Photo: Steve Ullathorne
The America’s Got Talent 2015 winner, British ventriloquist and comedian, Paul Zerdin, returns to the UK with a major tour for 2016 entitled ‘Spongefinger’ from 8th April to 23rd October 2016. Zerdin is arguably the UK’s number one ventriloquist and made his TV debut in 1996 as the first outright winner – by over 100,000 votes - of LWT’s The Big Big Talent Show, hosted by Jonathan Ross. Since then he has appeared on countless TV shows including Comedy Central's The World Stands Up, ITV1's Comedy Rocks with Jason Manford, Tonight at The London Palladium, The Princes Trust Gala and three appearances at The Royal Variety Performance. Winning Series 10 of America’s Got Talent in September last year, Zerdin and his sidekicks soon went viral on YouTube, receiving millions of views from around the world. Edition Online spoke to Paul about his amazing career so far.
What can audiences expect from your Spongefinger 2016 tour? Are many of your characters featured on America’s Got Talent coming with you on tour?
All the characters that helped me win AGT are coming with me on the tour plus maybe one new one!
How has your life changed since winning America’s Got Talent last year? Are you considering moving across the pond or will you be staying in London?
I’m a Wimbledon boy through and through and love being at home when I can. I get homesick when I’m away too long but yes winning AGT has opened up some big doors in the US so I’m going to make the most of the US possibilities but I will be at home for as much time as I can. I’m greedy and I want the best of both worlds, both sides of the pond!
Why did you decide to go on America’s Got Talent?
Having done the Royal Variety Show three times already I thought it would look a little odd rocking up on Britain’s Got Talent when part of the prize for winning it is to appear on the RVP. So I thought I’d try a different market and cos it was so far away in the States I figured that if it didn’t work out nobody would be any the wiser. I forgot about social media!! Luckily it turned out alright!
Where did the idea for your characters Albert, Baby and Sam come from? How would you describe them to audiences who haven’t seen them before?
All my characters are kind of like human caricatures. Sam was designed and built by me for a kids TV show I presented in the 90’s for GMTV. He’s a sort of muppety Bart Simpson type. Albert came next as I needed another character for a show I was doing in Blackpool and I thought an old man could be funny with him seeing the funny side to growing old. I decided that a Baby would kind of complete my weird little family and the Baby is cute but looks to Sam as his mentor, so has a very cheeky streak! And I see my role as the kind of baby sitter in this dysfunctional spongey family.
Your performances on America’s Got Talent have received millions of views online. How much of this material is reflected in your new tour?
There’s some of the material in the new show but because the actual spots on AGT are so short I’m able to do the proper version of the routine or gags I had to re-write for the TV show. So the spots were like a commercial for the full live show.
You have recently completed a headline show at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas. Have you found that American audiences react differently to British ones? If so, how?
I’ve been entertaining US audiences on and off for the last 25 years on cruise ships so that gave me a head start and to be honest I find they laugh at much of the same stuff as the Brits do. I’m just aware that maybe I slow down a bit for the US audiences as I do speak quite quickly and to the Americans I do have an accent!
You have been performing for quite a long time now, how do you think your act has evolved throughout your career?
I’ve been performing for 25 years! I think my live show has become more sitcom-like over the last few years and it’s not just a bloke standing on stage with a puppet doing gags. I like to think there’s a structure to the show. And I like to think I’ve improved over the years as a performer because the only way to learn is to perform and I’ve been lucky enough to gig all over the world for a long time - from Cruise ships to soldiers in war zones in Afghanistan, Iraq, to working men’s clubs in the North east.
You recently appeared on Michael McIntyre’s Big Christmas Show on BBC1 on Christmas Day, performing to both a live audience and to millions watching at home. How was that experience for you?
I loved every second of it. I’ve known Michael for many years after working with him on the comedy circuit and to be asked to be on his Christmas Special, along with Dara O’Brien who is also a mate, was an honour. I’ve had some amazing success in America with AGT but it felt like I was coming home and what a great way to end an amazing year to be on the tele on BBC1 on Christmas Day!
What led you to become a ventriloquist and is there anyone who inspires your performances?
I began as a magician and came into ventriloquism a couple of years after I was making a good living as a magician. I had been given a book on how to become a ventriloquist and I took to it like a duck to water. I had always been a massive fan of puppets and in particular Jim Henson’s work, so it seemed a natural progression from Magic. I was inspired by Ray Alan who was the greatest ventriloquist that ever lived! A bold statement but his technique was the best I’ve ever seen and I learnt from his book.
Ventriloquists have been labelled as a little odd in the past but you’ve been described as the man who made ventriloquism cool. How do you think you’ve achieved this?
Most ventriloquists that I’ve encountered have been a bit weird but I like to think I’m pretty normal! I went to a ventriloquist convention 20 years ago in America and they really are weird! I think the soft muppety puppets are more likeable than the old fashioned dolls and everyone loves the Muppets so I decided early on that I would go for that style. Also, my show is peppered throughout with stand-up about me being a ventriloquist and the fun, or trouble, I get into using it in my everyday life.
If you hadn’t become a ventriloquist, what job do you think you would be doing right now?
Well in my late teens while I was performing magic in the evenings I was presenting a show on Satellite Radio and then doing Radio Travel News at Heathrow so I think I would probably have ended up doing more of that. Both my parents were radio and TV presenters so it’s kind of in the blood!
Friday 8th April Leeds City Varieties
Monday 11th April Norwich Playhouse
Tuesday 12th April Birmingham Town Hall
Wednesday 13th April Dublin Olympia
Thursday 14th April London, Udderbelly
Friday 15th April London, Udderbelly
Saturday 16th April London, Udderbelly
Monday 18th April Glasgow Oran Mor
Thursday 15th September Sheffield Memorial Hall
Friday 16th September Huddersfield LBT
Saturday 17th September Shrewsbury Theatre Severn
Sunday 18th September Bromsgrove Artrix
Wednesday 21st September Taunton Tacchi Morris
Thursday 22nd September Monmouth Savoy Theatre
Friday 23rd September Yeovil Octagon
Saturday 24th September Exeter Corn Exchange
Sunday 25th September Canterbury Gulbenkian
Wednesday 5th October Milton Keynes Stables
Thursday 6th October Andover The Lights
Friday 7th October Cambridge Junction
Saturday 8th October Coventry Warwick Arts Theatre
Wednesday 12th October Stafford Gatehouse
Thursday 13th October Newcastle Whitley Bay Playhouse
Friday 14th October Colchester Arts Centre
Saturday 15th October Isle of Wight Shanklin Theatre
Sunday 16th October Portsmouth Wedgewood Rooms
Wednesday 19th October Telford Oakengates
Thursday 20th October Hereford Courtyard
Friday 21st October Bath Komedia
Saturday 22nd October Watford Colosseum
Sunday 23rd October Epsom Playhouse