Ahead of his return to the Radlett Centre next week, ventriloquist and comedian Paul Zerdin talks to Rosy Moorhead about puppet hangovers, Sesame Street and onstage marriage counselling.

Are your puppets with you now?

No! They’re in a case at the bottom of a pile and they don’t get an airing until we get into the venue. And no, I don’t speak to the puppets when I’m off stage! Having said that though, I went to a ventriloquists’ convention in the US and they walk around with their puppets on their arms and they’re checking in with the dummies, saying ‘Can we have a room for two, please?’ A ventriloquists’ convention is the place I go to feel sane.

Tell me about the show.

This is definitely for grown-ups. It’s not particularly rude but there’s a few topics I discuss with Sam, my dummy, who’s coming to terms with a puppet hangover after getting pissed being out with all the famous puppets. For adults I can explore more topics, especially with the old man puppet, Sam’s granddad, he’s 85 and losing his marbles, he’s still chasing the women, he just can’t remember why.

What’s this I hear about audience participation?

I get a married couple out of the audience and they become my new puppets and it turns out they’re having marital problems. They’ve got these masks over their mouths which are radio-controlled so their mouths are moving, I’m voicing them but I’m not on stage.

Do you feel you have to add edgy new elements like the animatronic masks to your show to make ventriloquism attractive to modern audiences?

I think it used to be that ventriloquism wasn’t seen as very cool but I don’t think it’s true any more. It’s stand up comedy but it’s a bit different. But we have this state-of-the-art technology at our disposal and I think it’s nice to use a bit of it.

How did you get into ventriloquism?

I had always been interested in puppets and magic, and particularly Sesame Street, that was probably my biggest influence. I made my parents buy me these Sesame Street characters for birthday and Christmas presents and I also got a box of magic tricks one year – I knew from then on that I wanted to go in show business. I wasn’t interested in school work whatsoever!

Who was your first puppet?

He was a clown called Bimbo! I’ve still got him, he’s in bits in my loft in a bag with all my other early puppets.

What advice would you give to anyone interested in ventriloquism?

You’ve got to practise. But the most important thing is that you’ve got to be funny. Because if you’re not funny you’re just a bloke on stage talking to yourself, and no-one wants to see that.

  • The Paul Zerdin Show is at the Radlett Centre, Aldenham Avenue, Radlett on Saturday, October 25 at 7.30pm. Details: 01923 859291, radlettcentre.co.uk