Looking like a slightly older, rounder and more baffled version of Harry Potter, Paul Merton has perfected a unique brand of comedy we might call 'confused deadpan'. He certainly rules the roost on Have I Got News For You, though a certain Mr Hislop may beg to differ.
You wouldn't want to go head-to-head in a battle of witty wordplay with Mr Merton. A stalwart of British telly for over 20 years, Paul's great with a script but - let's face it - he really comes into his own with spontaneous witticisms, delivering the sort of off-the-cuff one-liners that most comedy writers can only dream about. Paul excels at satirical humour, but he's equally at home with the surreal. He loves to take hold of a subject and stretch it to its limits, often taking it into the realm of the absurd.
It was a long road to stardom for Paul. At school he failed his eleven-plus, and received an unclassified grade for metal work at CSE before moving on to Wimbledon College. Paul then took a job at Tooting Employment Office where he stayed for seven years - he must have liked it a lot. Despite that, in 1982 Paul finally broke into the world of comedy (The Comedy Store in London to be precise) and never looked back. He's been a member of the improv group The Comedy Store Players since 1985, and still regularly performs with them.
Paul's big telly break came with the improvisation show Whose Line Is It Anyway? And by 1988 he was a regular on the show and, just two years after that, Have I Got News For You made him a household name. He's also worked behind the camera, penning gags for colleagues, such as Julian Clary's Sticky Moments show. It's hard to imagine the British comedy landscape without Merton now.
In 1999 Merton took over from Nick Hancock as the host of Room 101, hosting a whopping sixty-four episodes, and making a Room 101 first when he invited Ian Hislop back onto the show. Quite at home in the presenter's chair, Merton was then chosen over (a not-so-smug) Hislop to host the first episode of Have I Got News For You, after the not so discreet departure of Angus Deayton. Not one to let sleeping dogs lie (hence his success as host of Room 101), Merton ridiculed Deayton for the way in which his life had turned into some sort of soap opera, replaying his final HIGNFY goodnight to the theme tune of Eastenders. Deayton claimed he would be watching this episode from behind his sofa – hopefully, for his sake, with the sound down.
Merton's famous confused expression – similar to the face we pull when we spot Easter eggs in the supermarkets at Christmas – seems to be directly linked to his passion for silent comedy and, bizarrely, clowns. In fact, he's studied these subjects so intensely, he's become somewhat of an expert on the careers of the likes of Charlie Chaplin and Laurel and Hardy. Now we bet you didn't know that.
Merton has multiple awards under his belt, including winning a BAFTA in 2003 for Best Entertainment Performance as well as winning Best Non-Acting Performer in 2004 for his work on Have I Got News For You. We imagine it is for these awards Merton is hoping he will be remembered for, instead of his appearance as one of the Ugly Sisters in ITV's Christmas pantomime, Cinderella. We're not making any promises – heck, the guy was wearing stockings!