PRODUCTION NOTES / Michael Bentine on surviving life and an eight-year run

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The Independent Culture
My show is about the funny things that have happened in my life - worth recounting because they show how an idiot can survive. I've had a very eventful life; I call it my head-on collision with the 20th century.

For instance, I was refused entry into the RAF 11 times and was eventually arrested as a deserter, even though I hadn't even got in at that stage. Or worse, I didn't speak until I was 16: I had to write everything down because of a tonsillectomy performed on me when I was three, on the kitchen table, by a surgeon who must have imbibed rather heavily. I got over it it by learning to write very quickly; I could just about talk to my mother and father and a couple of friends with difficulty.

With a history like that, using humour was the only way you could survive. It was a way of exorcising the terror of life. Imagine me as a little boy, born of an English mother and a South American father, being called 'dago' at school; you need humour to combat that. And by talking about my life in this way, I might help some other poor bastard to exorcise his trauma; laughter is a good medicine.

It does amaze me that I've been doing the show for eight years. But I do keep changing my material all the time. When you do a show and you are recalling the same story every day, it will always come out differently; you remember another aspect of it or you change the order. It's not scripted and you keep adding things as you remember more detail.

Even after eight years, though, you have to rehearse the routines. You've got to pin your material down, but you can't analyse it too much - all comedians that have lasted a long time are instinctive comedians. I talk a lot to myself, most comedians do - you often see them chatting away loudly to themselves in their cars. I'll rehearse anywhere, on the loo is a very good place, it's quiet, you're relaxed and seated and you're doing something useful at the same time.

Michael Bentine in 'From the Ridiculous to the Paranormal' is at the Lyric Theatre, London W1 on 8 May (071-495 5045).