Paul Merton was born Paul Martin on the 17th of January 1957 in Parson's Green, London, England. His mother was a nurse and his father a train driver on the London Underground. They all shared a flat in London with Paul's grandfather, who, when Paul's mother returned to work after giving birth to Paul's younger sister, looked after the two children. The flat in which they all lived was in Merton, which is why Paul later changed his surname to Merton when he registered with Equity.
Even though Paul is quite shy, he has always been interested in showbiz. His mother remembers when he was 2 years of age standing in front of the television with a knitting needle pretending to conduct the Joe Loss Orchestra. Merton himself can't remember a time when he didn't want to make people laugh and can remember perfoming to imaginary audiences when no-one was looking around the age of three.
When Paul was 8, his dad was transferred from the London underground to Morden in Surrey. Paul attended a Roman Catholic school and says of this time,
"My academic career peaked when I was about eight years old thanks to a very good teacher called Mrs Gately who encouraged my interest in English."
Just after this, his teacher changed, and he was taught by a very strict nun who didn't appreciate Paul's blossoming creative skills. He was asked to write an essay about what he did in the summer holidays and started writing a piece which slowly went awry.
"Me and my family went to Littlehampton. It was very nice. A spaceship landed. I got on the spaceship and went to the moon. It was very cold."
For this, the nun told him off in front of the class, which only served to make the other children follow by his example.
Paul later said about this occasion,
"It just seemed to me so wrong-headed but, when you're eight years old and there's a nun telling you that everything you feel is right for you is totally wrong, then that is a bit disturbing."
Paul failed his 11 plus exam and went on to Wimbledon College, a local comprehensive school. Whilst there he became an avid fan of "The Goon Show" and told his friends that he wanted to be a comedian. This alienated him from his peers and led to him making friends with John Irwin who had similar interests. Merton still writes scripts with him to this day. In 1979 they bought a maisonette in ill repair located in West Norwood, South London.
After school, Merton worked at Tooting job centre for 10 years. He found it good fun as he didn't have to ask any awkward questions to unemployed people, but realised that if he stayed there any longer he would be working there all his life. Because of this, he waited for the next February 29th to work it's way around, and resigned. he did this so he could never forget the date his new life started.
The Comedy Store
In April 1982, Merton finally plucked up the courage to try his hand at standup at The Comedy Store, a comedy venue above a strip club in Soho, London. He lied his way on stage the first night, and by the second or third night he had managed to find his own style, a dead pan humour, with a couldn't-care-less attitude. He still performs with the Comedy Store Players to this day.
"I had this thing about comedians who laughed at their own jokes. If the loudest laughs are coming from the comic, then something's gone wrong somewhere."
From then on he read "Time Out" to find new comedy venues where he could perform his slightly surreal humour. When he found a new venue, he asked them for work and told them that he had already performed at The Comedy Store which had a reputation for having an audience which as difficult to please.
From then on work became more frequent. In 1983, "The Entertainers" on Channel 4 had Paul Martin in the credits. Paul also appeared as a peasant in "The Young Ones" on BBC2, and was a writer on the third series of "Alas Smith and Jones".
Bad fortune struck in 1986 though when Merton was mugged on Lothian Road whilst volunteering to help a friend at Edinburgh Festival by helping them to advertise their show by putting up posters. In 1987 again whilst at the Fringe festival Merton broke his leg. Whilst in hospital he had a pulminary embolism and contracted hepatits A. He was in Edinburgh this time for his first one man show, so managed to lose his £3000 deposit which he had to pay up front for the hire of the theatre. All this happening made him depressed, but gave him time to think out his future plans. The Comedy Store had a benefit gig for Merton to try and help him cope with the amount of money he had lost.
Merton then met up with Canadian Mike Myers, who was later to play Austin Powers. Myers was already a member of a small improvisation group which included Neil Mullarkey and Kit Hollenbach. This gave Merton a chance to exercise his comic wit. Merton describes improvisation as being
"like a conversation except that's it's got to be funny."
This improvisation experience led to him starring on "Whose Line is it Anyway" on Channel 4 with another Comedy Store Player, Josie Lawrence. It started to look like Merton practising his own autograph from a young age wasn't a waste of time after all.
Life then started to get busy for Paul. In 1990 he started work on "Have I Got News For You", a version of Radio four's, "The News Quiz", but on BBC2. Paul was a team captain, alongside presenter Angus Deayton and the other team captain Ian Hislop who Merton describes as a "bald headed short-arse". Paul usually has the guest which has a lack of experience in comedy quiz shows. In 1996, he performed a dozen Galton and Simpson comedy shows , six of which had previously been made famous by Tony Hancock.
"Room 101" was next on the agenda for Merton, a programme where celebrity guests get to banish the things which most annoy them into Room 101 for an eternity. As well as "Room 101", Merton also works on the radio, being a regular on "Just a Minute" and "I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue".
In 2000, he made his cinematical debut as director of the short film, "The Suicidal Dog".
As for Merton's private life, he married Caroline Quentin after proposing to her in front of the statue of Eros in Picadilly Circus in London. He went down on one knee in front of numerous japanese tourists, policemen and drunks. Unfortunately that marriage came to an end, and Merton married Sarah Parkinson on the 5th October 2000.
Merton is known for being straight to the point in his comedy, and willing to comment on the people he has worked with and for.
Of Jeffrey Archer, Merton said, "He's a tosspot".
He said Julian Clary was "demanding...egotistical...rude...really awful jokes..."
And he commented of Prince Edward that "It doesn't matter whether he's gay or not, the problem is he's a parasite".
As well as all these appearances, Merton also appeared in "The Sooty Show" as a glove salesman which he calls, "The proudest moment of my professional career."