Photograph: Olivia Hemingway
What’s your most impressive personal best?
I wanted to be a 100m sprinter when I was growing up. I can still run pretty fast, I’m 51 now and I smoke twenty Marlboros a day, but I’ve still got that pace. Even in my early forties I was still bowling past my son’s mates, who were in their twenties. I was going to get the world record for the fastest 100m – that was my thing. I did end up getting in the Guinness Book of Records, but it was for saying “cocksucker” a lot – it wasn’t as I’d imagined it, but it was better than nothing. It’s still a record.
I also always win the father’s race at school, I take it far too seriously. A couple of years ago I went to my son’s last year at primary school and I was going to go out in a blaze of glory. We were all lined up and it was in the bag, it is every year. Then suddenly the teacher pulls out this bucket and we had to put little sandbags between our knees, which was a bit of a curveball. The whistle went, everyone jumped and I waddled like a geisha and came last. So that was fucking annoying.
Have you ever pulled a muscle in less than heroic circumstances?
I’ve had my nose broken by my son in the back garden going for a header. It was a beautiful summer’s day, he was about 14 and I’d just shoved him into a rosebush. He was complaining and my famous last words were “No pain, no gain, son.” The ball went in the air, he flicked his head back and completely smashed my nose to pieces.
Have you ever secretly impressed yourself with a feat of strength?
There was a scene in Matilda The Musical (I played Mr Wormwood) where Matilda sticks a hat on my head with super glue. I had to come on stage and struggle to get it off and it was the only scene where I couldn't get a laugh in previews.
One night I went for something more extreme and tried to wrench the hat off by jerking my head up and down really violently about 15 times. It got a massive laugh so I stuck with it for four months despite it hurting like fuck. I ended up displacing a vertebra – that's how addictive getting a laugh is.
I’d been bashing myself about for 47 years by that point so it was the straw that broke the camel's neck, effectively. I’ve got a titanium bolt in my neck now, which I'm very proud of, but I don’t let off alarms at airports which is disappointing. I used to be of this rather foolish ethos that if you don’t put yourself in A&E then you haven’t worked hard enough. But I’ve mellowed somewhat, now...
I had a mate back at college in Nottingham in the ’80s who was going out with a witch. When she first laid eyes on me, she told me that in a former life I had been a leading light in an ancient tribe of Egyptian ascetics who achieved through pain and self harm. I think she might have been right because most of the decent stuff I’ve ever done has left me scarred in some way or another.
What’s your position on kale?
Can you smoke it? I don’t really have an opinion on it. It’s weird how these things happen like that – suddenly aloe vera is in everything and nobody’s ever fucking heard of it the year before. The same with pulled pork, it’s everywhere. I was on the Southbank with my little boy and we ate at a stall with pulled pork baps. The server felt really generous, but you couldn’t see the bun in the polystyrene container, it looked like a rhino had shat in the box. And it kind of put me off it.
Actually, talking about rhinos shitting in boxes – we were coming back from the theatre and we saw a guy shitting on the tube. He looked a bit like Jack Nicholson in The Shining – he took his trousers down and shat like a rhino – you know when it comes out like a brown hose, it goes vertical and then archs, it was fucking horrendous. A Saturday night in London.
What is your guilty pleasure?
Well I guess it’s cigarettes – I still fucking love them. I’ve discovered vaping too, so now I can smoke indoors and outdoors. I go for banana and mint, two different bottles and you mix it up three to one – it freshens your breath and you get one of your five a day. Vaping is just a dream for smokers, it means you can smoke in the bath, putting the kids to bed, at the synagogue, wherever you want. I did give up normal cigarettes for a while but now I’m hammering them both.
What’s the longest you have gone without alcohol in the name of good health?
Seven years, it is now. Prior to that it was 35 years solid, so I did my time but the party’s over...
If you could look like Arnie in his prime tomorrow, would you?
No, I like looking a bit skanky really. I drive this really fucking horrendous £400 Honda Civic which is still going even though it’s kicked to shit. I’ve scratched “c**t” down the side, and I just like it because it reflects who I am. The thought of driving around in a status vehicle, I just find it repulsive, those wanker wagons.
I was in the Tesco car park a few years ago and my wife opened the door and it brushed against this massive tinted 4X4 thing. There was no mark there but this woman came out and she was really looking for something – I said “Look, calm down,” I got my keys out, scratched all the way down my door and said “Shall we call it quits?” She did not know what the fuck had just happened. It just didn’t compute and we just left her there open-mouthed.
Have you ever ‘let yourself go’ at any point in your life?
Well certainly visually yeah, but I’m still thin. And I’m a squatter, I don’t really sit on chairs, I just squat, so I squat on tube platforms and people give me money, which is a nice little sideline. I used to have really long hair and a really long beard – I can’t remember what I grew it for, but I had it for five years. I invented the top-knot, that was Thoros (from Game Of Thrones), you’ve got me to thank for that. Vanity just goes from your life when you have a beard, there’s no point looking in a mirror because you’re just some bearded fucker. It was a revelation, it was wonderful – then suddenly the beard goes and you get all vain again. But as long as my wife fancies me I couldn’t give a shit…
Paul stars in The Comedian’s Guide To Survival, out in cinemas and on digital from October 28, and on DVD from October 31, courtesy of Signature Entertainment. Download on iTunes or pre-order the DVD on amazon.co.uk
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