?
A: I sincerely hope not. I hope that’s not all it is. I wouldn’t get employed if I wasn’t making most people laugh. So hopefully that’s what comes across. And then sometimes people say, afterwards: “Oh yeah, he didn’t swear, did he?” I quite like that idea. It’s not what I set out to do, to not swear – that would be rather painful. And I get a little upset when Christians get very het up about swearing, in and of itself. A lot of it is cultural and a lot of it is just phonetic sounds. And there are far, far bigger things in the world to be worrying about. So I try and take the emphasis away from swearing. But certainly to begin with it’s easy to rely on swearing or crudity to get an easy laugh, to get you going. And I think it probably took me longer in the beginning to get going because I wasn’t prepared to do that.
Q: Has your faith motivated your career?
A: Definitely. It’s an industry where you’re always looking for your next break. And a lot of people, including me, sometimes, are not at peace unless the next door is opening. When I am at peace it’s because I’m saying: “God is my agent, God is my next break. And even if he doesn’t rescue me, that’s fine. I’m here, doing this, now, for these 30 people or whatever it is.” That living in the moment is where I’ve been anointed to be.
Q: Why does the Christian Church have a reputation for having no sense of humour?
A: I think a lot of that is fear of what other Christians will think. Sometimes I do a joke in a church and the laugh is far bigger than the joke. You suddenly realise there’s this whole artesian well of built-up pressure and everyone’s slightly afraid. And when there’s a tiny gap, it all comes spurting out. It would be nice to move towards a place where Christians can be who they are, rather than who they think they should be.
Q: What can people pray for, for you?
A: That I keep my integrity and that I don’t sell out, in the sense of selling my soul to advance my career.
MILTON JONES has won the Time Out and Perrier comedy awards, written and starred in five comedy series on Radio 4 and appeared on scores more. Since 1996, he’s been a regular feature on our televisions and has toured extensively throughout the UK. He is also a Christian, and while wary of being labelled a ‘Christian comic’, he has never made a secret of his faith and has been known to appear at select Christian events. His real home, however, is in the secular comedy world, where his punladen, gently surreal style has earned him the title of “king of the surreal one-liners” from The Times. To find out where and when you can catch Milton Jones on tour, radio or tv, go to www.miltonjones.com