Comedy: Adrian Mole meets Emo Phillips

He admires Frankie Howerd and Harry Hill, and inhabits an eccentric world bursting with surreal humour. Paul Foot, High Wycombe refugee and Oxford maths graduate, could also be the next big thing in comedy

Paul Foot has obviously never heard the old adage about good things coming to those who wait - in the 18 months since his first impromptu gig, the 23-year-old from High Wycombe has won the BBC New Stand-up Award, the Daily Telegraph Open Mic Award and made the final of So You Think You're Funny.

Caroline Aherne described his semi-surreal style as "simply brilliant" while his vulnerable and slightly camp stage persona has drawn comparisons with Charles Hawtrey.

Foot's rapid ascent began at Merton College, Oxford, where he was, by his own admission, "a very dull maths student". His freestyle delivery evolved from his debut performance. "I ad-libbed in my very first gig," he reveals, "because I didn't have any material." After graduation in 1995 he started doing open mic slots at venues such as the Cosmic Comedy Club, the Comedy Cafe and "little clubs that no-one's ever heard of and have probably shut by now". The essence of his appeal is in the slightly warped, little-boy-lost routine, Adrian Mole crossed with Emo Phillips. "I have to work out how to translate ad-libbing into what makes people laugh," he reflects. "Every comedian has their own world which is a bit removed from reality, so I have to work out how to bring the audience into that." Foot's world must be an odd place to live. His troubled relationship with his (presumably) fictional girlfriend Cecilia is an ongoing theme. Something as simple as Foot sitting on the merry-go-round holding her hand is given a unlikely twist - Cecilia running in circles around the outside with her arm going up and down. On their first date, Foot confesses he was nervous: "Instead of saying `Hello', I said `Beware! There are wolves in the forest of Babylon who will bite you.'"

This imaginative escapism stems, perhaps, from his childhood in High Wycombe, a place inhabited by bored provincial youths hanging around bus- stops with little to do between puberty and their 17th birthday. Boy-racers are examined through the eyes of a deranged effete. "I may not be the world's best lover... but I am a dangerous driver." A glorious line straight from adolescent suburbia.

Of the older generation of comedians, Foot picks out Frankie Howerd, Victoria Wood and Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em as favourites, and of his contemporaries, admires Harry Hill. Despite his early success, Foot is realistic: "It doesn't matter if you win competitions or not - all comedians are on a journey. It's an apprenticeship and I need hundreds more gigs before I can move on." Which can only be good news in an industry badly in need of a fresh talent like his.

Paul Foot is at Bound and Gagged at the Tufnell Park Tavern (0171-483 3456) tonight and Ha Bloody Ha Ealing Broadway at Harvey Floorbangers (0181-566 4067) 7 Nov

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