Paul Merton says comedy is "one of the most honourable professions" in the world.

Paul Merton

Paul Merton

The 62-year-old star first connected with the idea of making people laugh after seeing clowns at the circus as a young boy, and he was amazed to see grown ups behaving in such a "strange and silly way".

He exclusively told BANG Showbiz: "I always loved comedy. I saw clowns at the circus when I was four years old, and I was just really knocked out by the fact that adults could behave in this strange and silly way that I'd never seen adults behave in before!

"I hadn't seen clowns on TV at that point, and here they were suddenly wearing bright, garish costumes hitting each other over the head with buckets and I just thought it was the most fantastic thing to do.

"And I still do - to put effort into making people laugh is one of the most honourable professions on the earth!"

The 'Have I Got News For You' panellist also described laughter as one of life's greatest gifts, "even in bad times".

He added: "I think it's one of the great gifts that we have as human beings, the ability to laugh. Even in bad times, in desperate circumstances people never lose their humour."

And Paul insisted comedy is universal, although in a "professional environment" it's important to make sure the jokes are relatable to everyone without alienating members of the audience.

He said: "We all have a sense of humour, don't we? We all have things that make our workmates laugh, or our friends and family, or whatever.

"It's a different kettle of fish when you're doing it in a professional environment, because you've got to make the general audiences laugh. But we all have access to humour, we all enjoy jokes."

Paul recently appeared in a countdown of 'The Top 10 Most Watched Films You Have Never Heard Of' as part of BFI's 'Britain In Film' campaign, which has been funded by the National Lottery.

He said: "Life changes day by day, but we don't really notice it day by day. But if you go back a few decades, you can see enormous changes."