With over a decade of stand-up under his belt, Jason Manford’s set himself some new challenges. The comedian tells Susan Griffin why it was time to act.
When Jason Manford was shooting the series Ordinary Lies, rumours swirled that he was playing Michelle Keegan’s husband. He wasn’t, but he found people’s bemused reaction a little insulting.
I’m made up to be hosting it after three end-of-year specials
“I was more offended that people thought it wasn’t believable!” jokes the 34-year-old. “But hang on a minute, I don’t have to be good-looking – I’m funny.”
And Manford will be putting his ‘funny’ talents to use in a new series for ITV called It’s A Funny Old Week. Following the success of his annual comedy review show, A Funny Old Year, this time he’ll be casting his eye over weekly events from news, showbiz, culture and sport.
“I’m made up to be hosting it after three end-of-year specials,” says the Salford-born presenter. “It’s a fun recap of the news from local headlines to world events. I’m looking at the funny side of what goes on in the world each week and discovering how crazy the news can be.”
Citing Billy Connolly as his early comedy inspiration, Manford was only 17 when he first tried stand-up. He was working as a glass collector at a comedy club at the time, when an act didn’t arrive for their spot one night, so he stepped in. Just a few gigs later, and he earned the title of The City Life North West Comedian of the Year.
In 2005, Manford walked away with the prestigious Perrier Award in Edinburgh and now he’s one of the country’s most established comics. Recently, however, he’s been looking to challenge himself in other areas, including focusing more on his acting, following cameo appearances in TV series such as Shameless.
“Stand-up is my favourite job and I’ll never stop doing that, but you get to a point where you go, ‘Right, I’ve played the arenas and the [London] Palladium and the Royal Albert Hall and The O2’,” he reveals. “You’re always getting better, but I never think, ‘What else have I got to learn?’
“Well, until I see someone amazing like Louis CK,” he adds, “and think, ‘Oh God, I’ve still got work to do...’”
But with acting, he feels he’s constantly learning something new. “I’m working with people I can learn from directly,” explains the father-of-five (he has four children with his ex-wife Catherine and one with girlfriend Lucy).
He’s also appeared in the third series of Ripper Street – “I looked like the bloke from the Go Compare adverts” – and Tommy Cooper: Not Like That, Like This, and he’s enjoying his role in Ordinary Lies.
While presenting and acting both involve being in front of the camera, there are fundamental differences.
“First of all, I don’t have to look at it (when I’m acting)” he explains. This is “the complete opposite of what I’m used to”, when working on shows like 8 Out Of 10 Cats, Live At The Apollo and The One Show. “That’s just reading [the autocue], and pretending to look like you’re not reading.”
And he takes his new-found craft seriously.
“I suppose as a comic coming into this world, you do wonder what people are thinking. What’s weird is that you’d think I’d mess about, but the pressure of that means I never do,” he continues.
“I’ll do it a lot off camera, and we’ll have a laugh in the rest period, but I’m never thinking, ‘Oh, I wonder whether this will get on It’ll Be Alright On The Night?’ That’s not on my mind. I’m genuinely thinking, ‘Right, let’s get this done properly’.”
Thankfully, learning lines isn’t a problem.
“I’m on stage a lot with two hours’ worth of material in my head, so remembering what to say isn’t a problem, but it’s a very different discipline and I have a lot of respect for the guys and girls who do it all the time.”
Manford adds that he finds the comedic scenes harder to film than more dramatic sequences, which surprised him.
“I guess if you’re used to being funny and then you’re given a funny scene, it’s hard for that not to go massive. And obviously on telly, and especially in a drama, it’s still got to be real. I can’t be giving it Miranda,” he says, referring to Miranda Hart’s slapstick comedy.
He also finds it’s a relief to do something where: “I’m not looking for the laugh all the time.
“There’s a slight pressure, even in a conversation on a chat show or panel show, where you’re always thinking, ‘How can I get something funny in?’” he admits.
But then, in his line of work, people have certain expectations.
“If you work in an office and you’re in a mood, you can just go in and keep your head down and not have anyone talk to you that day, but when you’re doing something that’s with people, whether performing or sales, that’s your bread and butter, so you’ve got to shut off whatever’s going on in your life,” Manford notes.
“You have to put on a face.”
It’s A Funny Old Week begins on ITV on Monday, June 15