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We learnt how to terrify Tim Key

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You’re out in New York right now. When Americans ask what you do for a living, how do you respond?

It’s always safest just to say ‘actor’ – they immediately get bored with that and everyone can move on. ‘Comedian’ obviously has its pitfalls because you then have to tell a joke or leave or cry.

And ‘poet’?

If I’m feeling really confident I’ll say poet, just look them straight in the eye: “poet”. There’s not much you can do about that.

You’re very deadpan during your sets, but what’s the last thing you laughed at that you really shouldn’t have?

I went with some mates to see a performance of Schubert in Tubingen, Germany. We’d had a couple of large flagons since buying the tickets, walked in and the chap singing looked just like our friend, but with a very alpine hat on. We were laughing so much that we had to split ourselves up, but that didn’t help. Three of us, in different parts of the theatre, acutely aware the other two were laughing. Nothing to be done. Awful.

What strikes fear into the heart of comedians?

The complete death. It’s a misery that all comedians share. I think that’s why there’s a mutual respect, like I guess there must be between soldiers, or dartboards. Two comedians can look into each other’s eyes and peer into the horrors they have seen. Oh, my skin iced over just answering that. I want to move on to the next question now, I feel sick.

You have a degree in Russian. Teach us a Russian insult.

I don’t think we need to get into insults. An exclamation might be nicer: “Yolki palki!” It’s their equivalent of ‘fiddlesticks’. “Poshel na khui” is your more insulting one. “Off you go to the dick”, I guess.

Politics in 2017 is a complete shitheap. Is it a blessing or a curse for comedians?

I don’t see it as my area, weirdly. I had to come up with stuff when I was working on Charlie Brooker’s show and I was unbelievably out of my depth – I’ll just continue to focus my stuff on tenpin bowling and seeds and people having some trouble.

Who’s had the best take on it all, do you think?

I watched John Oliver recording his show in New York. He shoots his satirical pistol pretty accurately. It’s the people who sum it all up in a couple of well-chosen sentences that I like. Stewart Lee, James Acaster, and I saw Josie Long a few weeks ago – she had some funny stuff on it.

Can you tell us anything about the new Alan Partridge series that Steve Coogan confirmed will be coming this year?

No I cannot. Optimistically I would say yes it’s all go and I’m heavily involved. Realistically I’d say I might be involved and you never know and I’m at their disposal should they require me.

Summer is threatening to break through – what manly role will you take up at the barbecue?

I had a barbecue the other day, actually. I lit it and didn’t return to it until my friend Lenny had cooked all of the meat. I’m not a very territorial barbecue-er. Barbecues also need people who are prepared to watch the football and eat Twiglets and then rub their hands together and say “now then” when they’re called through. Lenny badly burnt the chicken skewers but I said nothing, just grimaced, munched and silently plodded back to the football.

You don’t strike us as the type of man who thrives under the blazing sun…

I can handle it. I am a pale little boy but I can usually duck into Prets enough that I don’t burn up too much. I’ve now got four pairs of shades – I don’t think I’ve ever gone into a summer so stacked, sunglasses-wise, so I’m optimistic. I won’t be squinting like in summers gone by. Also, no beard this year, so interested to get a bit of colour on my chin.

When would you say your beard salad days were? Your late-2014 set-up is a strong Action Bronson-esque contender.

I had a good contender last week but then carved the thing off. It was down to my upper chest and I had started munching on it in times of crisis. Now I am clean-shaven, I look 19 again except for my lank hair, my grey, tired eyes and my blackened teeth. The 2014 set-up was, as you say, a great period. I went to a wedding like that. Hugely disrespectful. The bride in particular had some problems with it.

Tim Key will be performing at Latitude Festival (13-16 Jul); latitudefestival.com

(Image: Rex)

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