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Johnny's special brew for Fridays; WEEKEND: WEEKEND TV: All the latest telly gossip, plus the pick of Saturday and Sunday's programmes.

Byline: MARION MCMULLEN

HE wants to break the world record for drinking tomato ketchup and claims to have infinite Star Wars knowledge.

TV writer MARION McMULLEN finds out why Johnny Vegas is now startling celebrities as telly's newest chat show host.

HERE'S Johnny... larger than life and enjoying his new role as chat show host.

Johnny Vegas: 18 Stone of Idiot is his new Friday night vehicle on Channel 4 and to call it anarchic is an understatement.

It's an hour of unadulterated chaos, a rollercoaster ride of surreal humour, lunatic stunts and unhinged regular slots, all held together by a large injection of alcohol. It's also hilarious, touched by moments of pure genius - or should that be Guinness?

"It's our take on a Friday night show," explains Vegas. "It doesn't always go according to plan and there's a bit more danger involved.

"Tony Pitts, the show's co-writer, and myself sat down and basically said 'Let's write a show that'll never get recommissioned!' And, sort of by default, Channel 4 have turned around and are really happy with it. We were expecting a really stern meeting, with people going "You spent our money on that?'"

There are sections of the show that simply make no sense on paper. There's an angry baboon who talks to Vegas on the toilet, and dancing girls who inflict pain on him every week, by hitting him, or pulling huge plasters off him

There's also a weekly reality slot called Celebrity Lock-In and stunts jumping over celebrity guests. Not to mention a game the successful conclusion of which results in Vegas taking the entire audience out to get drunk after the show.

It's not exactly what you'd call conventional, but then neither is Vegas himself. He was born Michael Pennington and when he first moved to London, it wasn't the road to comedy stardom that lured him but the call of the potter's wheel.

"I did a degree in ceramics at Middlesex. It wasn't the most practical course. The dole office isn't full of cards saying 'Teapot menders, must start now', 'Do you have experience of porcelain?', 'We want you for Jugs International.' "

He still finds time to throw the odd pot though and says: "I'm just now in the process of making my garage into a studio in St Helens."

So would he like to exhibit? "I'd love to, after a bit of practice getting back into it. But I don't want to become the equivalent of Stallone and his paintings - you know, he's dreadful, but because of who he is, he gets an exhibition. I'd maybe like to submit something under a different name."

If imagining Vegas as a ceramic artist sounds implausible, how about Father Vegas? Had he stayed at the seminary he attended aged 13, what would he have been like as a priest? "Sacked," he laughs. "No, I think I'd have been gregarious. I think I would've been good at talking to people, but I would've been constantly in trouble with the hierarchy. It's like that thing where somebody's been in the army 30 years, and they're still a private. There wouldn't be a Pope Vegas."

Instead, it's chat show Vegas and he's been having lots of fun with guests like Kathy Burke, Elvis Costello and Rhys Ifans.

"The guests were brilliant - none of them has been the type to turn up and want to plug something," says Johnny. "They've come on for a laugh, and we needed that sort of attitude. Rhys was brilliant, because he came on the show really drunk."

The climax of each show involves jumping over the week's guest celebrity using an unusual form of transport.

"It's quite daunting. We don't tell the guest in advance. Every week, a guy from Ladbrokes gives us odds as to whether the guest will be up for it, and will be prepared to put themselves in a dangerous position for me to jump over them on different objects.

"I jumped Ray Winstone on a chopper, and another time we got one of those kids' rides that you put ten pence in, put wheels on that and used it.

"And if the celebrity does it, we win the money, and we take the audience out on a bender. We just take everyone to the pub round the corner." It looks as though the drinks are on Johnny again.

VIVA VEGAS

WON the Festival Critics Award at the 1997 Edinburgh Festival.

BECAME a team member of BBC2 comedy quiz Shooting Stars.

APPEARED alongside Paul Whitehouse in BBC2 comedy drama Happiness.

STARRED alongside his pal monkey in the ITV Digital adverts.

LATEST TV comedies include Dead Man Weds for ITV and Ideal for BBC3.

APPEARS in new film The Libertine and last year was seen in Sex Lives of the Potato Men.

HE will shortly be seen tackling both Dickens and Shakespeare. He appears in BBC1's new adaptation of Bleak House and the forthcoming BBC version of A Midsummer Night's Dream.

CAPTION(S):

PUB TALK: Johnny with Mackenzie Crook, best known for his role in The Office, starring in film Sex Lives of the Potato Men in 2004; CAUSING CHAOS: Hellraising comedian Johnny Vegas is inviting the audience of his new Friday night chat show to sup up in ththe name of good TV
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Title Annotation:Supplement
Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Date:Jun 11, 2005
Words:883
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