Steve Punt and Hugh Dennis are set to embark on their first tour in a decade, entitled We Are Not A Robot.

Fans will know the duo as hosts of Radio 4’s The Now Show. Before that they were half of BBC sketch show the Mary Whitehouse Experience alongside David Baddiel and Rob Newman and then had their own BBC series.

Bury Times: Punt and Dennis 
(Picture: Tony Briggs)

Steve Punt is also a writer, presenter, script editor and voiceover artist. As well as being a panellist on Mock The Week Hugh Dennis has acted in shows including the hit sitcom Outnumbered and Fleabag. He appeared in the C4 thriller The Couple Next Door and played a scientist in the James Bond movie No Time To Die.

Before the tour gets underway, the pair took time out to answer a few questions

How did this tour come about after 10 years away?

Steve Punt: We were supposed to tour in 2021, but because of the pandemic it didn’t happen. And you start to look at the calendar and think, if we don’t do this now we’re probably never going to do it.

It’s also because The Now Show is ending after 25 years. It seemed like a perfect confluence of things. It’s just asserting your independence. It’s very easy to think people live in the radio or on the telly, but actually people do radio and TV as parts of what they do, and I always think that live shows are the core of everything.

Please explain the title, We Are Not A Robot.

Steve: One of the consistent themes in The Now Show has been society’s relationship with technology. So we’re bound to touch on that. Plus, it’s a funny title, I just like the idea of it. It sums up our relationship with all the gadgets that we use in our lives.

How much will it be like The Now Show?

Steve: What we’ve found over the years is that topical comedy is often a sleight of hand. It’s comedy attached to topical subjects. Sometimes there are things that have been written as topical, but actually they’re standalone funny bits. So we’ve taken bits that we wanted to expand and will theatricalise them, though I don’t think that’s a word.

Will you be revisiting classic TV characters?

Hugh Dennis: Mr Strange seems to be remembered even though he’s from 1992. I still get people shouting his catchphrase ‘Milky Milky’ at me in the street. There are lots of things I don’t want people shouting at me in the street so ‘Milky Milky’ is good. He’s not going to be on in the first five minutes, let’s put it that way...

Steve: There’s a character from the TV show, the World of Wine expert, who works really well in a live context. We could say in a very poncy way that it’s about his journey through the changing media landscape, but basically the joke is that he used to be on BBC Two and is now on YouTube.

Hugh: And the Minister who I play. He’s always wanting to resign and then saying he’s not going to resign and then resigning. Even if you didn’t know him originally, it’s a timeless thing.

Bury Times: Punt and Dennis (Picture: Tony Briggs)

Do you ever argue about jokes?

Steve: I think we have very ‘polite, well-thought-out creative discussions.’ You can’t really work as a double act unless there’s an element of trust. If I have doubts about something and Hugh is entirely confident, I know from my experience that it’s worth trusting.

And ultimately the audience decides in the end. Mock The Week was edited down from three hours to 28 minutes. The bits that you never saw were people flailing. You had to develop this skin where you sent something out and if it didn’t work, you move on. It’s like when a centre forward misses a goal. The really good ones just get on with the game.

How do you feel about The Now Show ending?

Steve: Conflicted in a way. I immediately thought ‘oh no, we’re going to miss the election.’ But there’s a big part of me that’s looking forward to being liberated from everything I write being a hilarious look at the week’s news. It’s very limiting and also increasingly, it’s a problem because topical jokes are done immediately on social media.

Do you think there was any sense that The Now Show was being axed because it was too critical of the Conservative government?

Steve: We’re not privy to those decisions, but there’s certainly been much more emphasis on balance going right back to 2010, since the Conservatives came back to power. Balance is a requirement for news, but what seems to have happened increasingly over the last decade is that comedy shows are treated as if they’re news shows. And you get told, ‘oh, this show’s got to be balanced politically.’

I do think over the last few years that there’s been more of a push. Now you’ve got to be balanced all the time, when audiences are just not interested in the opposition in the same way. And in the end comedy is not just about what the comedian wants to talk about. It’s a Venn diagram where it’s about what the comedian wants to talk about and what the audience wants to talk about.

You got a new series coming up, Routemasters...

Hugh: We’ve got 10 episodes starting in October, on Radio 4 and BBC Sounds. It’s a programme where we’re trying to find entertaining links between different subjects. So series one will start at the subject of beer and at the end we get to eternity – simply so we can say it’s from beer to eternity.

Hugh, in 2021 you surprised everyone by appearing in No Time to Die as a scientist killed off in the first few minutes. What was it like being in a Bond movie?

Hugh: It was absolutely brilliant. I only did two days and one of them was learning how to die properly from various different shots to various places in my body. I had to go into this thing called the Fighting Shed where they taught me how to fall over if I’ve had a head shot, or if I’d been shot in the chest. Although actually in the film you don’t see either of them.

Will Outnumbered return?

Hugh: We don’t know really. Kids don’t leave home until they’re 35 now so anything could happen. I think there’s always talk of Christmas specials and things. So I’m confident it will return at some point, in some form, but I don’t know when that will be.

Any special plans for your time off on tour?

Steve: Hugh studied geography so he can tell us about rock formations that we’re going past. We might go to things like Barometer World. Or the Pencil Museum in Keswick. And then after the gig it’s a quick cup of coffee, a sandwich and bed. We’re just like a middle-aged couple on a day out.

Punt & Dennis are at The Lowry, Salford Quays, on Monday, May. 13. Details from