Paul Merton reveals Hollywood actress who would play him in a film

Paul Merton Credit: Dean Chalkley

Paul Merton Credit: Dean Chalkley - Credit: Dean Chalkley LTD

The nation became aware of Paul Merton's talent for improvisation when he appeared on the first episode of Whose Line is it Anyway? On Channel 4 in 1988.

Paul Merton Credit: Dean Chalkley

Paul Merton Credit: Dean Chalkley - Credit: Paul Merton by Dean Chalkley

The nation became aware of Paul Merton's talent for improvisation when he appeared on the first episode of Whose Line is it Anyway? On Channel 4 in 1988.

As a founding member of the legendary Comedy Store Players he then created Paul Merton's Impro Chums alongside Mike McShane, Suki Webster, Richard Vranch and Lee Simpson who have toured across Britain.

The talented troupe are currently on their latest tour which includes a date at the Alive Corn Exchange in King's Lynn on May 26 and new member keyboard player Kirsty Newton.

Paul, the son of a train driver born in 1957 in Parsons Green, also had a successful radio career on BBc Radio 4's The Big Fun Show, I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue, improvisation series The Masterson Inheritance and Just a Minute.

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But the seasoned comic is best known today for being one of the team captains, alongside Private Eye editor Ian Hislop, on Have I Got News For You which he has appeared on the BBC since 1990.

Ahead of the show coming to Norfolk, Paul reveals his comedy heroes, who is funnier out of him and Ian and the Hollywood actress he would want to play him in a film on his life.

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What can people expect from Impro Chums when it comes to King's Lynn?

What we do is entirely improvised comedy and the dialogue in each show completely different and is unique and based entirely on audience suggestions and is also influenced by the location and theatre.

Paul Merton, in February 2018, arrives at the BBC event Bruce: A Celebration at the London Palladium

Paul Merton, in February 2018, arrives at the BBC event Bruce: A Celebration at the London Palladium, which will honour the life of the late entertainer Sir Bruce Forsyth. Photo: PA Archive/PA Images - Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

We say at the start it is a no Brexit or Donald Trump zone which has been received very well.

I have had years of practice and it helps having the five others on stage as you are never entirely alone.

It is fantastically good when it is flowing and there is nothing quite like it - we have fun together on stage and the audience have fun too.

We can muck around once it is up and running but you can't take the audience for granted as they are 50pc of the show.

How would you describe your comedy style?

I am a bit of a comedy historian and am influenced by the old school comedians like Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin and Laurel and Hardy who I grew up watching.

When did you realise you were funny and how did you get into comedy?

At school when I was eight or nine I remember saying to kids at school to name a subject and I would tell them a joke.

I memorised the backs of comic and at aged 11 I realised I couldn't rely on other people's jokes so I made up my own and would ad lib around my school mates.

The first time I did stand up was at the The Comedy Store in Soho and did three and a half minutes on a hallucinating policeman talking about his trip which went down a storm.

I worked my way up gradually and was the compere on Channel 4's Comedy Wavelength for 10 weeks in 1987 and then there was Whose Line is It Anyway? and Have I Got News For You.

How do you use your experiences to shape your comedy? You spent time in a psychiatric hospital after having a reaction to malaria tablets which you spoke about in 2012 stand-up tour Out of My Head.

I sometimes wonder whether I should do more with that experience in my comedy.

I had a severe reaction to a weekly malaria pill which I needed to take for six weeks after visiting Kenya on holiday.

It would make me manic on a Friday when I took it and over the weekend I would feel paranoid that I was being followed or listened to by someone working for Buckingham Palace and it was a frightening experience but then I would be fine from Monday to Thursday.

I spent six weeks in the hospital and there were funny moments but also moments of despair.

The saddest story for me was that a Channel 4 series I was appearing in was postponed which was nothing in terms of what others were dealing with.

How did you first get the gig on Have I Got News For You?

I had been approached by Hat Trick who had already been commissioned by the BBC and it was a Sunday in mid-June in a tiny TV studio in Wandsworth when we filmed the pilot.

It was a very beautiful hot day and people didn't want to be there.

The show wasn't particularly inspired at the start and started of in an inauspicious way and grew over the years and we film it over 20 evenings a year.

I'd met Ian a couple of times but Ian doesn't know a lot of working class people unless they empty bins or are cab drivers but I'd always admired him in Private Eye which has improved immensely under his ownership.

With so much going on in the news at the moment, is it easy to come up with jokes on HIGNFY?

No I don't think so as people are bored and tired of Brexit and Trump so it is about trying to find a way to avoid those topics.

Who has been your favourite ever contestant on HIGNFY?

Sir Bruce Forsyth, simply because he has had a huge life of showbiz and to see the discomfort on Ian's face was a double whammy.

Spike Milligan and Peter Cook are also heroes of mine so it was great to have them on the show.

Do you think criticisms that HIGNFY doesn't have enough female hosts are fair?

It is down to the producers but they cast quite a few and this series has Katherine Ryan, Jo Brand, Victoria Coren Mitchell and Kirsty Young.

Who is funnier you or Ian Hislop?

Ian, because I'm lying.

Who would you want to play you in a film about your life?

Meryl Streep as she is so versatile so I'd want to see if she could play me.

If you could invite three people (dead or alive) to a dinner party who would they be and why?

I am happy in the company of comedians so it would be Peter Sellers, Dudley Moore and Charlie Chaplin as I am fascinated by him and his work.

Do you think the government have a plan or are they improvising at the moment?

It is all a bit of a mess but I try not to get involved and I am happy in bubble in ignorance.

Paul Merton's Impro Chums comes to the Alive Corn Exchange on Sunday May 26 and tickets cost from £22.50 to £24.50

You can purchase tickets at, in person at the box office or by phone on 01553 764864.

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