Part of the Humourology series
Season 3, Episode 58
Paul Zenon – Humour is Where the Magic Happens
Award- Winning Comedian, Magician, and Sultan of Swindle Paul Zenon Joins Paul Boross on The Humourology Podcast to share the similarities between magicians and mirthful men of comedy and business. Whether performing magic or comedy, Paul Zenon knows that laughter makes the tough times…disappear. Join us this week, only on The Humourology Podcast.
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Paul Zenon is a master magician, comedian, actor, and writer. He joins Paul Boross and The Humourology Podcast to discuss how comedy and magic have a lot in common. From misdirection to mirthful musings, Zenon knows that comedy can build confidence. Whether selling a swindle or pushing a product, Zenon shares how laughter can lead to success.
“It just simply indicates by involving a little bit of humour in there, that you are confident in the product, whatever it is, that you you’re selling, and therefore can afford to be jovial about it.”
From television to the stage to the street, Zenon walks Paul Boross through his life of magic and comedy. Join us to hear how humour can help you make magic on the stage and in your business only on The Humourology Podcast, listen today.
To keep up with Paul you can:
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Paul’s brilliant books are available Online
Not surprisingly Paul is a much in demand awards host, after-dinner speaker and entertainer. You can find out how to book Paul Here
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Paul Zenon on The Humourology Podcast Season 3 Episode 58
Paul Boross (00:00):
I think that’s why a sense of humour exists in human beings really is to get you through things. You know, when something is traumatic. If you can kind of laugh about it, it’s letting off steam almost literally.
Paul Boross (00:17):
Welcome to the Humourology podcast with me Paul Boross and my glittering lineup of guests from the world’s of business sport and entertainment who are here to share their wisdom and their use of humour. Humourology is the study of how humour can dramatically improve your business and your life. Humourology puts the fun into business fundamentals. Increases the value of your laughing stock and puts a punchline back into your bottom line. Please remember to like subscribe and leave a review wherever you get your podcasts.
Paul Boross (00:53):
My guest on this edition of the Humourology podcast is a multi-award winning magician comedian, actor, and writer often and called the Sultan of Swindle. His street magic TV specials are nothing short of mystifying and mirthful. As a well known sceptic, this master of the scam has built a career amusing and bemusing in equal measure whilst also exposing the truth deceitful and devilish tricks. His performances are as comedic as they are crafty, and he’s built an astonishing career through many successful shows on stage and screen. His amazing versatility means that he can play almost anywhere in the world from the Comedy Store to the Royal Command Performance and from an aircraft carrier to an opera house. Although he’s a master of the scam, we know he’ll always shoot us straight. Paul Zenon, welcome to the Humourology podcast.
Paul Boross (02:00):
Thank you very much. Good to be here. Can we have that introduction again? I really enjoyed it.
Paul Boross (02:06):
Well, I must admit I could have done about an hour and a half introduction with all the things you’ve done over your career, but probably the highlight of your career was when we first met, which was in 1986, Paul. Doing New Faces, primetime live Saturday night.
Paul Boross (02:28):
Dear viewer, can you believe that these two faces were once new?!
Paul Boross (02:35):
Yeah, I mean, both of us were very, very young at the time. Let’s be quite honest,
Paul Boross (02:41):
I was a child of bride!
Paul Boross (02:44):
Exactly. Now, now I wanted to take you back even further than that and to go back to what were you doing and was humour important in your family and in your life when you were a child?
Paul Boross (02:59):
Yeah. If I can remember that far back it’s it’s certainly in sepia that’s for sure. I start ed off being into both comedy and magic. I used to watch people like The Two Ronnie’s, Morecambe and Wise and Tommy Cooper on the TV. and Kenny Everett, I was very into as welllas a teenager, all that sort of stuff. But as a boy you generally got for Christmas, alternate years, you got either a magic set or a chemistry set. and funnily enough, I went onto study chemistry as well. So the combination was blowing things up or making things disappear, one way or other. But I never really quite liked the, a premise of magic in that it’s very easy to be a smart arse with it, you know, you’re kind of going, I can do this and you don’t know how it’s done, I’m smarter than you.
Paul Boross (03:47):
So kind of comedy takes the, the edge off that if you will and it’s also a very good means of misdirection. So, if you wanna do a sneaky move if you do a line or something, laugh and look at each other in the audio or whatever, that’s when you do the sneaky move. So it’s the timing, you know, so the rhythm of magic is very similar to the, the rhythm of comedy. It’s about the premises, you lead someone down a garden path and at the end, there’s an unexpected twist. So I kind of always combined the two. People always said, which came first, but I kind of never did one without the other really. But I ended up working in a,… as a teenager, I worked in a magic shop, a joke shop basically in Blackpool.
Paul Boross (04:29):
And that was a good training ground because it was kind of the combination again, it’s that catch all word trick really. You know, so a trick can be a magic trick or a practical joke or just deceit in general is what I was interested in. You know, I always used to kind of like films, like heist films, things like The Sting where it’s a clever confidence trick, things like that. So I was always interested in the psychology behind deceit. But also mixed with the five years of selling plastic doh poo and exploding cigarettes and all that sort of stuff. That was a good training ground in how to present a joke. Because people come in, what have you got that’s funny? Was the standard line.
Paul Boross (05:16):
I got tired of explaining that sort of humour is in the mind of the beholder really so you, instead, you just kind of show them the thing, but you are actually presenting it rather, just sort of saying, this is an exploding matchbox, you kinda say, well, we’ve got this thing over here. Can you just move that out the way? They pick it up? It’ll go off. You know, so you are actually doing a routine to sell a joke, basically. So five summers of doing that was a good training ground. And meanwhile, I was kind of knocking on doors and offering to do shows in the the B and B’s and guest houses.
Paul Boross (05:52):
Well, I’m intrigued by that, that you said knocking on doors, and then you were doing all this stuff in the shop, but because you’ve said to me in the past, I’ve heard you say that you are a fairly shy kid, but you enjoyed showing off on stage. And I wondered about that whole idea, that performance is the shy person’s revenge on the world. Do you think that’s true?
Paul Boross (06:14):
I think to a certain extent, yeah, I think it’s actually more about just getting that attention that you secretly crave but by doing it as a performance, by playing a character basically, so rather than being yourself in your own situation, you’re putting yourself in an artificial world playing a somewhat artificial character. So it’s an acting game really. I mean there’s a famous quote from Jean-Eugène Houdin, who was the father of modern magic. He was the guy that Houdini took his name from. Added an ‘i’ to the end of Houdin. And his quote was a magician is an actor playing the part of the magician. Which is kind of an interesting concept so obviously not a real magician, but you are, you’re playing the part and so I think everything from being a magician to an out and out actor, but certainly being a comedian, you are an actor of some sort. And so that getting on a stage is kind of like a pressure valve really, you know, through that shyness, you’ve kind of bottle things up, but then you get on stage and go look at me even if it’s not the real you.
Paul Boross (07:21):
Well, that’s very interesting because I remember Billy Crystal saying about Robin Williams that he needed those extra little hugs that you can only get from strangers. Did you recognise that kind of thing because both being performers there is that strange thing of that neediness or that, show-off gene, if you like, do you think you always had that?
Paul Boross (07:46):
Yeah. I remember talking to a performer who ended up being a TV producer and he’d been a kind of comedy magician for many, many years and I said, do you miss it? Do you miss being on stage? He went, I kind of miss being in the spotlight, but I’ve replaced that with love from my family. Well, that’s, that’s interesting, you know, so maybe it’s a sense that people who become performers there might be something missing in their emotional life beforehand. Not necessarily all the time, but perhaps early on that might be a trigger of some sort. There’s also an interesting thing I’ve found particularly with magicians, they tend to be only children. The vast majority are only children and I think part of that is it’s a thing you can practise by yourself but also you’ve got a lot of time on your hands, when you’re not interacting with your siblings so it’s kinda a hobby from that point of view, but it’s also a way of reaching out, of making yourself interesting to other people socially and that’s why so many magicians are socially inadequate in other ways.
Paul Boross (08:59):
Well, no, no, it’s interesting because you’ve combined the magic and the comedy and that laugh as we know is a drug. I mean that, which also goes over into acceptance and that’s, it’s really hard to replace with anything else. And you said about the person who said, no, I’ve replaced it with the love of a family, but I wonder if it is possible to replace that because it is such a high isn’t, it?
Paul Boross (09:29):
It is. And it’s been strangely, particularly the past kind of two years for obvious reasons, a lot of performers, particularly musicians have turned to doing shows on Zoom and not so many comedians and you go, well, there’s a reason for that, you know, with a magic trick, you can kind of do the trick and it’ll come across, you see the people’s faces at the far end but with a comedian you need, you need to hear a room full of people laughing at once. And the problem, obviously with something like Zoom, you hear people one at a time, or you kind of, there was an interesting thing where someone started doing shows live again after doing Zoom. And they said, the problem with Zoom is you can’t hear tlaughter coming through, apart from one person at a time, but live you can hear it, but the are all wearing masks in the audience. So you can’t see who’s actually making the noise, you know?
Paul Boross (10:21):
Well, I think, as has just about every comedian we know… because I obviously do a lot of conferences now and I’ve done a load of virtual conferences and it’s really difficult. And everybody saying, this is the future. And I think, well, it’s not going to be the future if you want to actually connect with people properly because, I mean, we’re working on Zoom. We know each other well, so it’s slightly easier, but I think that people are need other people around them. And you said for a creative atmosphere to thrive and for comedy to thrive, you need other people there to bounce off. If you like. Yeah.
Paul Boross (11:06):
I remember years and years ago, I did that. This is kind of early days of the internet really, and I did a corporate gig in the south of France for a… I can’t remember the name of the company, but they basically we’re launching a brand new video conferencing thing, which was a real novelty at that time and I thought it was very interesting that they brought people from all over the world to have a conference about how good their video conferencing, product was! Because it wouldn’t work over the air. it’s… you gotta be in the same room as people it’s human interaction, it’s seeing somebody in 3D basically.
Paul Boross (11:45):
I mean, obviously now we have to do an element of it. Is there anything from all the years you’ve done so many television shows or over the years, of something that our listeners can take away about, if you have to make it work over Zoom or over a television, what would you say are the intrinsic things that you have to remember?
Paul Boross (12:09):
Paul Boross (12:14):
That’s why I don’t do it. I think just use your imagination and imagine that they are in the same room. So whoever you’re talking to, don’t treat it as though it is at distance basically. Pretend they’re there and also check your body language because if you’re meeting someone face to face, you are using your whole body to talk, whereas actually when you can only see someone’s head and shoulders on screen, it makes a difference. But actually if you keep your body moving kind of subconsciously, there’s a lot more kind of communication via that. It’s, you know, just subtle little things.
Paul Boross (12:53):
It’s really interesting that actually, I think that’s a really good point, which I’d like to, to go into, because that’s what the Humourology project is all about is tips that people can take away as well. And I think the idea that they can only see this much, so I’m only going to actually act with this much. Is an anathema because really just when you said that, I thought, yeah, that’s what good people do is they are animated with the rest of their body, which actually helps in the communication. Because even if people can’t see it, it animates the rest, the bits they can see.
Paul Boross (13:31):
Yeah, totally. It was interesting many, many years ago I did the Chris Moyles show on BBC Radio 1 a few times. And he, it was a complete surprise to me because I’d prepared a few tricks to sort of sit there and do on the radio, which is a challenge enough in itself. But when I got there, it turns out that he used to stand up in the studio on the radio and I’ve heard since then that a lot more presenters do that on the radio because they think it gives it more energy. Cause they’ve stood up, they, they’re more animated when they’re talking because they can be their arse is not plonked on a seat so they’re kind of moving around a little bit and it just gives it… It comes through just on the audio. It just gives it more vim basically
Paul Boross (14:14):
You’ve brought humour and mad to some extraordinary places such as war zones entertaining the British, US and UN forces. Do you think that… Say that again?
Paul Boross (14:30):
So basically a deterrent I also caused a few wars.
Paul Boross (14:37):
Yeah but do you think that humour is important with dealing with traumatic situations can be a salve if you like?
Paul Boross (14:48):
Yeah, I think so. I think it can certainly diffuse a situation if someone can’t stay too angry for too long if you make them laugh and it’s kind of a, I think I mentioned before, it’s a pressure valve basically. I think that’s why a sense of humour exists in human beings really, is to get you through things once something is traumatic. If you can kind of laugh about it, it’s letting off steam almost literally, you know.
Paul Boross (15:18):
I love that the pressure valves, because actually in psychological terms, I talk about it being a state change that, you can actually get to people if you change their state. Now, one way you could make them angry, but it’s much nicer when you make them laugh and they actually have a state change, then they’re gonna be more receptive to information. And so that’s really one of the, the biggest things that underlies the whole Humourology project is that it’s so much more than getting a cheap laugh, which I know you and I love to do but it’s about putting people in a state of good humour, you know, lightness, changing their attitude so that they, they are more receptive to things so people can learn better, people can learn to cope. Do you think that actually humour aids in resilience generally?
Paul Boross (16:19):
Yeah, I think so. I mean, hence the phrase, you know, he laughed it off, you know, so it’s kind of interesting that, that … and again, there’s a parallel with the magic situation in that it’s misdirection, if you are concentrating on something and your attention gets deflected by humour or by a trick or whatever it is – that is the term misdirection, you’ve directed someone away from the oncoming.
Paul Boross (16:46):
I love that. And that’s, that’s gonna end up in the book he laughed off. Yeah. I’ll pretend I said it, obviously
Paul Boross (16:57):
Well, you often do, Let’s face it
Paul Boross (17:02):
Let’s face it. So what makes you laugh, Paul?
Paul Boross (17:06):
I think aside from obvious, you know comedians and funny entertainment, I think just kind of little every day overheard things. I was actually just talking to the pub last night with a couple of mates and one of them came back from the loo and he said, I’ve just heard the end of a conversation there and you wonder how it started. And it was a guy walking past another guy who was washing his hands in the basin and he said, are you alright? And the guy said, yeah, it’s a difficult sink this one. What has gone on there?
Paul Boross (17:42):
It’s a difficult sink, this one. And we started talking about kinda overheard lines, whatever I was in a market in Brighton a while back. And I just walked past quite a young couple in their twenties and I just heard the end of her sentence. And she said, and that’s why I was never allowed to play the euphonium. And I very, nearly kinda went back and said, I’m really sorry to eavesdrop, but how did that start that conversation? It was the phrase wasn’t allowed to that made it funny. So, stuff like that makes me laugh. I like situational stuff. And I think,, not situation comedies, but situational comedy. And I think that’s kind what I try to do on stage really with the magic, and so the humour comes not so much from jokes per se, it’s more the situation of getting someone up from the audience of what happens to them and their involvement. So you’re actually creating a little sketch. So it’s partly improvised, you know, mainly scripted but you’re creating a fully situation rather than telling a joke.
Paul Boross (18:49):
That’s why I love your act so much. And any corporate people out there who want a guaranteed wow for their corporate event should be booking you because so much of the act is actually about dealing with the situation and making it funny. And you and I both spent many years at the Comedy Store, what’s the best heckle you’ve had. And, and how did you deal with that situationally?
Paul Boross (19:21):
I think my, my favourite heckle was just the weirdest one, it was a little kind of sequence I was doing a show in, Edinburgh, doing one man thing there. And there’s a thing that I usually finish the act on, which is where I stand a pint of beer, pour pint of beer and stand it inside a pool triangle, the frame with a dog lead attached to it. And again, there are lots of gags about that. And then I spin it round in a vertical circle and then a horizontal circle. around my head for no real reason really, just it’s gloriously pointless as well as dangerous. And at the end, someone kind lifts it off to prove it’s not stuck, down the pint. Thanks very much goodnight, but I was kind of doing this one time.
Paul Boross (20:09):
And earlier in the show, some guy had, had just shouted some drunken, Scottish nonsense. You couldn’t kind of make head in a tail of what he was saying. So you do a standard put down line about, are you just saying all the words, you know, or whatever. then someone later shouted out the middle of nowhere. I like Flipper and I wasn’t talking about anything to do with dolphins, or just, complete, you know from nowhere. So I kind of got, you know, did a line about the sort of surreality of this thing. Then I got to do the triangle and this person on the other side, I said, it’s about centrifugal force. And this guy shouted out, it’s not centrifugal force, it’s centripital force. And technically it is right. You know, so I was suddenly in this situation where I realised I’ve got facing me, I’ve got that diagram of the ascent of man. whereyou’ve got the kinda the ape one end and the man…, And I’ve got the ascent of Hecklers here. A neanderthal at one end like that. I’ve got this, I like flipper somewhere in the middle. just weird. And then I’ve got the physicist at the far end.
Paul Boross (21:27):
I ended up just going just corpsing myself on stage. the audience made me laugh as a whole. It was just, and the spacing of them was just right.
Paul Boross (21:35):
It’s funny, we had Jo Brand, who, you know, well as well on the show. And she actually said especially for women, but generally I think this is true to have some heckles in their toolbox at the time, because it might become useful and she always used to use them.Do you think that’s a good idea generally because in life, people are going to in offices or workplaces be bullied. So do you think it’s good idea for people actually to take away and go, here’s a couple of zingers that I can go back with?
Paul Boross (22:15):
I think particularly if it’s something that’s been pointed out is perhaps some kind of physical feature that someone’s had to go at before. If it’s happened several times in their life, then obviously they’re gonna come up with a retort for that. Or it would be useful to have one. So if someone thinks they’ve been a smart ass by saying something about you having a big nose or whatever it might be then if you’ve got a comeback to that, then yeah, that’s, that’s gonna be useful. Cause it just, it disarms the attack then, you know, it makes them look like the, the idiot rather than you, you know? But yeah, it’s I used to kinda rely on a lot of stock one-liners or whatever, but as you do it for many, many years, you’re perhaps coming up with something spontaneous. Then think, oh, that’s good. Remember that one. And then they add it to the arsenal basically.
Paul Boross (23:01):
Well, but isn’t heckling really about… I mean, cuz I think everyone starts with the stock one-liners, which they, they store up, but really a heckle put down is at its funniest when it’s timed right and it just comes off the top of your head. And that’s really The Matrix as I call it when you are in that zone. Everything slows down and you have that time, like a great sports person. When great comedians are on stage, that’s really what happens, isn’t it? You hear the heckle, then you go, I’ve got the perfect line and everything works in that Matrix style.
Paul Boross (23:43):
I think a lot of it is to do with how often are you performing basically, because you know, if you are working every night and sometimes two, three gigs a night, you know? You get match fit, you know, it’s like anything else, you know, you’re doing it regular. So that the actual the lines you usually do are coming out like clockwork. So your mind behind that has got time to think about improvisation, you know, so to add to it. So you carry on in automatic pilot for the main part of the act and then your kind of brain is on a different level dealing with the kind of nuances, you know?
Paul Boross (24:17):
Yeah. I think you are right. Do you think everyone is potentially funny or is it a gift given from God? And I know how you feel about that?
Paul Boross (24:32):
I think… I don’t think everybody is funny. No, I think some people have been very lucky to be given a natural leaning towards it, but it’s also something that can definitely be developed. So, I mean, there are certain comedians who you think you can’t imagine them at school being the funny guy, the class clown, but what they’ve done, they they’ve sat in the back of the class, looked at other people, who’ve got laughs for doing stuff and think, right; that’s the way it works. And so they approach it more like a scientific equation, if you will. Right. So if I do that, in answer to that and time it that way, that’s what makes people laugh. And so they learn it, you mechanically if you will.
Paul Boross (25:18):
But I think some people who don’t need to think about it at all, I mean, it was interesting to hear that Alan Davies years ago said that he never writes anything down. And so I thought it’s really unusual for a comedians, as you know, in a addressing room. There’s normally people kinda like either making notes on the performance that just done cause a line didn’t work, or he came up with a new one or whatever, or re-structuring a show or 20 minute routine over all. Personally, I do bullet points.I’ll do a list of tricks and then just put a couple little notes of new lines next to each and all rest of it. But a lot of people will write it out word for word but I thought it was very unusual to find someone who doesn’t write anything down at all and totally relies on memory. They come up with it and store it in the memory.
Paul Boross (26:10):
Everybody’s brain is different though, isn’t it really? Because my good friend Scott Quinnell, the rugby player who we wrote the book Leader On The Pitch together, he is one of the funniest after dinner speakers you will ever see. And until Scott was 36, he was dyslexic so he’s never written anything down. And yet he’s hilariously funny on stage. And so some people’s brains can store things in a different way. So, it’s about understanding the way you remember stuff. And with Alan who we both know, I think, he’s very physical having a drama background and he actually may be remembering, I don’t know this, but kinaesthetically, you know, when I do this, thelines come, so it could be…
Paul Boross (27:04):
Yeah, its interesting, cause I’ve noticed the complete opposite with classic old timer, Ken Dodd. And if you look at photographs of Ken Dodd backstage or on stage, if you see his hands, they’re covered in writing so even after doing it for, you know, centuries, basically. I last worked with him in one of his last shows actually, in 2017, the Blackpool Magicians Convention. And so I was on stage with him and all on his hands, just written up there, there the lists cuff or rest of it, just little notes. And you think if you need to do that after that many years, but then again, he did do like five hour shows.
Paul Boross (27:47):
Yes he did. Well, I remember that you were presented with the Sir Ken Dodd award for comedy by Doddy himself. Were you not?
Paul Boross (27:57):
It was that occasion? That was,Yeah, the story is that the biggest magic convention in the world is in Blackpool every February and you get 4,000 magicians attending there from all over the world and in fact I’m doing it again. I’m MCing the show again. They’re doing a big gala show in the opera house there in a couple weeks time and on this occasion they just let me know just before the show, that I’d won this Ken Dodd Comedy Award and he Doddy was honorary life president of the Blackpool Magicians Club club. So every year he’d come and do it a little bit and by his standards a little bit, um,
Paul Boross (28:38):
Paul Boross (28:39):
He literally did. Like, it was like, so like 50 odd years in a row, maybe 60 years in a row, he did this show and… This year, Ken, can you keep it tight? So the show’s kind running three and a half hours anyway and keep it tight. And just five minutes will be great, you know, and he’d always do 45. and this was no exception. So the way they decided to do it was I was MCing the show. But after, after the interval, he was gonna come on and present. There was five different awards and mine was the last one the comedy one. And so he launches into routine and there’s a table with the five awards alongside and we’re stood behind the back clothes. And he’s just going on and on and on as usual.
Paul Boross (29:24):
And his partner, who was travelling with him – and became his wife just before he died – and she’s stamping on the stage, just behind the curtain going Ken, come on, Ken like this. And, and he just carried on and on. So eventually the stage manager and the stage hand walked on and got hold of the table and marched it to the centre stage and put it next to him. So, alright, I can take a hint. So, he carries on and on and on and again, and eventually gets round to presenting the awards, but then stops halfway through and launches into another routine. So there’s just by the end of it’s, there’s the one award left for me on the table, but he’s going on. She’s stamping away. The stage manager walks on again with the, the stage hand he gets the, the award puts it in Ken’s hand and then takes the table off, you know, as a hint to get on with it.
Paul Boross (30:16):
So Ken then puts it down on the floor, carries on again. The, the stage manager comes back on, picks it up off the floor, puts it back in his hand, he went, I can bend over, you know, so eventually he gets around to, he announces me and I go on and we have a bit of backwards and forwards. And he said, so can you sing young man? And I went, no, I really, and as you know, I can’t, I really can’t sing. He said, well, I’m sure the ladies and gentlemen will help you out, Happiness HappinessI. I’m keeping the microphone as far away from my mouth as I can, about 4,000 bloody magicians in front of me. So I get through all this. And so at the end, I go lladies and gentleman, the legend Sir Ken Dodd, and as he’s taking his bow, he goes to get… He went, can you pick me tickling sticks up? I can’t bend over. And it was just a lovely memory. You know, it wasn’t long after that he passed away actually after that. So just to be one of his favourite theatres in his favourite town, that was a real, a real joy.
Paul Boross (31:20):
Well, but that’s really that you get from experience, but it’s lovely to pass on these things. I mean, we’ve lost a lot of great comedians. Unfortunately recently we’ve obviously Doddy, we’ve lost Sean Lock. We’ve lost Barry Cryer,
Paul Boross (31:37):
Paul Boross (31:39):
Bobby Ball. Yeah, we’ve worked with a lot of the, these people and we’ve seen, what do you think that special sauce is that made them shine so bright?
Paul Boross (31:52):
I think just slightly different in each, situation, but I think probably one thing that got in common is people relate to them. It’s about I remember Harry Hill once saying before he was a name. I got him a gig in the Falkland Islands. He didn’t thank me for it. I remember…
Paul Boross (32:14):
The penguins did
Paul Boross (32:15):
I used to do a lot of kind of military tour sand stuff. It used to be like the old ENSA thing, which people used to joke stood for Every Night Something Awful. And then they renamed it as CSE, which was combined services entertainment or as we renamed it Curry Served Endlessly. Because in the army, if they have a special occasion, you always have a curry, that’s an exciting thing. So when there’s a show there that’s, so you’re doing a 14 night tour every night is curry night and you’re sharing a porta cabin with five musicians. It’s not great. But anyway, by the,I got to, I got Harry Hill this gig. I just remember at the end of this tour, in the Falklands he just went, you know, Paul I think I’m gonna resign my commission
Paul Boross (33:04):
Yeah. On that tour I remember him saying, cuz we, you know, that late night sort of drunken way, you’re analysing comedy a bit like this, but late night and drunken. His kind of definition was what people were looking for was empathy and mischief. And I thought, yeah, that’s, that’s quite a good definition. I was just talking about Bobby Ball last night actually said, what the thing, people forget how big Cannon and Ball were in the eighties, I mean just absolutely massive. I saw them at Wallington arena and I don’t how many seats, 10,000, 12,000 seats something, and I’ve never known, such love come from an audience as they walked on. It was just, that’s the only way you could describe it, you know? And so what you have, there was the serious Tommy Cannon telling off this naughty little boy character but never getting really angry with him and at the end Bobby Ball falls asleep and Tommy carries him off and after singing, what was it? was it Wind Beneath my Wings or, aHe Ain’t Heavy he’s my Brother, something like that.
Paul Boross (34:07):
And you go yeah that’s lovely. Cause what you’ve got there is that whole empathy and mischief, there are a couple of Northern lads that have made good, you know, straight out in the factory, into the working man’s clubs and all of a sudden there superstars on TV. But there’s still got that mischief and still pulling the rug on authority, you know? So I think, you know, what all the performers we mentioned they’ve got is that people relate to them. I mean, it’s as simple as that. And I Barry Cryer is a really unique one. It so sad to hear about him last week he’s… there aren’t many people who are as famous for being a writer as a performer and looking at the social media when he passed away, I mean literally no one had a bad word to say about it. And there were legion stories about him taking an interest with people, the number people who said, oh, I met him one, he was outside having a fag outside this theatre or whatever. And I said, thank you for the jokes or thank you for the entertainment. He said, no, thank you for saying so, that means a lot. Yeah.
Paul Boross (35:08):
I love the fact that the empathy and mischief have put together, but without the former, you really can’t do the latter, can you,? You have to get that rapport first of all, that understanding for people to trust you enough to tease, I suppose. And isn’t that what it’s about? And I mean, for our listeners, cuz not everybody’s going to be a comedian obviously, but actually one of the things I say to people when I’m training groups of people, is that it without rapport, you have nothing. So you can’t… you can sound like a bully if you are just going and you start talking about somebody’s nose or whatever. But if you’ve got enough rapport with them and you do it in the right way, you can tease, you can play. And I suppose that’s really the essence of it is doing that on a grand scale is teasing and playing on that level.
Paul Boross (36:10):
I think the audience have to have confidence in you and a lot of that is put across before you even start speaking really. , You know the way you… Stagecraft, the way you walk on. I mean, in the early days I look back on some old videos and things I’m kinda sprinting on and straight into a line, all that kind of thing. Oh, slow down a bit and now it’s the opposite I can up bit the whole thing is the audience need to need to know that they’re in safe hands and going back to the kind of heckle line or whatever, I’ve seen quite a few comics deal with the heckle really well by not responding to it instantly. They’re using the time to think of a response, but by just kind of pausing and looking at the offender or whatever, you’re letting them know that, that hasn’t bothered you, you know, it’s like really, I mean a comedian called Michael Smiley used to kind of treat…
Paul Boross (37:03):
He was, he was quite an aggressive comedian. Quite, quite edgy subject matter but when someone heckled him,, he didn’t actually respond other than visually, he just kind, someone would shout something and he just basically looked their way, the look sort of said, really?! you kind of wanna mess with me?, And then he just carry on and it was a surprisingly effective way of dealing with it. It was like having a strict teacher kind of giving that look of disapproval, you know?
Paul Boross (37:31):
It’s funny, I was about to mention teachers exactly at that point, because I think it’s the same thing. And the analogy I always give is, remember you were at school and you would test the teacher. If you had a supply teacher come in, you would always test them. And you knew the ones who had the presence. Yeah. Just stand there and go, it’s your own time. You’re wasting. Yeah. You know,
Paul Boross (37:56):
I went to a grammar school which was quite strict. It was like a sort of poor man’s public school really and, all boys, it’s another reason I’ve ended up as a bloody magician, I think. And, we had a deputy head teacher. I mean, this place was founded in 1492 and still had half the same, the teachers, as when it opened, I think.. And the deputy head was called Wally Evans and he was an ex Sergeant major. And he was very much like the character of It Ain’t ‘Alf Hot Mum, Windsor Davies’ character. Yeah. And he kind of terrified us the last day of the sixth form. We all turning sort of 18 at that point. And we went out and got blind drunk at lunchtime on the final day.
Paul Boross (38:47):
and we came back in and half trashed the, uh, the cover, whatever. And we were walking back out the school for the final time and he just walked out. cuz he’d kind of known about the drinking thing and all the rest of it. And he just walked out and kind of stood there and gave us a look. And we were instantly 11 years old, again, just starting at school. We, we could have just told him to piss off at that point. You know, it was the last day, but he just had that presence, you know? Um, and and, and a big stick!
Paul Boross (39:16):
Yes, but actually that’s really useful for anybody listening who wants to take anything away is that, that actually just standing there, looking at somebody and thinking about how the teachers did it, is a really good lesson to how to do it. Now, we’ve probably between us seen thousands and thousands of open spots over the years and open spots for our listeners are people who trying out their comedy for the first time. And you can pretty much tell within five seconds if they’re going to last can’t you, because it’s how they present themselves because the audience makes its mind up. You know, even if it’s only to the level of am I going to watch some more, but once they’ve made their mind up, it’s very hard to sway them, which is funny though, I was talking on the show with somebody about Alan Davies’s, early routines where he would pretend not to know what he doing, which was dangerous, then he would brilliantly switch it up.
Paul Boross (40:23):
Yeah. I mean, audiences smell blood very quickly, you know, and it’s particularly in the comedy club situation, you know, it’s slightly different if you go into a theatre to watch a variety show, whatever, because they know by the virtue of the fact you’ve been booked that you’re a professional act or whatever, but in the comedy clubs there’s a lot of people actually going for the first time quite often. I mean, it’s the sort of thing that has become the new office party, you know, office Christmas party, where should we go? The Comedy Store or whatever. So there been quite a few newbies there and they think that the comedy circuit is all about heckling and aggression and, you know, the comics are allowed to say anything, therefore you are allowed to shout anything back to them and all the rest of it so that a lot of the audience are actually, you know, wanting some, some sparring basically. And so the way to deflect that is by being that… looking like an old hand in, in know, a lot of respects.
Paul Boross (41:19):
Is it important to be able to laugh at yourself?
Paul Boross (41:24):
Very, I think, yeah. I mean I’ve lost count of the number of shows I’ve done corporate events or whatever, where, you know, I’ve gotta follow the MD of the company who’s full of their self importance and all rest of it. And it has no… Thinks they’ve got a sense of humour, but really doesn’t and it’s uphill for me after that, you know? Cause it is, you would think you going be funny after that it’d be an easy job, but it’s, it’s so flat afterwards because they can get away with not being entertaining. So they do and make the most of position, you know? So yeah, and I think, the favourite people I’ve seen outside of show business, doing public, speaking of some sort or another are the ones that do have a sense of the ridiculousness of the situation or the ability to take the Mickey out themselves. I think it’s a very amiable trait in people.
Paul Boross (42:20):
But you know, sometimes in business and a lot of our listeners listeners are in business and sometimes they,, people in business think that it takes away their gravitas or something whereas I think, and that’s why I asked, you know, esteemed guests who understand it, it adds to their gravitas to be able to actually see yourself not too seriously. I think adds to it rather than takes away. Don’t you agree?
Paul Boross (42:51):
Yeah, absolutely. And I think it actually shows, subtly shows a confidence cause if you are…but also kind of, it shows that you’ve got the, the nous to realise it yourself as well. You know, you’re kind of not just looking out on the world, you’re looking at your position in it. And so to be able to take the Mickey out yourself in some form or another shows that you are actually, you know, happy in your skin, really, you know, you’ve got in your confidence and that’s obviously a good business trait.
Paul Boross (43:21):
Talking about business. If I asked you to write a business case for humour, um, I E Y humour should be valued in business. What would you include in it?
Paul Boross (43:35):
I just think that, um, you know, having demonstrate a sense of humour is obviously a good trait in anyone, but particularly in business where it shows that you’re not taking yourself too seriously and that you’re not putting on too much of an act, which sounds counterintuitive, cause you’re taking someone who’s doing something humorous is doing an act, but actually if you don’t include any humour, it shows that you’re doing a hard sell. I think of whatever it is you’re selling you might be trying a little bit too hard. I think it just subtly indicates by involving a little bit of humour in there that you are confident in the product, whatever it is that you are selling, therefore can afford to be a bit jovial about it, just mess around it. it sounds a bit odd that, but I think…
Paul Boross (44:25):
No, I think that… well from a psychological perspective, I think people buy confidence, you know, and we were just talking about people on stage, if they’re confident they’re more likely to get laughs then I think same in business. If you are confident about what you are presenting and humour – being the ultimate show of confidence – then people are more likely to interact with you and want to spend more time with you and your product.
Paul Boross (44:57):
Yeah, absolutely. I mean it’s no great coincidence that when people go on dating apps or whatever quite often they’ll put GSOH good sense humour or whatever, which normally is an indicator that they don’t have one, but that’s by the by. But what it does show is that… It’s like Bubbly, you know, if someone puts bubbly what they actually mean is really bloody irritating. Yes, but it shows that it’s a valued trait in human beings. So, a valued trait in a relationship, like a sense of humour, is gonna be equally valid in business. So it’s why people like other people and if you like some, or you’re more likely to buy from them.
Paul Boross (45:39):
Yeah. It is as simple as that, isn’t it really. You want to be around people who make you feel good.
Paul Boross (45:46):
Paul Boross (45:48):
Not many people say I’ve got a really close friend who’s really dry. Absolutely no sense of humour. You know,
Paul Boross (45:56):
You’d love him.
Paul Boross (45:58):
Whereas someone could be, thick is two short planks and, and very irritating, but oh, he ain’t half a laugh, you know, and therefore a friend.
Paul Boross (46:07):
But isn’t it interesting, the delusion that everybody thinks they’ve got a good sense of humour.
Paul Boross (46:13):
Yeah. I mean, I’ve had a couple of instances recently on, on Facebook where – as you know, my late night is just arguing with strangers on Facebook – but there’s been a couple of ones where I’ve just put something sarcastic and the person’s come back and misunderstood it. So you go, that was a joke, you know. And they go, well, it’s not funny. And I have an excellent sense of humour. If you say that it’s one against the other really isn’t it?
Paul Boross (46:46):
Yes. I think if you ask anyone, they will tell you…
Paul Boross (46:52):
My pet peeve is that when, when people say a joke or particularly a comedian, they’re not funny and you go, well, they’re incredibly successful as a comedian, right. So they obviously are funny to a lot of people. And there’s that, weird kind of misunderstanding that something is either funny or not. You go, well, it’s funny to some people it’s funny in context, it’s not funny out of context and you don’t find it funny. That doesn’t mean it’s not funny as such.
Paul Boross (47:22):
We have been on a lot of bills at comedy clubs over the years and there are comedians who divide the audience. Half of them think they are brilliant and half of them just don’t get it at all. And, sometimes, and, God rests his soul for the early part of his career. Sean Lock who all the comedians thought was hilarious. It sometimes used to go wide of the mark with a whole section of the audience.
Paul Boross (47:56):
Oh yeah. I remember walking in the Comedy Store one night. So as you know, quite a few us used to go there when we weren’t working there just late night, we’d did a gig somewhere else so pop in for the midnight show and think back used to, you know, two shows night, night, and the second one started at midnight. So you go out there at 2 in the morning. The Friday crowd quite often, you’d get people who’d come from the office, not had anything to eat, gone out drinking. And then to round the evening off, go to the midnight show at the Comedy Store. So yeah, blind drunk. I remember walking in one night and Sean Lock was on stage and there was a big group of city suits in there and it was, it was literally 50/50 where half of them were heckling him and the other half were fast asleep and it was the best amazing sight, but yeah, Sean always kind of trod his own path.
Paul Boross (48:50):
You know, he kind of just, he knew what he wanted to do and he did it fantastically. I shared a flat with him and Dave John’s in Edinburgh in 97 which was fun. And they were kind a weird paring cuz Sean very kind of surreal sort of style, quite dark and all rest of it, but was actually not a health fanatic, but used to eat very, very healthfully and go jogging every day and all rest of it, which is not what comics do at Edinburgh really, or didn’t back then. and then in contrast that you had Dave Johns who was just basically boiling gallons of potatoes every day and they used to take the Mickey out each other and but you know, more potatoes Dave? I like potatoes
Paul Boross (49:42):
One of the strangest heckles. But yeah, it was happy days. I just kind of remembering that time, my measure of Sean actually was we did show, I put on a charity show at The Palladium London Palladium, back about 2011. I think something like that. And we had, I mean, that was a hell of the bill. We had, um, Dara O’Brien, Lee Mack, Dave Spikey, Sean Lock. And what was really, really nice about that and considering that bill and all that I was MCing it. So it was a charity fundraiser thing. And at the end we had the walk down, everybody takes a curtain call, you know, does a bow. And I brought everybody back on stage one at a time. And then Sean just grabbed the microphone off me and went, let’s hear it for Paul, he put all this thing together, this kind of thing. I just thought, oh, lovely. You know, considering his style can be, you know, quite cutting and.
Paul Boross (50:37):
Paul Zenon (50:38):
Quite yeah. Quite edgy, and yeah, just actually just really lovely thing to do.
Paul Boross (50:44):
Oh, he was a lovely man, sadly missed. We’ve come to the part of the show, Paul that we like to call Quickfire questions,
Musical sting (50:51):
Quick fire questions.
Paul Boross (50:55):
Who’s the funniest business person you’ve met.
Paul Boross (51:00):
I don’t really recall anybody’s sort of business wise that sort of, they’ve made me laugh for the wrong reasons sometimes, you know, and I quite enjoyed some of the corporate gigs I’ve done where, the MD or whoever it is how do you wanna be introduced or whatever. And then they entirely ignore what you’ve said. And they use your name to start the sentence, we’ve got the cabaret now, uh, it’s called Paul Zenon and, uh, he’s gonna be coming up… You can see the realisation in their eyes after that point. Like what’s the end of the sentence gonna be, wanna use your name. So, yeah. And he, um, he he’s, he’s gonna be coming on stage. Um, right now
Paul Boross (51:44):
I think you and I once had a conversation about the funniest business person we’ve met about a certain agent.
Paul Zenon (51:53):
Yeah. Um, yes. Who’s who now manages Darren Brown. That one.
Paul Boross (51:59):
Paul Zenon (51:59):
Yes. Michael Vine. Yeah, he’s a funny bugger. Yeah. Michael used to be a, comedy magic act himself many, many years ago and somewhere there’s a videotape out there of it, which I wanna see. but yeah, who knows where, but I mean, just to say that he’s got a dry sense of humour, I think is a little bit understated isn’t it? I remember, I mean one of his favourite things. He’s just kind of chatting to someone at the bar or whatever, as he walks out, and walked away, he realise his trousers around his ankles and it’s like, you know, not exactly subtle, it’s not exactly an intellectual gag, but it is very funny to witness it.
Paul Boross (52:43):
What film makes you laugh?
Paul Zenon (52:46):
I have to say probably back to the old black and white slapstick stuff. Really. I mean, I still,watch Laurel and Hardy quite regularly. I’m not a man of this century really. brilliant. But no, I kinda, I saw a lovely thing the other day actually, which was a couple of Laurel and Hardy kind of dance routines sketch things, but set to David Bowie and just perfect timing. Look it up on youtube, Rebel Rebel by Bowie and them doing a dance to it. And it’s just, it’s just brilliant
Paul Boross (53:15):
Taking a shift to the other side. We always do this as we go the other way and say, what’s not funny?
Paul Zenon (53:23):
Yeah. Well, that’s, that’s a difficult one. I think already said, when people say something’s not funny, they’re generally confusing their opinion with fact,and there’s certain things I don’t find funny, such as banter. it’s not so much the, idea of banter, which is what everybody does is what we do, taking the piss out each other. But it is recognising it as banter and calling it banter or even worse bants, If there’s ever a bigger turn off. I think, again, you can tel I spend a certain amount of time on dating apps. But you know together with GSOH must have good bants.
Paul Zenon (54:10):
Swipe left, you know? So yeah, the idea that you are somehow good at it when, again, that shows that you’re not it’s, it’s kind of a, it’s a real red light, isn’t it?
Paul Boross (54:25):
Yeah. Oh God, the word bants just made me wince. It had a visceral effect on me, to be honest with you.You’ve, I think done hundreds now of episodes of Countdown as a guest in dictionary corner. What word makes you laugh?
Paul Zenon (54:46):
Well obviously on Cuntdown any rude one, you know, Rachel’s face as it appears letter by letter. a consonant V. a vowel, A. A consonant G. Yeah. It’s normally just off by one. You just don’t quite get there whatever. But I remember what made me laugh was John Cooper, Clark being – who I’m a a big fan of – got asked what his favourite word was, and it was more his accent than anything that he went…he paused for a moment and went lucrative. That’s good. It’s kind of, self-contained the thought process within that answer, isn’t it? You know?
Speaker 4 (55:32):
Paul Boross (55:33):
Brilliant, brilliant. What sound makes you laugh?
Paul Boross (55:38):
Well did a very specific sound that made me laugh for a while back where I was in a pub strangely, very rare for me, with a female friend of mine and she went to the loo and came back, crying, laughing, and so I went and checked out myself and what she tell me was she, she got in there and she closed the door behind her and this voice went, hello. She went, hello, Nothing happens. So she opened the door again and she closed it and it turns out it was the hinge on the door. And I went and checked it and it was, it was actually, you know, it came out as a word. It was just a squeaky ‘hello’. So we just stood there for about half an hour and played with a door.
Paul Boross (56:29):
Well, well, that’s, that’s no defence, to be honest with you in court,
Paul Zenon (56:34):
Cottaging I think it’s called.
Paul Boross (56:36):
Exactly. Would you rather be considered clever or funny?
Paul Boross (56:42):
I’ll take either., I think probably clever, but then again, if someone calls you clever in this context, they might be suggesting that you’re not funny. it’s like saying, oh, you think you say something funny? Oh, you think you’re being clever? You know? Uh, I dunno. Do you need to be clever to be funny?
Paul Boross (57:09):
Well I think you probably do because to make those connections in your mind, most comedians I think are clever, have fast brains that can actually make those comedy connections very quickly. So maybe you need to be, as you say, clever in order to be funny.
Paul Boross (57:29):
Yeah. I think but I suppose it’s a bit like thing about intelligence. Some people, you don’t get intelligence through education you’re either inherently intelligent or not. but I think some people funny without being clever, but maybe they don’t realise it, you know, it might things like malapropisms or, you know or I heard someone a while back sort of said, and I only said this to her and she, and she literally bit my head off. And So she was being funny, but she certainly wasn’t clever,
Paul Boross (58:09):
Brilliant. And finally, Paul desert island gags, you can only take one joke with you to a desert island. What is it?
Paul Boross (58:19):
I dunno. I don’t really do jokes such, but it’s tricks with funny bits and all the rest of it, but I dunno, I’m kind of reminded of, well just cuz recently, Barry Cryer just passed, but one he used and I think I’ve heard Arthur Smith use it as well. So I dunno, probably Barry Cryer wrote it, I would imagine, but it was just a very simple short thing, a guy goes to the doctors and said, I dunno what’s wrong with me. I’ve kind of, I feel very kind of run down. I’ve been shouting at the wife and kids. I’ve been, you know, I’ve lost me appetite. I just got no energy and all rest of it. And um, the doctor said, well, um, you know, you’ve gotta stop masturbating. And he said, why is that? He said, cause I’m trying to examine you.
Paul Boross (59:16):
Oh brilliant. You see what you’ve proved is that you’re full of empathy and mischief. Paul Zenon thank you so much for being our guest on the Humourology podcast. Thank you. The Humurology podcast was hosted by Paul Boross and produced by Simon Banks, music by Steve Haworth, creative direction by Les Hughes and additional research by Helen Sykes. Please remember to subscribe like and leave a review wherever you get your podcasts. This has been a Big Sky production.