As party tricks go, cramming ping pong balls into your cheeks is certainly an unusual one.
But it’s that skill which has helped Steve Royle become the king of panto at Blackpool’s Grand Theatre.
The comedian is celebrating 15 years on stage at the historic theatre in this year’s festive offering, Cinderella, in which he plays footman and Cinders’ pal Buttons.
It’s his third time out in the role, and he cites the rags to riches tale as his favourite.
“In most pantomimes, there’s not much point in me being there, other than for the comedy,” Steve said. “But as Buttons, you have a lovely scene where you’re trying to cheer Cinderella up; once every five years I get to be a real actor.”
In past years, Steve’s played roles including Muddles in Snow White, Wishee Washee in Aladdin, and made his debut as sidekick Smee in Peter Pan in 2003.
Alongside veteran Steve, there’s panto fresher JJ Hamblett from boy band Union J, and Steve’s more than happy to pass on his knowledge to new performers in the field.
“I’m not some old wise man of panto, but to have JJ asking me for tips, I thrive off it,” Steve said. “There’s always one or two newcomers to panto each year, but if anything I can learn from them too; I relearn the excitement of panto.”
Steve’s panto trademark is his juggling skills - which he honed as a performer at the old Granada Studios tour in Manchester and during 13 years at the Camelot Theme Park near his home with his wife and three children in Chorley.
His rubber-faced ping-pong popping antics are a highlight of the Grand’s panto for children young and old - but the expectation of providing laughs and comic skits are no worry to him.
“There’s pressure to come up with fresh ideas, but that’s what I love,” he said. “I love the medium of panto.”
The annual trip to Panto-land is so important to Steve that he’s already signed up for 2018.
Last week the theatre announced it would stage a brand new offering from UK Productions of Beauty And The Beast.
With no precedent yet set, Steve hasn’t revealed his new role, but he has said he won’t be playing Belle or the Beast
“I will be returning for my 16th year and I can’t wait,” he said. “This is going to be fantastic and a great challenge.
“With such a new title, I’m very excited. I’m really looking forward to transforming into something quite special.”
Putting his work into context, Steve said: “When you think the building is just over 100 years old, I’ve done 15 per cent of their pantos... That’s my part in the history of the building.”
* Cinderella, Grand Theatre, until Sunday, January 7. Call 01253 290190 for tickets.