Tim Vine interview: how to get a PG rating, Punslinger DVD and his new joke book

We caught up with Tim Vine to find out about his new DVD, his plans, and the jokes that cost him a U rating…

I’ve had the pleasure of chatting to Tim Vine a couple of times, and saw his latest tour, Joke-O-Motive, when it arrived in Birmingham. He’s a strong comedian, who’s just launched a joke book too, and if you missed his Joke-O-Motive tour yourself, he’s heading back out with it again early next year.

As he launched his latest DVD, he once again spared me some time for a natter.

I caught your latest tour, and watched your new DVD, too. And it struck me that the core of the act, in a way, is a dose of self-deprecation?

There’s a bit of that, yeah.

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You talk about it in the commentary to the disc too. It doesn’t come across as a natural insecurity…

… well, maybe there is a bit!

You just seem to use it as a tool to power yourself with?

Yeah. You’ve got to be careful how far you go with it, because an audience, I always find, believe what you tell them. For instance, if you’re doing a show where you’re going, “This isn’t going as well as I’d like it to go”, the chances are that the audience is still loving it. Whereas, if start putting in comments like, “What’s wrong with you lot?”, then they starting thinking, “Oh.” So, you have to be a bit careful.

You made a point in your DVD, too, that you light the audience here. That they’re not kept in darkness for the gig. How much does that change their reactions?

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It’s purely they lit the audience slightly in the filming of the DVD so that they could get an audience shot. But I wonder whether it’s a good idea in terms of making the audience feel more comfortable.

The other side is that the more the audience is lit, the more you can gauge every single reaction to every joke

It’s still about volume of laugh, really. I don’t really do a quick head count!

Last time I spoke to you, you were thinking about going back to the Punslinger show and recording it for DVD. But, by the time you came to record it, you’d been on the road with your next tour, the Joke-O-Motive. So, how hard is it to go back and get it, and where does the recording of Joke-O-Motive on DVD fit into it?

I will do Joke-O-Motive if somebody wants it. But how hard is it to go back? It is quite hard. For that reason, what I’m going to do to give myself an easier life, is I won’t do another tour until the Joke-O-Motive comes out. It’ll take me a while to write another hour of something anyway.

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What happened with Joke-O-Motive was that I toured with it in the spring, then I did it in Melbourne, and then I came back and I was then going to do it in August. I basically had May, June and July where I wasn’t doing Joke-O-Motive, and we put the Punslinger recording for July.

So, around about June, I basically went through it every day. As long as I could go through it once each day, you find that something of it is in there. But if you asked me to do the Joke-O-Motive right now I couldn’t do it. I could probably get most of it. I could get the jokes out if someone said to me, “What’s the farmer joke?” But some of the links?!

It’s clumps of jokes you tend to remember?

Yeah, kind of.

I did go right through the DVD, and I’ve never seen such a brutally honest exposing of the testing of material on a disc. I’ve spoken to a few stand-ups in the past who hint at what that’s like. But it’s a surprisingly raw flavour you’ve put on the DVD, including the moments where things really aren’t working.

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Yeah, yeah. Where jokes don’t work. But what I like about that, it’s probably my favourite extra that, I was talking to Lee Mack about this, and he’s saying 60 dates or something like that, doing that kind of show over and over can get tiring. And 15 nights in a row…

He comes and tries his stuff at that place in Kingston too. And I said to him, “Do you know what I really enjoy? That whole process, about six months or whatever it is, where you go out and try stuff on a Monday. And all the crossing out and ticking things, there is a real joy to that.” It’s all fresh, and when you find something that works, it gives you a great feeling because you think, “Oh, I’ve got that.”

But the reason why I felt in a position where I could put that on a DVD is that I’ve got the self-deprecation thing again. I enjoy the whole self-deprecating thing in that scenario. In a way, it’s a looser kind of thing I’m doing in there, which I enjoy, than when I’m doing my act, which is very scripted. I like the fact that I start a joke on a postcard, and just stop. They’re kind of laughing at the shambles of it.

Yet, you’ve said in the past that if you could, you’d tour all the time. That it’s the writing that holds you back.

It is the thing that takes the most effort and time. But if that is what I’ve said, I’d say I’ve probably changed a little in that time. Because, although I love the touring, I think particularly the last tour I did get quite tired. I’ve never really got tired before on a tour, but maybe it’s because I’m 43 now.

It is quite a physical show, though?

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Yeah. I found that sometimes doing a lot of gigs in a row… I don’t know how Ken Dodd has the energy to do it all the time…!

The nice thing about this job now for comics is that in the media, you can do so many different things now. If someone asks you to do Total Wipeout, you can go and do it. Those sort of things.

Your head always comes across as bubbling with ideas. In terms of the projects you’ve tackled, you’ve done a love songs CD, and a small film [Library Altitude Zero]. Presumably, at the point where you come off a tour, you have a DVD coming at ?out. That’s the moment where you have the most financial security. And you have a bracket of a number of months to try stuff before you go back out.

With Joke-O-Motive it worked out really nicely where I had a few months where I really wasn’t doing anything very much. And that’s the way I like to do tours, if I possibly could. But, by and large, it’s a mixture of stuff throughout the year.

Touring is very intensive, but that’s only a couple of months anyway. Then you get jobs like Not Going Out, where once you’ve do that, you can’t do anything else anyway.

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That’s a straight studio block, presumably.

Yeah. We’ve just done the fourth series. So, that was six weeks in total.

They go behind the scenes on the DVDs of Not Going Out, and you get a flavour of how intensive that can be. And then on Lee Mack’s new stand-up DVD, he’s getting up at 8 the morning after a gig just to write the scripts for Not Going Out.

I am constantly like a broken record about saying this. I think the strength of Not Going Out is from the foundation of the writing. Lee is intelligent enough to know that the writing is where it starts. It’s absolutely vital. It’s three weeks solid, writing an episode. And then trying things out.

Moving back to you, I love your new joke book. It’s no surprise to you, I suspect, to hear that many of your jokes frequently do the rounds on the Internet. And this joke book feels like you getting the benefit of that for a change?

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Yeah, maybe. Someone just asked me if I’d do it. And initially I thought, “Mmm, I don’t want to.” But then I thought it was quite nice to. I think it’s one of the best things that I’ve done, actually. When I first got it, I thought, “This is great.”

I have made a point of not having any jokes from Punslinger or Joke-O-Motive in there. The most recent tours aren’t there. Stuff that hasn’t been on DVD.

It’s interesting seeing your jokes down on paper. On stage, you can rely a bit on explaining things to the front row, or you can throw in punchline-less gags. Whereas in the joke book, you have to explain what Tunes [as in the sweet] are!

[Laughs] There are a couple of moments like that, actually. Only a couple! It’s funny you should pick that up, as there were only a couple in there I’ve done that with. There was talk of me doing a running commentary.

I’ve seen Marcus Brigstocke do a spoof commentary on a DVD before, but you’re doing the whole hog here and it really works. You put a lot in the extras of your DVDs anyway, but I found it a genuinely interesting track. I wasn’t expecting too much from it, but why choose to do it in the first place?

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Well, I did a commentary on my first DVD. I didn’t do it on the middle one. With the first one, it was a bit more frantic.

You were quite technical here?

Yeah. I hadn’t planned it at all. I hadn’t planned what to say. I just thought I’ll talk as things come up. Part of the reason I did it on this one was that someone said to me on tour, “Are you going to do a commentary?” And they said that they found the first commentary fascinating. So, I thought, “Okay then, it’s a very easy thing to do, to sit there and talk for an hour.”

The temptation must be, though, to layer more jokes over the existing ones?

Well, it was partly because I couldn’t think of any more!

I remember you being quite disappointed with your last DVD, that you got a PG rating when you were going for a U. And it was a drugs-related joke, if memory serves?

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Yeah. And this time, I’ve got the PG rating again, and I made a bit of a fuss about it again. And they said it was “mild sex references”. And I think they say that on the box.

Presumably they have to pinpoint the joke?

They mentioned what they are. There was the one where I went, “My favourite subject at school was PE. I loved jumping up and down in my Y-fronts. Oh, hang on, that was geography, and he’s in prison now.”

That’s what gets you a PG?

Yes. The other one was “I went to this girl’s house, and she’s got an eight foot light switch. What a turn-off.” Apparently, that’s a sexual reference.

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Last question: what are you up to next?

The main thing I’m doing now is panto at Richmond. So, that takes me to January, and then more touring!

Tim Vine, thank you very much!

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