A Quick Word With... Paul Tonkinson
Once a regular TV face, then a long-running radio host, Paul Tonkinson has given it all up for live stand-up. He's currently in the midst of his first national tour, 20 years after hitting the circuit. Which begs the question - why now?
What inspired you to get into comedy initially?
Richard Pryor's stand-up was the main influence. We had so much in common: Pryor, child of the ghetto, son of a prostitute. Tonkinson, a white kid from North Yorkshire, son of a police officer...
You burst onto the comedy scene in the early 1990s - how different is it now?
The circuit is bigger now: like the universe, it's constantly expanding. There are more comics and the standard of performance is higher. It's mutating in every direction. We live in incredible times comedically.
Doing a first tour now must be risky for the ego - have you been keeping a nervous eye on ticket sales?
A stand-up comic's ego is truly shredded in the first few years of his or her career, after that it's not a problem. I can't control ticket sales so pay them little heed. The show is the thing - and the people are coming.
So why now?
After nearly 20 years in the industry I felt finally ready! I'd done smaller tours previously but the time felt right and my schedule opened up to do it. It's brilliant.
Has your style evolved since those early days?
It changes as you get older, I feel more confident now and more daring in my subject choices. The tour show is an hour and a half of pure stand-up over two halves. All killer, no filler.
Loads of new stuff and space for a bit of on-the-night nonsense if it so arises.
You had a nice gig on XFM for years - was radio tough to give up?
The great thing about radio is that it's live and interactive. I loved doing morning shows, getting loads of people in the studio and bantering with them. I realised fairly early on in my radio career that the more the shows got like a stand-up gig, the more I enjoyed them. But sooner or later you think, 'why am I wasting time waiting for two records to play back to back when I could be gigging?'
I hear that your Manchester United podcast - The Redcast - had to be moved away from the Liverpool one, due to aggro...
The Liverpool / United rivalry with the podcasts did get quite spicy, but it was all good-natured. As I get older I try to take football less seriously: every season I start off vowing to pay little attention but it drags me back in.
How do you view your old TV work now: The Big Breakfast, The Sunday Show?
I look back on it with affection. I met some great people. My favourite thing was probably MTV Hot, I did a daily show for a year, I had a lot of freedom and it was a right laugh. Live terrestrial telly was a massive adrenaline buzz. The Sunday Show was intense.
Were you hopeful of becoming a big-time TV star? Would it have suited you?
I had no idea of what I wanted at that point. I was quite young and wet behind the ears, often literally. My flirtation with TV fame also happened when me and the wife were having kids, and the result was lots of turmoil. Would it have suited me? Probably not. I'm much happier now.
I'm loving the art and craft of stand-up and see it as providing everything I could want creatively. I also think it's psychologically very healthy for me. I wish I'd reached this conclusion sooner and not queered the pitch by presenting!
To find out more about Paul and see his tour dates visit paultonkinson.com
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