Recently, it’s been easy to forget that Jason Manford started out as a stand-up comedian. With stints in the West End and learning to sing opera, he’s been putting his upbringing on comedy stages to good use.
But Jason is returning to his roots this year with a nationwide tour, First World Problems, which is at the Portsmouth Guildhall tonight and tomorrow.
Speaking in a hotel room and preparing for his next show, he’s clearly excited to be back on the road, as the comedian says: ‘I’ve performed at the Guildhall a few times and it’s always a nice venue. There’s something like 2000 seats there, but it still feels intimate.’
Jason grew up in a terraced house in what is known as the Triangle of Death area of Manchester, notorious for its high crime rate.
But he began his career in 1999, while working at the Buzz Comedy Club in Chorlton, Manchester. Jason was collecting glasses when a performer didn’t arrive for a set and at just 17, he stepped in to fill the gap.
His first major television appearance was when he was a guest on the panel show, 8 out of 10 cats, presented by Jimmy Carr. Jason would later go on to replace Dave Spikey as Team Captain in 2007 and continued in the role until 2011.
The father-of-two has now appeared on shows including Live at the Apollo, Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow and multiple Royal Variety Performances.
He’s also been on QI, Big Fat Quiz of the Year, League of Their Own and Would I Lie to You.
Jason explains: ‘I’m really loving being on tour, and I feel like this is the best I’ve done. I feel a lot more accomplished on stage because people know me better. They know what they are coming to see.
‘I like my audience, we have the same sense of humour,’ he laughs.
With venue dates into spring next year, it’s going to be a long winter of touring for Jason. But he’s relishing it.
‘I don’t think many people have performed in this many venues before. I’ve been doing it since I was about 16 and there’s positives and negatives.
‘It’s difficult being away from the kids but positive because it’s a lot of fun. I think people appreciate it when you come to their town.’
Having spent time as a TV presenter, on panel shows and in musicals, he’s got a lot of experience infront of an audience.
Jason was also splashed across the tabloids in 2011 when he left The One Show following a number of allegations published in tabloid newspapers about exchanging sexually-oriented Twitter messages with fans.
He’s happy to be back where he began, with comedy and stand-up.
Jason says: ‘On tour you are your own writer, director and producer. Everything that happens comes off you. It’s one of those things that could go really well, or not.’
And in his show there are no frills – just lots of laughter.
‘It’s called First World Problems because it looks at all the little things that bother us on a day-to-day basis. There’s no hard-hitting satire, just two hours of fun.’
After dabbling in opera on ITV’s Born To Shine, he also gets asked to do a bit of singing too.
‘Sometimes, if the audience ask for it, I finish with a song. I’ve done a bit of singing in Sweeney Todd and because I did a bit of telly. I’m more than happy to show off with an opera song at the end,’ he laughts.
Speaking of Sweeney Todd, Jason starred in the West End production, which was originally at Chichester Festival Theatre, as Italian barber Adolfo Pirelli. And he absolutely loved it.
He says says: ‘It was absolutely one of the favourite things I’ve ever done. It was very different from what I do normally, having to stick to your lines. Whereas in stand-up you just go out there and do what you want.’
And with meetings lined up for more musicals, it doesn’t look like it’s the end of Jason’s acting career.
‘I’d love to do something a bit meatier.’ he says, ‘but I’m looking forward to what may happen. That’s the great thing about this job, you get offered some amazing things.
‘I’ve been out to Afghanistan and performed in Camp Bastion and I’ve been on tour with Alfie Boe. It’s exciting and such a lovely privilege to do this job.’
Having started out learning comedy tricks at just 16 years old, the 32-year-old has now spent half his life in the industry. But he never saw it coming.
‘I thought it would be a hobby and a bit of fun,’ explains Jason.
‘But it got to a point where I thought this pocket money is doing okay, especially with my wages at work. I never thought it was going be a job. I just love it, I’ve never regretted it.’
He readily admits that seeing Billy Connolly inspired him, and he’s still a big fan of comedians.
Jason says: ‘Peter Kay is one of the first guys I saw live, and the warmth and love in the room for him was amazing.
This, for me, is a hobby that got lucky. I still buy everyone’s DVDs at Christmas and I watch stand-up shows. When I went to Edinburgh I watched the up and coming comics. I just love comedy.’
With all his experience it could be easy for the comic to come up with a joke, right?
‘Oh god, that’s a difficult question’ he laughs.
‘I will quote somebody else with Tommy Cooper. I was recently in a film about him, and I’ve got lots of his jokes playing around in my head. He was brilliant. ‘I backed a horse at ten to one, and he came in at half past four!’
Jason Manford is performing at Portsmouth Guildhall tonight and tomorrow evening at 8pm. Tickets: £22.50 on (023) 9387 0200 or go to portsmouthguildhall.org.uk.