Being Awarded ‘Best Newcomer’ at the Edinburgh Festival is a defining moment for a young comedian. Aside from the prestige and recognition – past winners read like a Who's Who of modern British comedy – the award offers validation for your decision to pursue this most challenging of careers.
For Milton Jones, the award was potentially life changing. “I’d been thinking of giving the whole thing up,” Jones admits. “But now it seems someone believes in me.”
His subsequent career has proved that someone right. With his show Milton: Impossible touring the country throughout 2022, Jones looks back on five crucial moments that moulded him.
1970s: primary school
Miss Wilkinson is taking the register. My class are responding to their names as they’re read out – “Yes”, “Yes”, “Yes.”
A beat, then a big laugh from everyone. Then a token admonition from Miss Wilkinson. (Always difficult to go in heavy if everyone else thinks it’s funny). But I liked making the whole class laugh.
At break, I’m a hero, too. The next day someone else tries it. Doesn’t go as quite well of course. (Hey, I’m the ‘no guy’ I think – write your own material).
I’m about seven.
1990: a ten-minute slot at a club called the Square in Harlow
Can’t eat all day. I hope the venue burns down before I get there. I only have seven minutes of material – with the wind behind me. I catch the wave. They laugh. I get away with it.
“Will I come back some time?” It won’t take long to check my empty diary. I’ve arrived.
They pay me £10. (Expenses, really). But being paid means I’m a ‘professional’, right?
Who’s on last? Some bloke called Lee Evans. He does 40 minutes of roof-ripping constantly clapped nonsense. He even plays a piano he finds on stage behind a curtain. Perhaps I haven’t arrived after all.
Aug 1996: win Perrier Best Newcomer at Edinburgh Fringe.
Quick! Get up and accept the award before they change their minds!
This after three weeks of doing an hour’s show every day. Some days nobody turned up at all. (It also turns out I’m the worst leafleteer in the world).
I’d even been thinking of giving the whole thing up – haven’t got the temperament etc. But now it seems someone believes in me.
Perhaps they’re even right?
1998: The Very World of Milton Jones
“And now on Radio 4 before the news…”
Radio producer David Tyler had approached me after another good Edinburgh to see if we could get a radio show commissioned. We did, and then we’d been luckily bounced from late night to Sunday lunchtime.
The recording was straight forward enough – you just read it out after all. The writing was harder – six episodes is three hours material. We hire some writers to do a chunk of it. It does well.
We do three series. Then quite a few more episodes in other series after that (to date getting on for 80 episodes).
It seems my stuff goes down well with geeky middle England.
2008: For One Night Only ITV
It’s a live TV variety show on a Saturday night. Don’t mess this up. Joan Rivers and Vernon Kay are introducing the Pussycat Dolls, Boyzone and, er, me.
I’m not a TV face. I have six and a half minutes before the adverts – the floor manager is telling me how much time I have by holding up the correct number of fingers. Six minutes now. Joan is going on a bit. Five and half minutes. Joan has started my intro – she’s bigging me up (I’ve never met her). Action!
I do it on autopilot – up above myself looking down. All over. Did fine. (Later I'm asked to do the Christmas special with Tom Jones as well). What a frighteningly brilliant job this is.
Milton Jones is touring with Milton: Impossible throughout 2022. More info and tickets at miltonjones.com