WORDS BY JAMES KNIGHT
PHOTO BY BEN PARKS
"Black Beauty? He was a dark horse." Perhaps making an entire career out of telling jokes so reliant on punning and wordplay could only ever happen in England. The tradition goes back, via the late, great Tommy Cooper to the music halls of the late 19th century. Sure, the Americans might have taken the idea, blown it up and run with it for all its worth with films like
The Naked Gun
, but pick up a tabloid or go look at the name of your local hairdresser and you’ll see that punning is very much a British institution. And it’s one that Tim Vine has taken to be his life’s calling.
After winning a Perrier newcomer award at the Edinburgh Fringe way back in 1995, Vine has been honing his punning and one-liners with shows such as
to the point that in 2004 he actually broke the world record for the most jokes told in an hour, managing 499 gags. Oh, and only jokes that made the crowd actually laugh out loud counted.
Widely regarded by his contemporaries as the truest practitioner of the Tommy Cooper tradition of one-line laughs, the resounding appeal of the kind of funny that Vine works with was confirmed when he was awarded a glass elephant at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe for “Funniest Joke of the Year”. The gag? “I just went on a once-in-a-lifetime holiday. I’ll tell you what, never again.”
Vice: I had an aunt who lived in Cheam, where you grew up, and it is definitely not the kind of place that makes me laugh out loud when I think of it.
I still live down that way, actually. I know what you mean about the deep suburbs, but I like having a few fields around me and some greenery. I don’t think I started telling jokes to get out of Cheam—it was great.
Growing up in Cheam, was there anything that made you want to tell jokes in the way that you do today?
It was just whatever was on the telly. The Carry On films and the
struck me, and then all the great comedians of that era, most of whom are now dead, guys like Les Dawson and Morecambe and Wise, Frankie Howerd, Kenny Everett and Ken Dodd. You just soak it all up.
Did you start doing one-liners right from the off when you began doing stand-up?
Most of those people that I gravitated towards as a kid did seem to tell jokes, so when I started doing stand-up I tried that kind of stuff. The first night I ever did was the Wednesday night open-mic at the Comedy Café in Shoreditch and the jokes didn’t go down too well. So I started trying other stuff out. Then one day after trying various things I finished with a silly joke and it got the biggest laugh of the night. It turned out that it was a confidence thing. If you are telling very silly jokes you have to front a bit and not just look like a supply teacher that’s lost the plot.
How did you come up with the idea of taking on the world record for jokes told in an hour?
I had a DVD coming out and someone had mentioned it as an idea so I just called up Guinness and they told me that the current record was something like 359. I’d done more than that the night before so I thought I’d give it a shot. I have another DVD coming out at Christmas so maybe I’ll have to try it again.
How do you actually remember 499 jokes?
My sister makes me these little passport-type books that I use as notebooks. This one is actually named the punport. I just make notes and jot things down in them and the ones that stick end up in the show.
So the punport is like your version of Bob Monkhouse’s gag book?
Yes, I guess so. I bet Monkhouse doesn’t have “This guy said, ‘I feel like I’m a hurdle.’ I said, ‘Get over yourself.’” in his book, though.
50 TIM VINE ONE-LINERS
1. I rang up pest control. I said, “Vermin?” He said, “No, he just left.”
2. I threw a stick in the sea and a round floating object brought it back to me. I said, “There’s a good buoy.”
3. Then a bag of cement went past at 100 miles an hour. I thought, “That’s quicksand.”
4. Did you know the word “receding” is 400 years old? And that’s going back a bit.
5. So I went to the doctors. I said, “I’ve got Irish voices coming out of my tummy.” He said, “You’ve got a stomach Ulster.”
6. I said, “Why have I got crow’s feet on the side of my eyes?” He said, “There’s a crow sitting on your forehead.”
7. I spent the last two weeks sitting on a large hard book. It was my annual holiday.
8. So I went to the pants shop. I said, “My name is Fronts and I want to put some pants on my head.” He said, “Y-fronts?” I said, “None of your business.”
9. I said, “I want to see some underwear.” He said, “It’s under there.” I said, “Under where?” He said, “I heard you the first time.”
10. My mum’s into role reversal. She puts the ham on the outside.
11. Someone said to me that lemons were very sharp so I tried using one to carve a turkey.
12. I developed a picture of some cereal. It was a bit grainy.
13. So I went to the DVD shop and I said, “Can you recommend a Tom Cruise film?” He said, “
?” I said, “What’s the damage?”
14. Last time I went to McDonald’s I destroyed the front of the shop and hospitalised four people. It’s not my fault. There was a sign outside which said “Drive In”.
15. I saw this man acting suspiciously next to Mount Everest. I said, “What have you been up to?” He said, “8,000 feet.”
16. I’ve got a friend who’s very well-to-do. Or to be precise, he’s got a lot of welding to do.
17. I’ve put something aside for a rainy day. It’s an umbrella.
18. I’ve been out with a number of girls. One is the number.
19. I’ve been having trouble with hate mail. It’s the price of stamps.
20. So I was sitting in the launderette watching the washing go round, and I thought, I should bring mine in here one day.
21. I’ve got lots of alternative friends. Or enemies, as I call them.
22. I’ve got really painful fingers. But that’s my fault for giving an Indian head massage to a hedgehog.
23. This Roman emperor said to me, “What’s the weather like?” I said, “Hail, Caesar.”
24. The scariest cartoon I’ve ever seen was Gaddafi Duck.
25. Ever since I gave up bread I’ve lost loaves of weight.
26. I got food poisoning off an Italian dessert. I’ve a good mind to tiramisu the company.
27. This bloke said to me, “I feel obliged to carry your golf clubs.” I said, “You have GOT to be caddying.”
28. I’ll tell you a great pick-me-up. A crane.
29. I met this homeless secret agent. The name’s Bond. Vagabond.
30. Conjunctivitis dot com—that’s a site for sore eyes.
31. I was watching a horror film and my skin peeled off my body and started tip-toeing round the house. I thought, this film is making my skin creep.
32. I’ve got a friend who’s a psychopath and he’s got a brilliant sense of humour. He kills me!
33. So this bloke pulled a vital organ out of my chest and chucked it into a pond. My heart sank.
34. This bloke said to me, he said, “Why are you shouting into the air conditioning? I said, “I’m venting my feelings.”
35. Did you know the average man in the street is scared of getting run over?
36. I’ve started displaying some of my clothes and possessions and photographs of me. I’ve made an exhibition of myself.
37. I didn’t have a happy upbringing. I remember my third birthday party. I was 15.
38. The Second World War was no picnic. (Because they couldn’t find a big enough blanket.)
39. So I went to the petrol station. I said, “Fill her up.” When I came back he was stuffing my wife’s face with cream cakes.
40. This turkey challenged me to a fight. He threw down the giblet.
41. I said, “I always put an ‘s’ on the end of words.” He said, “You’ve pluralsy.”
42. I hate it when people stand on things to make them look taller. I really think people shouldn’t do that. All right, I’ll get off my soapbox now.
43. I’ve just eaten an abacus. I’ve always said, “It’s what’s inside that counts.”
44. I planted a redwood in Buckingham Palace garden and I was arrested for high treeson.
45. I’ve got a friend who’s a pointless beam of light. Laser good for nothing.
46. I had a polio injection the other day and I can’t even ride a horse.
47. I went to a nightclub during the day and there was no one there.
48. Why do you never see an elephant on a bus? Because he’s got a massive bum.
49. I forced Mike Tyson to do bell-ringing at my church. I said, “I’ve got you on the ropes now, haven’t I?”
50. Yesterday I fired my cleaner. I’m glad that’s done and dusted.
All jokes taken from
The Biggest Ever Tim Vine Joke Book
by Tim Vine, which is out now published by Century Books.