America’s Got Talent Winner Paul Zerdin is back on the road with a new tour ‘Hands Free’ around the UK – and we had a few questions to throw his way about the challenges of being an entertainer over the past year, as well as seeing what fans could anticipate on the new tour. Let’s see what he had to say…
Firstly, let’s have an introduction – to those who may not know, how would you sum up what you do?
A one-man muppet show! Stand-up comedy with puppets using ventriloquism.
What inspired you to get into comedy and ventriloquism, and has it always been part of your life?
I always loved comedy, puppets and magic when growing up and anything to do with Jim Henson and the Muppets. I started performing puppet shows from an early age where I turned the saving hatch between the front room and the dining room into a small puppet theatre and did sketches with my different hand puppets that I’d been given for Christmas and Birthday presents. After watching Ray Alan and Lord Charles on TV on Saturday nights I knew I wanted to do something like that!
What was it like being a British contestant on America’s Got Talent – what made you go stateside?
I had already been on the Royal Variety Show a number of times and that is part of the prize when you win Britain’s Got Talent so thought that would look a bit weird if I rocked up on that talent show, so I decided America would be the one. I absolutely loved my time on AGT, filming the VT’s each week I got to do lots of different things to showcase my talents. One week I did Street Vent the next week I did a Sitcom style scenario and then would end up live on NBC in front of millions and all live at the incredible Radio City Music Hall in New York. I’d say it was one of the greatest experiences in my career.
It’s been an incredibly tough year for entertainers, so what have you been doing to keep yourself busy?
Fitness has really helped keep me physically and mentally fit. And Vodka in the evenings! I wrote, presented and produced my own series for my YouTube Channel called ‘Paul Zerdin’s Sponge Weekly’ which was a comedy sketch show all filmed in a studio with the crew and I socially distanced, unfortunately I couldn’t distance from the puppets, but we were all in a family bubble! Writing the new tour has also kept me pretty busy, but I have missed being on stage enormously.
You have the ‘Hands Free’ tour coming up soon – what can you tell us about the show?
Well, there’s a lot more animatronics used in the show which makes things interesting as you don’t have to have your hand up the back of a puppet to do ventriloquism! I’m still controlling and voicing the characters but sometimes I go into the audience, or the puppets move around on stage without me which I think just opens up the whole genre. All my regular characters are in it plus a couple of newer ones who’ve taken a bit of time to bed in, but I think they’re really working now.
Where do the character ideas come from?
I get lots of inspiration from people watching. My 10-year-old nephew and my 5-year-old niece give me endless funny ideas. My father is turning into my old man character Albert with his hearing loss and just ridiculously funny misunderstandings. For example, I caught my father trying to connect a speaker to Bluetooth and he was having no luck and then when i looked at what he was doing he was trying to connect his iPhone to an Armani aftershave bottle that looked like his Bluetooth speaker!
You are playing a lot of regional venues – including 8 across East Anglia – do you have any favourite venues or places to visit?
Yes, it appears I’m BIG in East Anglia! I genuinely like travelling across the whole country but you have got to admit East Anglia has some really beautiful spots. One of my best mates lives in Beccles and we have spent a lot of time getting pissed on the broads! My girlfriend comes from Norwich, so I have a lot of connections with East Anglia.
What have you missed most about live shows and touring?
I’ve really missed that connection you have with a live audience; I hate doing Zoom shows – it felt weird doing gigs in my kitchen! I can’t wait to set foot again in theatres.
While we await the full-scale return of live shows and events, is there anything you would suggest people can do to keep supporting the entertainment industry?
The live entertainment industry has taken a massive knock this past 18 months from all aspects of theatre on and off stage. A huge number of live performers who are self-employed have not had any government support for over a year, so it’s been incredibly stressful financially and mentally for some. A lot of theatres have not been as financially fortunate as others and people have lost their jobs and some theatres are unable to reopen again. So, I think it’s important to try and support the arts and live entertainment by booking to see shows! I feel very fortunate to be able to go out again on tour this year.
As a fun one to end on: if you could collaborate with any other famous puppet, ventriloquist or comedian, who would it be and why?
I would love to do a sketch with all the famous puppets over the years getting squiffy at a big Puppet Party! Imagine my characters Sam and Albert getting drunk with the likes of Sooty and Sweep who are already legless! Mind you, my characters shouldn’t really drink they soak it up like a sponge!
Thank you to Paul for his time in answering our questions!
Paul Zerdin ‘Hands Free’ will be in East Anglia as follows:
- Friday 24 September – Norwich, Playhouse | norwichtheatre.org, 01603 630 000
- Saturday 25 September – Lowestoft, Marina Theatre | marinatheatre.co.uk, 01502 533 200
- Wednesday 6 October – Bury St Edmunds, The Apex | theapex.co.uk, 01284 758 000
- Thursday 7 October – Harlow, Playhouse | harlowplayhouse.co.uk, 01279 431 945
- Friday 8 October – Clacton-on-Sea, Princes Theatre | princestheatre.ticketsolve.com
- Thursday 14 October – Ipswich, Corn Exchange | ipswichtheatres.co.uk, 01473 433 100
- Friday 15 October – Hunstanton, Princess Theatre | princesshunstanton.co.uk, 01485 532 252
- Tuesday 19 October – Peterborough, New Theatre | newtheatre-peterborough.com, 01733 852 992
For more information and full tour dates visit paulzerdin.com.