Exclusive Interview

NMP Live Meets Jon Culshaw

NMP Live meets star of Dead Ringers and Spitting Image, Jon Culshaw.

Regarded as one of the most versatile impressionists in the UK Jon shared his career highlights and reveals how he perfects his impressions.

Watch the full interview or read the transcript below.

In conversation with Jon Culshaw

What was it like working on Spitting Image and that era of comedy?

Ah Spitting Image in the 90s. I joined in 1994. It was my first job on television and a very interesting time. [John’s voice] John Major was the Prime Minister, yes and he would speak in this very amiable manner in this sort of, sometimes [Michael’s voice] if you made him a bit too aggressive, he’d go into Michael Caine and then you go back to John Major and then [Julian’s voice] if he went to be too fluffy he’d turn into Julian Clary.

[Own voice] And that sort of spawned this thing that many impressionists talk about, voice neighbours, where one merges into another.

Very interesting time in the 90s. [Victor’s voice] I think Victor Meldrew was the biggest sort of character in the BBC One canon at that time and there he would be talking in a million miles an hour and you'd never think he'd stop and he'd be completing the sentence at this great, great speed and he'd never run out of oxygen until right at the end when he’d sort of sound like that. [Own voice] They were exhausting characters but very interesting.

Nothing defines an era more than the people who the impressionists choose to do, those front of mind type of characters, the big recognisable ones.

What are some of your career highlights?

After Spitting Image, I moved to London and did quite a lot of work on Capital Radio, working with Steve Penk. I did that phone call where I [William’s voice] pretended to be William Hague and was put through to the then Prime Minister Tony Blair. Yes, that wonderful accent of William Hague where you have a pint of mild or many of them.

[Own voice] Then I worked with Radio 1 quite a lot with Chris Moyles and Dead Ringers started then on Radio 4, twenty years ago, topical comedy show, a satire show that used impersonations as the way it communicated. And this is the time that [Tony’s voice] Tony Blair first became Prime Minister, setting a new tone altogether hahaha, Alistair Campbell up on the wall there, hello, hahaha.

[Own voice] That just really kicked the door down in terms of characters, very strident, very different to [John’s voice] John Major who had gone before. Then it led us to the time of [in their voices] George W, Russell Crowe another great character at that time, yeah also Ricky Gervais, yeah okay that was one of those when Dead Ringers moved to TV yeah, oh disrespectful, okay.

[Own voice] Dead Ringers moved to TV in 2002 which was lovely apart from you could then do, apart from the satire and the topicality, all the visual jokes. You could bring in [Ozzy’s voice] Ozzy Osbourne sort of like that feeling he brings to the world or [Russell’s voice] the scowling of Russell Crowe or [Ricky’s voice] okay the twitches of Ricky Gervais yeah, oh little glance to camera, hmm. [Own voice] It did open it all up.

I did a series on ITV, The Impressionable Jon Culshaw, also Newzoids, Headcases, sort of very caricatured, animation, topical comedy shows; 2d TV was another one.

It was [Michael’s voice] a great honour appearing on the Parkinson Show, chairs very similar to this one, and of course you're very nervous being on the Parkinson Show because of all of the great characters who've appeared on there before you, you know. [Own voice] Parky is so skilled; the first time he asks a question, he's so relaxed and so skilled he just turns off any nervousness straight away, that was a lovely show to do.

The Royal Variety Performance 2001 and 2002. It's interesting being that nervous. I did a birthday show for the Prince's Trust in honour of the Prince of Wales’s birthday and [Prince Charles’s voice] of course Prince Charles does the line-up, yes I was very grateful that you went easy on me, you didn't impersonate me, to think the cufflink fiddle, cufflink fiddle, then off he goes. And then Prince Harry was also there [Prince Harry’s voice] and he said I can't believe, you totally should have gone for him, can't believe you didn't do that. 

How do you keep on top of the latest characters?

Keeping track on all the characters, all the new ones that come along, you never have to go looking for them. They are always there, just when you're casually watching the news someone will appear, [Donald’s voice] of course we have the Donald he is usually the character who most of us will do first in the act, very soon, straightaway, very smart guy, very smart. It gives you neck ache, all that turning. [Boris’ voice] Of course Boris, as well so obvious, ya pa ya, reaching out in this way I don't know whether he is trying to fend off adversaries or pleading to be rescued fe pa faf faf. Noises are more effective with Boris than actual words. [Boris’ voice] I find the adopt your Neandertals stoop and fe pa paf paf.

[Own voice] So those are usually the characters you go to first and you never have to look out for those new characters. It's a bit like a game of chess, you're always thinking two, three moves ahead, wondering who's going to come next and you're looking for all of those interesting characters on the horizon. those that are most characterful.

[Richard’s voice] Richard Burgon, Labour politician, he sounds like someone off Gogglebox, so you know if he sort of adopts a more prominent position, you know that might be quite interesting. [Robert’s voice] Robert Peston is also very interesting, talking as though he's been recorded on a tape machine that’s not working properly. [Jeremy’s voice] And of course very similar to Jeremy Vine, two gears, this is sort of the tone for those very sensitive stories, but then he'll go all outlandish, the body language very still so the voice can dance about.

[Own voice] Peston and Jeremy Vine are rather like, some years ago you had the characters Alan Whicker, David Frost, Jeremy Vine and Robert Peston are in today's category for that. Like every DJ's got to have the Beatles in their record collection, every impersonator needs those along with Boris and Trump in their box.

Are some voices harder to master?

Certain characters, it takes a little longer to get to know them. Kier Starmer, I think he's in that process now where he's being decoded, [Kier’s voice] he's quite still, a little bit bunged up, sounds like he needs to be almost second class return to Nottingham please, but not quite. [Own voice] So, he's under decoding, he's under review, we'll work out what's funny there. But really what you're looking for are those things you can exaggerate and stretch to make funny, those little absurd things about people that perhaps the audience don't realize that they've noticed about those people.

You're looking for those to stretch, so you have an element of surprise and you have ‘oh yes they do that, they do that.’ 
I noticed, [Simon’s voice] Simon Cowell quite sibilant, always this kind of sort of choppy hand gesture, he says ‘you know what I think we found a star here, I think that was really good and these are my teeth, made by Armitage Shanks, who are a manufacturer of bathrooms.’ 

What do you enjoy the most about corporate bookings?

With a corporate booking, I love them because it's like gate-crashing someone else's industry for one night only. And you get to know the team, you get to know how they work together, the things they talk about; you just sort of get the sense of what's going on. And you learn things about industries you had no idea of before. It's like a day trip into someone else's industry. 

I always like to join in for the dinner, just to get to know everybody, get the sense of the room, get the atmosphere, so that when you go on the stage you're not a stranger, you're part of the team, you're part of the family. And you'll have noticed little things that can work in, you might have noticed the chairperson, the boss, making the speech, you can copy that which the crowds always love when you do that, that goes a long way. 

It's very rewarding and they're very well prepared these events, the production teams who put them on technically and so on, they do make it easy for you. So, I will join for the dinner, get up there do my 20-minute comedy routine, straight into the awards and make the crowd feel special. Any particular award ceremony is probably the Oscars for that industry, perhaps the biggest event in the entire year. So, you've got to make that team feel special, you've got to elevate that feeling and give some pace and some punch and do that in a friendly way.

I always like it when at the end of a do if people say thank you so much, that was absolutely, thank you, to leave them happy then I find that very rewarding.

If you're interested in booking Jon Culshaw you can enquire online, email us or pick up the phone and speak to one of our experienced booking agents. For further information about Jon Culshaw view his profile here.

 

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