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‘I don’t know how to write a funny joke’ – comedian Tim Vine on silly wordplay & sea weather

Tim Vine recently sailed with Ambassador Cruise Line as a comedian on the adult-only brand’s comedy-themed cruise – Sailawaze caught up with him off the coast of Norway.

Words by Harriet Mallinson

Tim Vine has firmly acknowledged the elephant in the room – only this one’s head lifts clean off.

Towel animals are just one aspect of a cruise holiday that the 56-year-old English comedian enjoys. “My cabin steward can do 20 different types!” Vine exclaims in awe, admitting he himself could probably only rustle up a snake – “at a push.”

Cruising has “got an enormous amount going for it,” Vine – famous for his stand-up one-liners and role in sitcom Not Going Out – enthuses. “You’ve got everything you want in terms of stuff to do on the ship.”

“I like the way they organise things: ‘We’re playing deck quoits in half an hour!’ or ‘Come and play carpet bowls,’” the funny man says of the Ambassador experience.

Tim Vine develops a particular penchant for the vegetable carving sessions and chuckles at how fellow comedians Tommy Cannon and Duncan Norvelle [pictured below with Vine] are pitted against the garnished greens in the activity-packed entertainment schedule one sea day.

The social element to cruising also appeals, as does travelling to multiple destinations in one holiday. “You wake up every morning, draw the curtains and you’re somewhere else – I love that,” grins Vine. Meanwhile, food is “great” but proves a double-edged sword on the weight gain front – “The eight-meals-a-day thing is bonkers!”

Indeed, Tim Vine considers cruise holidays “unfairly depicted as an old person’s pursuit” and he would even consider joining the folks who live on ships, he says…were it not for the small issue of the weather.

“I’m not a big fan of weather at sea,” Vine confides. It’s not seasickness so much as “all that bouncing up and down,” he grimaces. I point out that cruising very rarely encounters such inclement conditions but then Vine has explored some pretty exotic destinations, enduring “big swells” in the Azores – “You feel like you’ve been pinned to the bed!” – and the notoriously bad weather of the Atlantic’s Bay of Biscay.

The comic recalls once meeting a cruise ship engineer to whom a passenger had reported water coming down one of the stairs; the engineer replied, “You want to worry when the water is going up the stairs!”

Vine guffaws at the memory – indeed, just as one might hope of a comedian, most of what he has to say is entertaining – and it’s nigh impossible not to laugh along with him. At 6ft 2, with a twinkle in his eye and a lip twitching for the next bon mot, there’s something undeniably avuncular about this guy.

His one-liner-stuffed act is gloriously wholesome too (although not for everyone – one pair of Ambassador guests I speak to brand his comedy ridiculous and escape from the theatre within the first 10 minutes of his onboard act).

“It’s very childish, it’s clean,” Vine says of his oeuvre; rude gags and swearing just “wouldn’t fit” with what he does.

Nevertheless, despite his “silly wordplay” thus far escaping any cancel culture concerns, Tim Vine admits that even his “harmless stuff” from decades ago still needs updating. Controversial accents have been eradicated from his wisecracks, for instance, as has a bit where he comes onto the stage with a skull on his shoulder, quipping, “I used to be a Siamese twin, but my brother died.”

The latter would garner “massive laughs” but when one day someone said they were offended by the joke, Vine – perhaps being “oversensitive” – decided to axe it altogether. “A lot has changed in 30 years,” he adds.

One joke that remains, however, goes: “I was on a flight and, halfway through, the airline pilot was replaced by a Chinese waiter. The Chinese waiter came out over the tannoy system and said, ‘As we begin our descent, I’m not going to turn off all the cabin lights I’m just going to dim sum.’”

“Nothing wrong with that, was there?” sallies Vine.

Despite his witty aura, Vine’s hilarious one-liners don’t necessarily come easily to him. “The truth is, I don’t know how to write a funny joke,” the comedian explains. “Because if I knew how to write a funny joke, that’s all I would write, I wouldn’t bother writing the rubbish ones. What I do know how to do is write a joke.”

The trick, he goes on, is to force yourself to “sit down and write anything” rather than always waiting for inspiration to strike. “You just say to yourself, I’m going to write 10 jokes in the next hour… then you’re opening the creative gates.”

He refuses to be drawn on how his funniness compares to Not Going Out co-star and fellow comedian Lee Mack [pictured above with Katy Wix], however. “Comedy is purely subjective,” he insists. Miranda Hart? I venture (the actress also starred in the show). “It’s not a competition!” he chortles.

Mulling it over, though, Tim Vine adds that perhaps, if you were to get mathematical about comparisons, you could “measure the size of the laughs or the number of laughs.”

But then again, that’s precisely the sort of thing someone who broke the Guinness world record for the most jokes told in an hour (449 back in 2014) would say.

Published 05.10.23