America’s Got Talent winner ventriloquist Paul Zerdin comes to New Theater Royal in Portsmouth | Big maintenance



Paul Zerdin performing live.  Photo by Steve Ullathorne
Paul Zerdin performing live. Photo by Steve Ullathorne

But given that the ventriloquist won America’s Got Talent and built a successful career, he’s not faring too badly.

And now he’s on tour with his new show, Hands Free, which arrives at the New Theater Royal in Portsmouth on October 1.

Over the summer Paul, who is British and lives in Wimbledon, returned to the gig after the longest break of his career.

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When we speak, he just finished a series of shows in Blackpool, “so I feel great!” he says.

“It was a family version of the new show, where I worked on the new material over the summer, so when I start the tour properly, everything works.”

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He also appeared here at the Catherington Comedy Festival, near Horndean.

Hands Free by Paul Zerdin is at the New Theater Royal, Portsmouth on October 1, 2021. Photo by Steve Ullathorne

“It was a great concert – I was also trying new things there.

“I walked through the whole store, I was at a festival in Norwich the week before.

“You can see that there is a real public hunger for the live shows – they have been well prepared for it. “

The last time Paul took the stage was Christmas 2020 as part of the all-star cast in Pantoland at the Palladium in London, alongside Julian Clary, Nigel Havers, Gary Wilmot, Ashley Banjo & Diversity and Beverley Knight.

Paul Zerdin with Sam, Albert and baby. Photo by Steve Ullathorne

“The Palladium had been advised that they would be exempt from the shutdown – even if everywhere else were to close, so we felt pretty comfortable as it was coming from above.

“And then when we closed after six shows, we were all like,” Oh, that’s right. “

“Well obviously there is a pandemic and as we know the government keeps changing its mind on things so we had to swallow it like they say.

“It was a shock, not only from the point of view of not being on stage, but also of just working and financially – not having an income.

“It was all a weird situation – but creatively it meant I had more time to work on stuff, and I was!”

For the new show, former favorites Sam, Albert and Baby are joined by Roger the bodyguard and an urban fox.

Has he ever found himself talking to puppets in the past 18 months?

“You know I don’t think they’re real, do you?” He berates.

“These are just props – I don’t talk to them offstage unless I’m rehearsing.”

He says it is only during the latter part of the rehearsal process that he uses the puppets.

“Most of the time I write material and I write with about four other people, then once I’m satisfied I start learning it, then I go out and try it.

“If that doesn’t work or needs tweaking – that’s what I’ve been doing all summer… but I tend not to talk to them when I’m home alone I’m happy to. to say it.”

The tour was originally scheduled for the spring of this year, so it was “only” postponed only once to this fall.

“I normally tour in the fall anyway – I try to do a new show every two years, so that just feels right because it’s been two years since my last tour.

“I don’t think we’re out of the woods yet, though.

“I don’t think things will be closed again, I think people have just had enough.

“I think we just have to keep going now.

“Everyone needs the immunization and we can go on living. You just have to be careful.

“In Blackpool you could feel there was a general feeling of being back to normal, which is what everyone I think is feeling in the world.

Like many ventriloquists, Paul has formed “relationships” with his puppets over the years.

Cheeky kid Sam first appeared around 25 years ago with Albert and his selective senility, and Baby shortly thereafter.

Paul adds: “It takes a long time for these characters to evolve.

“The character of Fox and Roger the bodyguard, they took a long time.

“I used them on the last tour and I was still tweaking them throughout this because I wasn’t happy with them.

“I went back to the drawing board with them and started over.

“I’ve been using them all summer and the Blackpool audience especially the family audience the kids will tell you if they’re bored!

“You’ll know if you tick all the boxes, because they’ll be entertained by all the characters and all the gear.

“There is a character, I won’t name which, because they’re in the neighborhood and they could hear, there was one that didn’t quite cut him off with the crowd of kids, so I made sure to polish it up. this as the best I could.

“I feel like we’re in a good position now, but it takes a long time to find a voice.

“You have to know more about them, where they’re from, what they’re talking about, then once you know that it’s easier to write for them.”

Paul recounts how he and his writers had to familiarize themselves with “urban speaking” in order to write successfully for The Fox.

“I have another writer friend who is brilliant at doing this kind of urban talk, and he helped me, almost like a dialect coach.

“So we all got together, and then the other writer said, ‘Okay, I get it now.’ When you understand this, it is easier to write for this character.

Paul knew from an early age that he wanted to enter “a show-off world” after receiving Sesame Street puppets and a magical ensemble as a gift.

But it wasn’t until he got a book on ventriloquism at 14 that he had his blistering moment.

“I was a huge Jim Henson and Frank Oz fan and I knew I wanted to do something in this world, but I couldn’t really know what.

“Then I saw a ventriloquist on TV and realized that’s it – I can be involved and not hide under the table as a puppeteer!” “

From there he would do hours and learn the trade.

“It takes a long time to learn how to be a ventriloquist, and once you’ve learned the basic skills of talking without moving your lips, you have to be a comedian too – and that has to be funny.

“Comedy is the most important thing – you can be technically the biggest ventriloquist, but if it’s not funny you’re just an adult standing on stage chatting with yourself, which is strange.

“And I point it out every now and then on the show …”

Although he has appeared on television before, it was when he won ITV’s Big Big Talent Show in 1996, which propelled him to national fame.

He has worked steadily since then, but winning America’s Got Talent in 2015 jumpstarted his career.

But why go to America for that?

Paul explains, “Most of… Got Talent’s shows are open to anyone, anywhere.

“You could be an amateur, you could be a professional. As long as you are entertained.

“I had gone as far as I felt in this country.

‘I had been trying to start my own TV show for about 20-25 years, since I won a talent show on ITV with Jonathan Ross in the 90s, I appeared in TV shows, TV shows. entertainment, royal variety shows, stand-up shows over the years, but I’ve never been able to have my own show so I was a little frustrated.

“I thought, okay, well America seems to be more inclined to my kind of entertainment, so I got into the show.

“I thought if it doesn’t work it’s a different country, it doesn’t matter, no one will know.

“Forget the Internet and the fact that everyone knows everything all the time! Fortunately it went well.

“So I did a tour of America and I did a stint in Vegas and I made the most of it. I would love to go back to America because it is a beautiful country and an amazing place.

“But it’s nice to be home and to be able to shoot. To be honest, it’s nice to go out anywhere … ‘

Paul Zerdin: Hands Free is at the New Theater Royal, Portsmouth on Friday October 1 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets £ 23. Go to

A message from the editor, Mark Waldron

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