Jonny Nelson’s quick-wit and humour have helped catapult his career with impressive speed, presenting in front of millions on a weekly basis, both nationally and world-wide.
Bounce Magazine’s Rachel Ducker speaks to Jonny about his career to date and how he got there.
The Preston boy’s journey began less than three years ago when he was plucked from the realms of local TV and thrust into the world of entertainment reporting with ITN.
Having cut his comedic teeth in stand up, live radio and every obscure local event you can fathom, Jonny developed a panache for adapting quickly and hilariously to any situation.
It has just been announced that Jonny will be one of the presenters of BBC2 and CBBC’s highly anticipated live Saturday morning children’s show, Saturday Mash-Up!
Bounce Magazine’s Rachel Ducker speaks to Jonny about his career to date and how he got there.
R: You’ve done a bit of stand-up comedy in the past, have you always had a humorous side?
Like most kids, I used to entertain my friends and family by doing impressions, making noises, being overly theatrical and the like. I think the only difference is that I didn’t grow out of it.
My earliest memory of picking up a cheap laugh was in Beavers when I was around 6. I demanded a room full of people fall silent as I let out a loud burp I’d been holding (the precipice of comedy for a 6 year old). To my dismay, I was instead hit by a surprise fart. Needless to say, it went down a storm.
I learned two things that day, comic timing and how to bury my shame deep inside. Both have served me well.
R: How did you get into TV Presenting?
I’ve always been fascinated by TV, film and popular culture, and I guess presenting gives ordinary blokes like me a window into that.
Then of course there’s the idea of being paid to essentially be yourself, the greatest life-cheat of all time. One of my idols as a kid was Jonathan Ross, as he seemed like a bloke who just wandered onto a TV set and went with it. I worked with him for a very short time after uni and found that he was pretty much the same guy in the office.
I think that was the point I thought it’d be worth a crack myself.
R: You have a degree in journalism, what interested you in this subject?
Like all my best and worst decisions in life, I decided to study journalism at the last possible minute. I’m pretty sure I wanted in on the whole media game before my dad even asked my mum out for a drink, but what exactly I was going to do there was less clear to me. After some ruminating I decided the best way forward was to do something open ended, where essentially the purpose was to communicate, and that’s all anything is in this game anyway.
R: Do you feel this degree helped you with your career?
Sure, going back to the communicating thing, just having a feel for asking questions and engaging people on different subjects has helped me a lot. Also, spending three years studying news from all over the world and even different times in history helps to put a lot into perspective, what’s important and how people want to be talked to.
That said, I think my best training came from watching a lot of TV in the first place and then making local TV. If you find yourself as a 22 year old, rocking up to flowers shows, tractor pulling championships and food festivals, knowing that your average audience is three times your age and that you have to somehow convince them that you know what you’re talking about (predominantly in the rain) that’s how you learn how to be a TV presenter. Old school.
R: You’ve interviewed some fantastic people from movie directors to A-listers, which one has been your favourite and most memorable interview to date?
It’s hard to pick a favourite, but a few of the best include Ricky Gervais and Bill Nighy, two very genuine, very interesting and hilarious fellas. The tag-team of Sir Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman also deserve a mention who, despite being two of the biggest cinema legends of all time, were complete gents.
At the risk of going on, I’d throw in Phil Neville too. We worked together a few times last year and he convinced me to go see my mum one week, a couple of weeks later my dog died, and I wouldn’t have seen him if I hadn’t gone. Don’t worry, my mum was fine.
You are set to co-present the new “Saturday Mash-Up!” What can we look forward to from the show?
Honestly, I’m not even sure yet, but I’m presuming madness! We’re bringing back a lot of the staples of Saturday morning live TV, so there’ll be music, sketches, special guests, competitions, live phone-ins and of course gunging… finally! Personally I’m looking forward to the moments everything goes wrong, I used to watch that happen as a kid and absolutely revel in it.
When does it start?
9am, Saturday the 30th of September. Set your alarms!
What does it feel like to be bringing back a Live Children’s TV Programme? Did you ever see yourself presenting a children’s show?
In short no, haha. Children’s TV has historically been a breeding ground for new presenters, after that there was T4 for a while, but by the time I got going, the days of the chaos of Live and Kicking and SMTV seemed long gone.
It actually wasn’t until the producers asked me why I’d want to do it that I actually knew myself, and that’s because there’s just nothing like it, anywhere.
Live Saturday morning TV was always either brilliant, full of disasters, or both, which is why it was worth watching, and that suits me down to the ground.
R: I have to confess I have a soft spot for ‘Hacker T.Dog’, who also appears on the new show, is it strange to talk to a puppet on live TV, what happens if things go wrong?
I‘ll be honest, it’s the first and only time I’ve had the pleasure of working with a puppet, but their reputation in the industry precedes them. Kermit, Rod Hull and Emu, the Cookie Monster, Bodger and Badger, they’ve been blazing a trail for some time now, so I know i’ll be in safe hands.
Hacker’s surprisingly undemanding as a colleague, we have to let him outside once in a while to do his business, but otherwise he’s as happy as Larry.
As for things going wrong, I’m fully prepared to lay the blame at his paws as often as possible.
As long as a stray postman doesn’t get into the studio, we’re probably going to have things under control.
What TV Shows did you watch growing up?
Let’s just say everything. I was lucky to grow up in a house with four TV channels, so everything was repeated. It sounds a bit naff now, but it meant that if there was something really good on, it was hard to miss, even if it was really old.
I loved the British light entertainment staples of Noel’s House Party, the Generation Game, Big Break, Crystal Maze, Surprise Surprise the kind of stuff you watched with your mum, dad and grandparents.
Your comedies like Red Dwarf, Goodnight Sweetheart, The Thick Of It, The Young Ones, Ab Fab, Only Fools and Horses, The Fast Show.
Every time I’m asked this question I remember something else I was obsessed with, but two solid favourites were Sharpe and Due South, the first was famous for being possibly the only thing Sean Bean didn’t die in and the other for being the only reason anyone outside Canada would know what a Mountie is.
R: Talking of TV nostalgia, I hear you’re a big fan of Dad’s Army? That was filmed here in East Anglia and still going strong 50 years on. What do you think lends to formats being able to stand the test of time?
Dad’s Army would slide right into my previous list, a show I probably wouldn’t even appreciate today unless someone convinced me to watch it, but to me it feels like it was still being made in the 90s.
There’s a million different reasons those shows worked and why they’ve lasted. People like things that remind them of growing up, and we’ve all grown up with those boys, just as we have with Del Boy and Rodney.
To be honest, as I’ve gotten older I’ve really struggled to embrace broad comedy, mostly because it feels like the artistry has left it. People often save their laughs now for loud expletives and people getting hit over the head… naming no names, you know, whatever makes you happy.
Whilst it’s easy to point fingers at a lot of vintage comedy for being tame compared to now, shows like Dad’s Army were incredibly well observed. The actors they had in were all theatre-trained, wise old-heads, and you have to look a lot harder for that level of skill and timing in the more accessible comedies these days.
You watch a show in the same slot today and
you’ll often see one strong comic performer and a supporting cast to make them stand out.
Dad’s Army was a show where every line given to any cast member allowed them to steal the scene, and they did, constantly.
R: Do you have any role models?
Absolutely, there’s plenty of people I admire or would have loved to have met for different reasons.
Growing up it was anyone that made me laugh, Robin Williams, Jim Carey, Morcambe and Wise, Reeves and Mortimer, Ant and Dec, and as I’ve gotten older it’s perhaps been the people I’ve respected for being honest and outspoken, even when they get it in the neck, like Stephen Fry, Joanna Lumley and Chris Morris.
R: What has been your favourite media job to date and why?
I’ve had some good ones and some weird ones. I once hosted a miniature sports day for an Arab prince and his friends on a London park, not really a media job but it was the closest I’ve been to being the Scottish guy from Gladiators.
My show for the Premier League last year was my favourite TV gig, it didn’t go out in the UK, but having free reign to rock up at top flight matches and chat to people like Ian Wright about football was epic.
We were even in the same fantasy league, I didn’t exactly shower myself in glory.
R: If you weren’t in the career you are in now, what do you think you would be doing?
God only knows. I’d like to think I’d be an actor or a director, but I’d probably be working as a journo somewhere.
I did apply for a job in Argos once, but I didn’t get it.
R: What is the most embarrassing thing you have ever done on TV?
A football club once made an official complaint about me when I stepped on their pitch during a show.
The next time we went filming there I was really careful not to step on it again, until the last link of the show, when I was challenged to a dance off with the club mascot.
One thing led to another and I ended up doing the running man…on the pitch…in full view of their press team and groundsman.
It did not go down well….
As a keepsake I put it in my showreel, to remind me to stay on my toes, and off the pitch.
R: Thank you so much for your time and for speaking to us Jonny, we wish you the very best success with the show, we will be watching!
Tune in to watch Jonny on Saturday Mash-up! at 9am, starting Saturday 30th September.
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Photos by Tom Leishman