British comedian Jason Manford may be enjoying success now, but he recalls the dead-end jobs of his formative years with pride. Ahead of his Dubai shows, he tells Nick Alatti how he’s really just the same as everybody else
T he more you speak to British comedian Jason Manford, the more affable and genial he becomes. Funny, obviously, but so very charming and unpretentious with it. He’s also developing a reputation, which he is keen to downplay, for being bighearted with fans by charging less for tickets to his shows than his fellow comics. He even bought drinks for one set of fans – all 850 of them – at one of his shows in London recently as an apology for being 40 minutes late. The bill? £3,532 (around Dh22,000). An all-round thoroughly decent bloke.
So nobody could begrudge his considerable success on the comedy circuit, which has yielded a plethora of awards and accolades and a string of sell-out tours thanks to being a regular on UK television panel shows such as 8 Out of Ten Cats, QI, Would I Lie to You?
Odd One In. and
Now the 33-year-old from Salford, near Manchester, is brushing up his punchlines in readiness for two nights of mirth at the Crowne Plaza, Dubai, courtesy of the Laughter Factory, on June 22 and 23. “I’ll have to remember to bring my [sun protection] factor 50,” he quips. “But I have been there before with the Laughter Factory doing gigs for them. I’ve also been to Abu Dhabi, Oman and Bahrain so I know the region well. There’s always a good crowd there.”
Jason will be jetting out to Dubai in-between gigs in the slightly less glamorous settings of Hull and Crewe in northern England, and says he has factored in some R&R while he is here too. As far as the show is concerned, there won’t be many changes from the routine he has honed in the UK but fans can expect something a little less expletive-ridden than some of his edgier fellow comics. a few days beforehand so I’ll be able to check the place out a little.”
Who would have believed that a former hotel glass collector who stepped in at the last minute for a comic when he failed to turn up for his show would go on to become a gag meister supreme and one of Britain’s funniest men?
Jason recalls those formative years when he worked dead-end jobs, not with embarrassment but with pride. “I think of all my old jobs that I did, like working on building sites and in call centres, fast food restaurants and shops and then I compare them to this and it helps to keep me grounded. When I did that first gig I didn’t feel ‘this is it’. I was only a lad. I always wanted to do this job so it’s been amazing. But those old days shape you and keep you connected to your audience, even when your life has changed a bit. You realise you’re just the same as everybody else.”
‘Those old days shape you and keep you connected to your audience, even when your life changes’
“It will be the show I’ve been doing in the UK but every place I go to I adapt my material ever so slightly. You know if you put in little local references you will get a laugh and you can get away with it a lot when you are a fish out of water. Dubai, even though it is everchanging, it never really changes if you see what I mean? I’ve got some mates there so I will speak to them before I go and ask, ‘I haven’t been here for eight years, what’s changed?’ I’m also there
J ason’s parents were always supportive. Most parents whose children go to university would hope that a ‘proper job’ materialises at the end
of it but Jason’s folks were different. Probably because they were performers themselves. He explains, “My mum’s side of the family are Irish and were always in country and western bands and in Irish folk bands so it was always within the remit, really. They were never going to be disappointed when I became a comedian. They weren’t those sorts of parents. My dad once said if you find a job that you love, you will never work a day in your life so he was happy seeing me in a job that I loved.”
D espite his status as comedy royalty, Jason is still a massive comedy fan and cites Michael McIntyre, John Bishop (a personal friend) and Sarah Millican as some of his favourite contemporary comedians. He has launched comedy clubs across the UK, despite having his fingers burnt when a previous comedy club project went pear-shaped with debts of around £500,000.
“My brother Colin, who is also a comic, and I do it together now and we’ve got about 12 clubs so I get to see a load of guys and girls who are just starting out, as well as comics who have been doing it for 20 years but have not been on TV for a while.”
Hiring established venues rather than opening a brand new club has been the key. “I tried the purpose-built club but when someone rings you up early in the morning and says the cleaner has not turned up you think ‘I don’t need this – I just want to make people laugh’.
“We might end up doing that again but not at the moment. I always knew there was money to be made out of laughter. We are doing alright but we probably won’t break even for another 12 months or so. The thing is, we are doing something that we are both passionate about. As long as we don’t lose our houses in the meantime!”
There are no plans to open a similar club in Dubai. “The Laughter Factory is doing well out there and you wouldn’t want to be up against someone you couldn’t win against!” says Jason.
T here doesn’t appear to be any sibling rivalry between Jason and Colin. “We are very supportive of each other. He’s a lot ruder than I am; I am more family-friendly. I’ve got another brother who is a magician and we are all supportive of each other. I’ve always been supportive, even of other comics. I don’t have any rivals.”
Jason separated amicably from his actress wife Catherine last year but he is still very much hands-on with their three daughters – two of whom
‘I always knew there was money to bemade out of laughter – I just hope I don’t lose my house!’
are twins. But he is bracing himself for more changes when the twins go to school for the first time in September.
“I’m so tired. This tour has really knocked it out of me. It’s been hard getting up at 7 o’clock and having a full day with the kids and then going off to do a gig until 11pm. The reason I have really gone for it this time is because the twins start school in September. I have been able to take them to different places on this tour but once September kicks in and they start school I’ve got to be around so I’ll take a couple of years off for the girls.”
It is no secret Jason has been an ardent life-long supporter of Manchester City. “I feel bad about not playing Abu Dhabi and to be honest I’d do it for free,” he laughs. “It’s been wonderful watching this big, underperforming club for so many years suddenly having this fantastic stadium and team. What’s been great about the takeover of the club is that there has been no disconnect from the local community.”
It’s Jason generosity of spirit that marks him out as a special talent and individual. He recalls with a certain amount of reticence the story about the time he bought drinks for the entire audience for being late. “It must have been a slow news week,” he insists.
There’s little prospect that this will happen in Dubai. “I’ll make doubly sure I am on time,” he promises. “Because I know what the traffic can be like!”
Jason says he’s looking forward to a rest after this tour