Tim Vine: Down the barrel of a pun

While Jeremy Vine looks to step into David Frost's shoes, his brother Tim is a record-breaking comedian known as the 'Joke Machine Gun'. Julian Hall dodges the flying wisecracks

When you prepare to meet the man dubbed as the "Joke Machine Gun", the current world-record-holder for the most amount of jokes told in an hour, you brace yourself for an assault of incessant gags. Even with his answerphone message, Tim Vine doesn't miss a track: "This is Tim Vine. I'll keep this answer message very short [click]."

When you prepare to meet the man dubbed as the "Joke Machine Gun", the current world-record-holder for the most amount of jokes told in an hour, you brace yourself for an assault of incessant gags. Even with his answerphone message, Tim Vine doesn't miss a track: "This is Tim Vine. I'll keep this answer message very short [click]."

But on the day I meet him, Vine is rather more subdued and pensive than his eager stage persona. Wearing a baseball cap and unshaven, he apologises for looking like a tramp. Divested of headgear and sitting down in a restaurant, Vine is more at ease but fighting shy of unbridled mirth. "If I wasn't in a public place, I might have been a bit stupid," he admits. "I'm always like that in radio interviews, so I've let you off."

Vine entered the record books last year, beating the previous holder, Estonian Erkki Kolu, with 499 gags such as these: "So I was getting into my car, and this bloke says to me, 'Can you give me a lift?' I said, 'Sure: you look great; the world's your oyster; go for it.'"

And: "So I went down my local ice-cream shop and said, 'I want to buy an ice cream.' He said, 'Hundreds and thousands?' I said, 'We'll start with one.' He said, 'Knickerbocker glory?' I said, 'I do get a certain amount of freedom in these trousers, yes.'"

Or: "Apparently, one in five people in the world are Chinese. And there are five people in my family, so it must be one of them. It's either my mum or my dad. Or my older brother, Colin. Or my younger brother, Ho-Chan-Chu. But I think it's Colin."

"You're going to ask: 'Is it art?'" Vine says. "It's not something I would fix an audience with. I thought twice about having it on the tour poster and being known for that for ever and a day. My act does seem to have gone that way, though, and I don't really know why. But people did enjoy the record attempt - they laughed." And how important those laughs were, given that the record rules actually require a laugh after every joke for it to count. "I told the audience that we were all in it together," Vine adds, "but the laughter was genuine. There was no way they could have kept that up for longer than five minutes if they weren't enjoying it."

A few years before the record attempt was dreamt up, Vine's output gained notoriety for a different reason when a large number of his jokes were attributed to the late Tommy Cooper in an e-mail that went around the world. "I remember talking to a comedian in Australia who was saying how great Cooper was and then started quoting my jokes back at me." There were plenty of unwelcome reminders back home, too: "It was annoying at the time. Chris Evans would be reading them out on his radio show, or Richard Whiteley on Countdown, all unattributed to me."

Vine is now a little flattered by the episode, but Cooper is not on the highest rung of the comic influences he chooses to name - though there are plenty of nods to the old school, as you would expect from a comic with his traditional feel. Among them are Jackie Mason, Frankie Howerd, Larry Grayson, Norman Collier ("I did a gig with him recently), Basil Brush ("Not so much now, but I still like his attitude") and Jimmy Cricket. "I know Jimmy and his family quite well. He's an absolutely inspirational person; his enthusiasm for the whole thing still is fantastic. You ask him how he is, and he'll reply, 'Happy to be in show business.' I'd love to still have that attitude at his age."

Phil Silvers also figures on Vine's list of favourites. He has fond memories of his dad waking him up late at night so that they could watch Sgt Bilko together. In fact, childhood memories are never far away for the comedian. "I'm still a home boy: I live a few miles from my mum and dad, in Cheam. My house is a bit like a teenager's bedroom. The kind of pictures you have hanging up on your wall say a lot about you. I've got ones of Evel Knievel, Elvis and Starsky and Hutch, signed by David Soul." It's this deliberately prolonged childhood that keeps Vine in the parallel universe where his jokes live: "It's the real world, just spelt differently," he says.

It is a case of parallel Vines when it comes to his relationship with his brother, Jeremy, the broadcaster who took over from Jimmy Young on Radio 2, shared the limelight with Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight and is tipped to succeed David Frost on his Sunday-breakfast slot. Although the age difference is less than two years (Tim is 37; Jeremy, 39), the comedian concedes: "He's more grown-up. I'm essentially making a living from mucking about; his is a more sensible route. The other day, I was doing this joke where I was asking: 'Is it possible to change the world?' and I say, 'Yes, I've changed the world', and I take out this cube-shaped world. When I was cutting up the box to make it and sticking the map to the sides of it, I thought, 'This is my job - it's ridiculous, but I love it."

With Jeremy interviewing those who shape the world and Tim using sticky tape to do that, it's not likely that you will see their paths cross on television. Tim's credits so far include Channel 5's quizzes Whittle and Fluke, BBC 1's Housemates and Challenge TV's clip-compilation show Fort Boyard Takes on the World. But the former Perrier Newcomer claims to be happy with his career: "All the things I've done have been great, really. I've been in a few bands [including one called Flare Generation, with Jeremy], done bits of acting, presented game shows, hosted a chat show for a week [ The Jack Doherty Show], appeared in a short film. I just feel like I've done lots and lots of different things. In fact, the only two things left for me to do now are win an Oscar and read the news. Oh, and have a hit single in the chart - that would complete the set."

Tim Vine tours to 28 May ( www.timvine.com)

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