I used to listen to BBC Radio 4 at my desk at work. Sometimes it got too distracting and I had to turn it off, but I always made time for—and would sometimes schedule my day around—the show Just A Minute. It’s a hilarious show in which four panelists are given subjects to talk about for a full minute without hesitation, repetition, or deviation. And from the very first episode Paul Merton, whose birthday is today, stood out to me. That’s partly because I remembered him from the original Whose Line Is It Anyway, but he’s also one of the best players and most frequent guests—only Sir Clement Freud outnumbers him in appearances.
Some comedians like to work solo, but, as Merton said when he was interviewed for Richard Herring’s Leicester Square podcast, he’s never been comfortable working on stage alone. That explains why most of his work—and why he’s at his funniest—when he’s improvising with others. He’s also a scholar of comedy, having written a book on early silent film stars. For Paul Merton comedy is a conversation.
Here’s a great episode of the TV version of Just A Minute from a few years ago, and the best part about YouTube is you don’t have to schedule anything around it.