He’s one of the biggest names on the comedy circuit, a regular on television, his first album raced into the top ten and he’s also been making a name for himself in musical theatre.
You could hardly say Jason Manford is muddling through – but that’s the theme of his new show which is selling out across the UK.
He calls it Muddle Class. “We talk about the fact that life changes, we’re trying to make the best of it and we’re trying to muddle through life. We make mistakes, we improve on them and we do what we can. That’s what the show’s all about.
“It’s called Muddle Class because it’s a little bit about me but it’s also a little bit about a lot of the audience who turn up.
“I’m in a situation where I’m from a working-class background but my kids are a bit middle class. And I don’t really feel that I’m in either of those camps any more. So I created the muddle class which is for people who are a bit of a muddle about where they are.”
The cheeky, likeable Mancunian is hardly in a muddle about where he is. His current tour started off at 150 dates but has been extended until next April, allowing an extra 60,000 people to see him doing the job he loves.
“It’s a big old tour but once you’ve written it you’d like everybody to see it,” he says.
His ITV children’s show What Would Your Kid Do? in which parents are challenged to guess what their children will do in a variety of situations has been commissioned for a second series. And he is contracted to record another two albums for Decca. So how does he fit it all in?
“I always have the kids’ holidays off. The tour looks longer than it is because I only do four nights a week. Then I have every fifth week off. It looks worse than it is. I’ve got very supportive people around me and a good family network. It just sort of works really.”
Jason has five children, four with his first wife Catherine – they split in 2013 – and a daughter with his second wife, television producer Lucy Dyke who he married last year.
Jason John Manford was born on 26 May 1981 in Salford, Greater Manchester. He comes from a family of singers but became interested in comedy after watching people like Peter Kay, Eddie Izzard and Johnny Vegas performing in comedy clubs.
He got a job collecting glasses in a club when he was 17. One evening a performer didn’t arrive, so Jason stepped in to fill the gap and his comedy career began to take off.
Soon afterwards he was crowned City Life North West Comedian of the Year. A nomination for the Perrier Award at the Edinburgh Festival in 2005 was followed by a guest appearance on the Channel 4 panel show, 8 Out Of 10 Cats. He replaced Dave Spikey as one of the team captains in 2007 and stayed on the show for the next four years.
He took his live act to Dubai, Singapore and China as huge numbers of people hooked into his humour. How does he describe his brand of comedy?
“I just think it’s funny. I try not to pigeonhole myself too much – other people do that. It’s warm, it’s inclusive, it’s never mean. It’s for grown-ups but I look out (at an audience) and there are people who’ve got their kids and parents with them.”
Between tours Jason is always jotting things down as he recognises material which he will write into his next show.
“It’s not difficult to write once you get started – getting started is the hardest part. You’re staring at a blank screen or a blank page. That’s the hardest point. But you get an idea of what you want to talk about and what you think is interesting. I start there really and then I start writing jokes.”
On the tour Jason will return to the Royal Concert Hall in Nottingham after playing there in February and will also head over to Derby Arena. He’s looking forward to the Derby gig: “I’ve not done it before so I’m looking forward to seeing what that one’s like.”
He says he enjoys East Midlands’ audiences: “They’re great fun. I’ve always included them on my tour. It’s nice to hang out there for a few days. Even when I was on the circuit I used to play Jongleurs or the comedy clubs, so I’ve always had a good time there.”
Jason’s last tour, First World Problems, sold really well, as did the accompanying DVD. But he’s not sure whether a recording of Muddle Class will get into the shops.
“We’re going to film it and see how the land lies. I don’t know if anyone buys DVDs any more, to be honest. First World Problems was four years ago. Since then with the rise of Netflix and Amazon the world has changed, so we’ll just have to see.”
Jason’s career has also changed in that time. He played impresario Leo Bloom in Mel Brooks’ wacky musical The Producers when it toured in 2015, took the role of Caractacus Potts in a tour of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and has acted in a couple of television dramas.
Last year he released his first album A Different Stage, featuring some of his favourite show tunes, which was recorded with the Prague Symphony Orchestra.
Does he have any preference for a particular brand of show business?
“Stand-up’s always my proper job but I like entertaining people. Whether it’s telling jokes, singing a song or doing a tap dance, I’m fine with all of that. I love being on stage – it’s all I’ve ever known. It’s a lovely feeling making people laugh.”
It’s far removed from some of the darker sides of his life. In 2010 he resigned as co-host of the BBC daily programme The One Show after tabloid newspapers published allegations that he exchanged explicit messages with fans on Twitter. And there was a claim that he had an indiscretion only five weeks before his second wedding with a woman who’d been to see one of his shows.
Now he says he doesn’t read what the papers write about him. “To be honest it doesn’t really bother me. Everyone’s got a job to do and if that’s what people choose to do as a job, then fine. As long as my kids aren’t hassled and my parents. It’s just a by-product of being successful in my job really.
“I love hanging out with my kids – they’re the part of my life that I really cherish.”
Then it’s back to talking about Muddle Class. It’s already been running for more than four months and Jason could hardly be happier with the reaction.
“A lot of people have said to me after the show, ‘oh, it’s really nice to hear somebody who’s also struggling and getting through’. Up to now, touch wood, everybody’s left and had lovely things to say about it and has had a good laugh. If you fancy laughing, come along.”
* Muddle Class will be at the Royal Concert Hall on Thursday 21 June and Derby Arena on Saturday 24 November.