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What it's like to be a comedy entertainer: I love making people laugh

By Heather Large | Lifestyle | Published:

There is nothing like the feeling of making a room full of people laugh, says Paul Rushworth.

Entertaining audiences is in his blood. Having caught the performance bug at an early age, he followed in the footsteps of his successful parents Geoff and Patricia, who trod the boards for more than three decades.

Since then the 60-year-old comedy entertainer has appeared on stages up and down the country for more than 30 years.

"My parents did a silent magic act and performed in all the working men's clubs all over the Midlands. They then performed at The London Palladium and worked on cruise ships.

"Mum and dad used to take me around the clubs with them when I was very young and I loved the comedians and impressionists and they way they used to make people laugh and have a good time. Although I was painfully shy, I had a hidden ambition to be like them.

"When I was about 17 we were travelling back from a show and I was running through a comedian's jokes and routines. After about half an hour, dad says 'you're a blooming good impressionist!' so I worked on it secretly.

"I got myself a little act together and managed to get myself a paid booking at the Old Shrewsbury Bowling Club," says Paul, who lives with his wife of 32 years Jane in Belvidere, Shrewsbury.

Sadly his impressions didn't hit the spot with the audience on the night but after a pep talk from his father, he made some changes to his act.

"On the way home dad persuaded me to put a bit of magic into my act with the comedy and told me that at least I would get applauded at the end of the act and he was right," recalls Paul, whose stage name is Paul Ray.

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Since then he has performed in theatres, working men’s clubs and hotels as well as at corporate functions, weddings and dinner parties all over the country.

During his career he has even rubbed shoulders with well-known entertainers including Paul Daniels, Roy Hudd, Roy Walker and Ken Dodd.

As well as comedy magic, he later introduced singing impressions of the likes of Elvis, Neil Diamond, Willie Nelson, John Lennon and Roy Orbison.

"Until then I had never achieved a standing ovation in 25 years of performing and I will never forget the first one - it was at Condover Golf Club, Shrewsbury," he says.

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"I have performed at several theatres including the Blackpool Opera House but my favourite theatre was the Buxton Opera House; a beautiful theatre designed by Frank Matchim, designer of the London Palladium.

"But I also love doing village halls. I do a 'one man show' where I do 45 minutes of comedy magic, followed by another 45 minutes of comedy singing impressions," explains Paul, who twice won the International Brotherhood of Magicians Best Comedy-Magician Stage Act Award in 1986 and 2006.

"Every show, every venue has its own special challenges, so I put a lot of thought into each show. There are two main things when performing.

"Firstly, you have to be heard so I bring my own sound system and secondly you have to be seen by the audience so I always bring my own portable stage and lights," he adds.

But his most memorable performance was also an emotional one. In July 2014, he was asked to perform for seven-year-old Harry Johnson who was seriously ill in hospital in Shrewsbury after being diagnosed with a rare form of cancer.

"For the next hour Harry, his mum and dad, aunties and uncles and nurses forgot about reality and Harry became a magician.

"I left the room with Harry taking the applause. I held it together until I reached my car, and I don't mind admitting I sobbed alone. Little Harry passed away that same night. Harry's mum now runs the Harry Johnson Trust charity," Paul tells us.

When asked to describe his style of entertainment, he replies: "I have been described as an 'all round entertainer' but above all I am a 'clean' comedy entertainer.

"Dad told me early on 'keep your act clean because you never know who may be watching and thinking of booking you, and just one smutty joke may put them off".

He says this valuable advice is one of the reasons why his parents have been been his biggest influence throughout his career. In 1963, they entered the Sunday People National Talent Contest and out of 6,000 acts, they won first prize and £1,000.

They also came second on the TV's Opportunity Knocks and have appeared on programmes such as Blue Peter, Zokko! and the Ken Dodd Show.

"I owe everything to my parents. They have guided me through my career as an entertainer, taught me everything I know about magic and how to perform and also what not to do," adds Paul.

In 1963, his parents entered the Sunday People National Talent Contest and out of 6,000 acts, they won first prize and £1,000.

From 1977, they also had a long association with the world’s most luxurious cruise liners, regularly being flown out to join ships as far away as Australia, the Far East, South America and the Caribbean.

His father Geoff, aged 85, who is now semi-retired and is life president of the Shropshire Magical Society, also once performed tricks for boxing legend Mohammed Ali.

"My dad is an amazing man, he was the very first man in Shropshire to get a black belt in judo. He was nearly in the Tokyo Olympic Games in 1964, he was only prevented by breaking his ribs in the qualifying final at the Crystal Palace," says Paul, who also performs at events with his father whose stage name is Geoff Ray.

His parents have also inspired him to continue to work towards his ambition of one day performing, like they did, at The London Palladium.

*To watch Paul perform see www.paulraymagic.co.uk

Heather Large

By Heather Large
Special projects reporter - @HeatherL_star

Senior reporter and part of the Express & Star special projects team specialising in education and human interest features.

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