PAUL MERTON

Play: Live Bed Show: Wyndhams Theatre, London, 1995
Paul Merton: Charter Theatre, Stockport, 1999
Have I Got News For You (BBC TV Recordings): ITV Studios, Southbank, London, 2002 – 2006
Paul Merton’s Impro Chums: Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh, 2005
Paul Merton’s Silent Clowns: Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh, 2006
Paul Merton’s Impro Chums: Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh, 2006
Paul Merton’s Impro Chums: Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh, 2007
Paul Merton’s Impro Chums: Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh, 2008
Paul Merton’s Silent Clowns: Filmhouse, Lothian Road, Edinburgh, 2008
Thank God You’re Here (TV Recording): ITV Studios. London. 2008
Paul Merton’s Impro Chums: Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh, 2009
Paul Merton’s Impro Chums: Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh, 2010
Paul Merton’s Impro Chums: Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh, 2011
Paul Merton’s Impro Chums: Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh, 2012
Paul Merton: Out of my Head: New Wimbledon Theatre, London, 2012
Paul Merton’s Impro Chums: Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh, 2013
Paul Merton’s Impro Chums: Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh, 2014
Play: My Obsession (written by and with Suki Webster): Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh, 2014
Paul Merton’s Impro Chums: Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh, 2015
Paul Merton’s Impro Chums: Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh, 2016
Arnold Brown’s 80th Birthday Bash: The Comedy Store, London, 2016
Suki Webster’s Guest Speaker: Museum of Comedy, London, 2018
Paul Merton’s Impro Chums: Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh, 2018
Pantomime: Aladdin: New Wimbledon Theatre, London, 2018
Paul Merton’s Impro Chums: Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh, 2019 

Paul Merton is one of the most quick-witted and versatile comedy performers Britain has ever produced.  He is seen regularly on television, as one of two regular team captains (the other being Private Eye magazine editor Ian Hislop) on Have I Got News for You (beginning in 1990, with over 50 series and showing no signs of slowing down).  Indeed, I have been lucky enough to be in the audience for a number of these recordings (with guest presenters including Richard Madeley, Alexander Armstrong and most notably Bruce Forsyth amongst others), however I believe it is Merton as a live performer on stage where he can really come into his own.

I first Merton in the theatre in 1995 starring alongside his then-wife Caroline Quentin in the play Live Bed Show written by fellow comedian Arthur Smith and featuring the couple wearing pyjamas in bed on stage musing about life.

Since 2005, when I have been going to the Edinburgh Fringe, I always make a point of seeing Merton perform. He is the main attraction of Paul Merton’s Impro Chums consisting usually of Lee Simpson, American Mike McShane, Richard Vranch (who also provides the music), Suki Webster (who happens to be Merton’s current wife) and Merton himself.  The show is one of the highlights of the Fringe every year as every show is different and very funny because it is based on improvisation for audience suggestions.

One year when I was at the Edinburgh Festival with some friends we saw Paul Merton’s Impro Chums which included a game involving Merton leaving the stage and one of the performers asking the audience for a job that Merton could do and where he could do it.  Someone from the audience yelled out mouse assassin as an occupation which was accepted as a job role for Merton and I yelled out my home city of Carlisle as a location which was also accepted.  When Merton reappeared on stage he had to guess the occupation and location from the improvisation of the other performers on stage.  Merton kept guessing for a while staring bewilderingly at the frantic improvisation before declaring to the audience that he assassinated everybody who ever lived in Carlisle!  My row of friends and I burst out laughing at this comment and eventually Merton got to the correct job role and moved onto the next game.

Another year at the Fringe, Merton was performing the improvisation show as well as a new show called Paul Merton’s Silent Clowns.  This was Merton’s homage and tribute to the great silent film comedians such as Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd.  The shows featured silent clips from comedians’ films accompanied live on the piano by musician Neil Brand.  The show I saw was based on Laurel and Hardy and afterwards I saw Paul Merton in the Pleasance Courtyard and plucked up the courage to meet him.  He was very charming and polite and when I told him I was a big Laurel and Hardy fan he was delighted.  I said that I had much enjoyed his Silent Clown’s show and asked if he had been to the famous Laurel and Hardy museum at Ulverston, Cumbria which is well worth a look.  He said he had and was pleased I enjoyed the show as it was at the time an experiment.  Paul Merton’s Silent Clowns has since become a BBC4 TV series and book.  Upon meeting him, I also said that I regularly saw his improvisation show at Edinburgh and thought that it was fascinating him being a silent comedy fan whilst being such a great improviser of comedy.  He seemed impressed by this and I told him the story of the mouse assassin from Carlisle!  He told me that I was sure I realised that when improvising on stage, the brain goes so fast that stories like this are missed but was very pleased I told it and laughed out loud.  With that, he put on his cap and left with his fellow improvisers.  It was a pleasure to meet him.

Paul Merton has been performing improvisation for years and clearly loves doing it.  He performs improvisation most Sunday nights at The Comedy Store in London as one of the Comedy Store Players along with, over the years, Josie Lawrence, Steve Steen, Andy Smart, and Neil Mullarkey.  I look forward to seeing Paul Merton at the Edinburgh Fringe for as many years as I can go.

Merton starred alongside Lee Simpson, Briony Redman and Suki Webster in Guest Speaker at The Museum of Comedy in London in June 2018.  The show featured solo improvisation games based on suggestions from the audience. Merton was particularly impressive making a best man’s speech based on words fed to him by a member of the audience and as a Northern accented sports manager inspiring a snooker team based on audience phrases. Watching one of the very best made for a very funny and entertaining evening.

I saw him perform again at the Edinburgh Fringe in Paul Merton’s Impro Chums in August 2018 and again in August 2019.  The show is always on my list of things to see at the Fringe with Merton and his familiar chums of Webster and Simpson together with Richard Vranch and Mike McShane.  Over the many years I have seen them live, they have become Britain’s most prolific and entertaining improvisers effortlessly making up comedy on the spot by improvising suggestions made by the audience.  Every show is different, and they are always hysterically funny.

In December 2018, Merton made his pantomime debut in Aladdin at the New Wimbledon Theatre where he played the role of Widow Twankey.  He made a very convincing dame (and a great double act opposite co-star Pete Firman who played Wishee Washee), until he spoke with his familiar voice and humour effortlessly making the audience laugh with jokes songs and references to the popular television and radio shows he has appeared in that have made him a household name.

One of the greatest free thinkers of comedy I have ever seen, Merton’s ability to mix meandering thought and improvisation is extraordinary and very funny. His ability to attempt to play any character or fearlessly deliver any line, routine or anecdote has endeared Paul Merton to the British public and he has become one of the UK’s favourite comedians.

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