Comedian Jason Manford is certainly very busy these days.
Since leaving The One Show to focus on his family and touring commitments Jason has been working as hard as ever and tickets for his latest tour are being snapped up so fast he has recently added Arena dates to satisfy his expanding fan club. Life is good for the wisecracking comic. But suggest to him that he is an overnight success at your peril. “It’s weird when people say my rise has been meteoric. I started over ten years ago when I was 17, so when people say I’m an overnight success I say it’s been a very long night.”
Things have been happening much faster recently though and the lifelong Manchester City supporter is clearly pleased with the way things are going. Manford, born in Salford on 28 May 1981, is particularly proud of ITV1 variety show ‘Comedy Rocks with Jason Manford’ which returned to our screens for a full series in 2011 following a pilot in March 2010, The line-up, where music acts and cutting edge comedians share the bill with traditional stand-ups ranging from Jo Brand to Joe Pasquale, reflects Manford’s own tastes, which range from Peter Kay, who gave Manford advice when he was starting out, back to Les Dawson and Tommy Cooper. Growing up in the suburb of Chorlton – “Whalley Range really, but mum calls it Chorlton because it’s posher” – one of his earliest memories was watching Billy Connolly with his parents.
It is all a long way from when he was a teenager and had a part-time job collecting glasses in Manchester’s Buzz Club. Back then he could only dream of being onstage, until in classic showbiz style he made his debut when one of the acts failed to turn up. And now all those years on the comedy circuit have begun to pay off. He is currently developing two sitcoms and somewhere he has to find time to spend with his wife and three young daughters.
This relaxed, natural-born comedian sees himself very much in the tradition of the older generation of laughter-makers rather than the angry alternative comedians of the eighties. “I always liked storytellers like Jasper Carrott, Victoria Wood and Dave Allen. That’s who I see as my inspiration. I’m not political, I’m just having a laugh and a chuckle. No-one has ever left my gigs saying ‘he’s really made me think tonight’ but that’s not what I want them to do. I don’t think anyone goes out for ‘a good think’ do they, they go out for a bit of a laugh.”
There will be plenty to laugh about in Manford’s new show “Off On Tour We Go”, the only trouble is finding the time between being a dad and performing to write the material. “I had ten years to write the show that became my first DVD. But I had to come up with a whole new show in less than a year! I’m constantly waiting to observe things.” It can be frustrating when somebody beats him to new subject. “Like when Michael McIntyre did his routine about the things men keep in their man drawers. I said to my wife ‘I’ve been talking about that to you, why didn’t I put it into my act?’ Sometimes the funny side of life is staring you in the face, you’ve just got to recognise it and write it down.”
He is starting to be inspired by his twin daughters. “But you’ve got to take into account that not everyone has kids. Like I wrote something about how when your babies are born you are really gentle with them as if they are going to break and then the midwife holds them upside down and shakes them around because they deal with babies all the time. But maybe if you’ve not had kids you might not relate to it. It should be easier when they are at school – everyone relates to being at school.”
Having twins has helped him come up with new jokes but he would still like to have a little bit of privacy and has not revealed their names in the press: “I kept their names a secret. I’ve told my wife, obviously,” he giggles.
Sometimes the things that people say to him in the street spark new ideas. “Everyone goes ‘double trouble’. No, it’s not double trouble, just normal trouble. Then there are old ladies who say, ‘it’s a wonder why anyone would want to hurt ‘em’. What an odd thing to say in Tesco? I’d forgotten about all the evil in the world and then you’ve brought it up again.”
Part of the show comes from imagining how his own father Ian would have behaved in historic situations. “My dad is a funny bloke so I wondered how he would react to things such as the eighteenth century window tax. They bricked their windows up back then to avoid the tax and that’s exactly what my dad would do now. Dads throughout the centuries have always wanted to save money.”
His father has always been a big supporter of Jason’s career. “When I was young he said to me just find a job you like, don’t worry how much you earn.” He still recalls doing his first weekend of big club gigs and being paid £600. “It was more cash than I’d ever seen and I tried to be cool. The other comics were used to it. One was off with a couple of girls he’d met in the audience, another was asking where to buy drugs, another bought two crates of beer. I called my wife and she said ‘Great, we’ll get that laminate floor for the kitchen tomorrow.’ And we’ve still got that laminate floor, so who is the winner?” Success has not made Manford as rich as his friends seem to think though. “They assume I’m like one of the dragons in Dragons’ Den and have money to invest in their mad business ideas, like setting The Crystal Maze in Stockport.
Manford is part of a wave of talented comedians that also includes John Bishop and Rhod Gilbert who are rapidly becoming household names, but he modestly denies that there is any rivalry. “I’ve never been like that. I always compare myself to myself and if I’m doing better than I was six months ago I’m happy. You see people like Michael McIntyre and Peter Kay selling out huge venues and they are way ahead of us. You can’t compete with that.” He might have a rival closer to home soon. His younger brother Colin is currently starting out as a stand-up. “I might have him as a support act while he’s cheap,” smiles Jason.
With more fans currently going to comedy shows than ever, everyone is benefiting from what has been dubbed The Michael McIntyre Effect. “There’s a huge appetite for live comedy at the moment. I guess they’ve seen Michael, enjoyed him and gone, ‘who else is on then?’” Audiences are really passionate too. “It’s nice that people who like you really like you, but the downside is that people that don’t like you really hate you. Comedy is the only thing that gets people really angry. Nobody goes in to work furious the next day and goes ‘Did you see Heartbeat last night, wasn’t it terrible?’”
Jason Manford will be performing at the Motorpoint Arena Sheffield on Wednesday 19th October 2011 as part of a UK Arena tour tickets available from the Arena Box Office on 0114 256 56 56 or online at www.motorpointarenasheffield.co.uk.