Interview: Jason Manford, comedian

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JASON MANFORD is enjoying an increasingly rare day off. A 45-date UK tour, including appearances at the Playhouse this Friday and Saturday, hasn’t stopped the Mancunian from setting aside an evening to follow his beloved Manchester City.

“I’ve got my dad and my brothers coming over later to watch the football. Because we’re in the Champions League now, we’re trying to theme it a little bit, so we’ve got some bratwurst, some German beer. Whenever we play Napoli, we’ll get a bit of pasta.”

Strangely enough, there’s something of a parallel between Manchester City’s sudden rise to prominence on the lofty stage of European football and Jason Manford’s own career (sans a handy Arab billionaire, of course).

Popular consensus has it that Manford appeared virtually out of nowhere, not long after Michael McIntyre also did much the same, but the comedian is actually something of a veteran with ten years on the circuit.

It does seem, nonetheless, that his numerous appearances on shows like 8 Out Of 10 Cats and Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow happened rather quickly. So when did he realise that he had become big time?

“8 Out Of 10 Cats was the main start, and then the Apollo. Once you get that Live At The Apollo offer, that was the big thing for me. I think by the time I’d done Michael’s show, I’d already sort of half made it. There are moments where you go ‘bloody hell like’.

“I did the Apollo in Manchester a couple of years ago, just by myself on tour, 2500 people. I just had loads of mates and family there, and I was getting phone calls from people that I went to school with saying, ‘Can I get a ticket?’ Just doing that – just doing this massive gig – that was the moment I thought, ‘This is a bit different’.”

Manford has also had to adjust to his growing public profile, which took a painful knock last year after tabloid revelations of a Twitter fling with a female fan, something rather discordant with his generally, bloke-down-the-pub character.

A pre-emptive request not to discuss the matter means it is off limits. Nevertheless, how self-conscious of his fame has he become, and does he encounter any ill-will because of it?

“Yeah, there’s a bit of that, it’s a bit annoying. You don’t mind people coming over and being nice and saying, ‘Oh, I really like your stand-up’, or ‘Can I get a photo?’, whatever, that’s all fine. I could listen to that all day. But then you do get people that say, ‘I’ll tell you a funny story for your act’, and then you go, ‘I’m alright, mate. If I’m struggling that badly then I’ll come to you’.”

As a seasoned Fringe performer, Manford’s sell-out shows attest to the fact that he’s not quite in need of any such advice just yet.

Of performing in the Capital outwith August, he says, “It’s nice to be in town when the Festival’s not on and actually experience it. Edinburgh’s one of the few places where the whole family comes. It’s somewhere nice, there’s stuff to do, and we’re there for the weekend.”

As he has already alluded to, Manford’s ‘sudden’ popularity has come with a dismissive sort of criticism of a comedian who says that television, a format that naturally tends towards light entertainment fare, has shaped his style of stand-up.

He’s too bland, too middle-of-the-road, too observational. Aware of these criticisms, he answers, “I wouldn’t do a joke about a paedophile, or serious crimes. That’s not something that necessary makes me laugh, and I don’t have it in me to write stuff about that.

“You need the middle. You need people like myself, Michael McIntyre and John Bishop. People trying to cater to 14-year-olds and 70-year-olds because without that centre you can’t have that edge.”

He adds that his live shows tackle more risque subjects, though he concedes that he doesn’t deviate all that much. “You can’t be completely different. They’ve seen you on telly, they’ve bought into what your act is, so then you can’t give them a different product live. You can’t be giving it, ‘So, two paedophiles walking about’, cause people to go, ‘Woah! This isn’t what I paid for’.”