A familiar face on UK television, comedian Jason Manford has been noted more for his charity work of late than his day job.
The 33-year-old was instrumental in bringing the plight of teenage cancer sufferer Stephen Sutton to national and then international attention.
After Stephen was diagnosed with colorectal cancer aged 15, Jason helped spearhead a campaign to ensure his fundraising attempts for the Teenage Cancer Charity gained as much exposure as possible –amassing a whopping 4.2 million pounds (Dhs26.1 million) in donations to date.
The plucky teen eventually passed away in May aged 19 and was appointed a Member of the British Empire (MBE) by Queen Elizabeth II this month for his charity work.
Manchester native Jason is known for his eclectic work in entertainment. After rising to prominence as a stand-up, his cheery persona carried him into radio work on XFM, panel shows like 8 Out of 10 Cats, presenting slots including The One Show and acting gigs such as the Johnny Vegas sitcom Ideal.
We rang Jason at his Covent Garden hotel, where the funnyman admitted he was “counting down the days” until his visit to Dubai for two shows next week.
What are you doing in London at the moment?
I’m filming (panel series) A Question of Sport: Super Saturday for BBC One during the day – they’re going out throughout the World Cup – and I’ve got gigs in the evening as I’m on tour.
Your success has seen you go from playing tiny venues to huge arenas. What’s your preferred venue?
On the last tour, I was playing 10,000-person arenas – up to 16,000 people at the O2 Arena. I felt like I had to do it, because it was what everyone else was doing and I didn’t want to get left behind. But I don’t enjoy it as much as I do the smaller 1,000 to 2,000-seater theatres. There’s an intimacy, people can just join in and you can hear the heckles.
So you’re not looking to take the next step up into the territory occupied by the likes of Michael McIntyre?
I don’t really look at it like that. I think, ‘I’m doing better now than I was a year ago, and I’m doing better than I was five years ago, so I’m doing alright’. I think when you’ve had rubbish jobs – and I’ve had horrendous jobs that I hated – then all of this is a bonus. So even if I get to the point that I’m playing the local circuit again or doing (London venue) The Comedy Store at the weekend, I’ll remember that at one point it would have been the best thing that could have ever happened to me.
Did you notice the parallel between your ascent in comedy and the rise in popularity of the panel show format?
Yeah I’d say so. And I was good at them because I’m quite a giving comedian. I’m not competitive, I don’t need to come away from the show thinking, ‘I was the best’. I just think, ‘How can we make this episode the best’, so I always laugh at other comedians’ jokes that I find funny, and I give feed lines to other comics if I know they’ve got a bit I’ve seen them do in the clubs. It’s a bit like being a winger instead of a striker.
You were instrumental in helping bring Stephen Sutton’s cause to the world’s attention. How did that come about and what did the experience teach you?
I’d met Stephen a few times at the Teenage Cancer Trust gigs that we do every year – I’ve been involved with the Trust for about five years now. It was amazing really, and it was amazing to be part of. It just goes to show that most people are really nice, doesn’t it? And it just became a massive phenomenon. It was really celebratory and life-affirming, he was a lovely lad with a lovely family and it was an honour to be part of it.
What specifically captured the public’s attention about Stephen and his story?
I think the immediacy of his situation was massive, as well as his positive outlook – the fact that he was spending his dying days trying to raise money for other people was unbelievable. I mean, who would do that? And the thumbs-up picture has become sort of iconic now.
Are you looking to expand your acting career?
I’d like to. I was in a Tommy Cooper biopic early this year, and I’m writing a sitcom at the moment for ITV. It’s not that far from my life really – it’s about a dad surrounded by his daughters and the trials and tribulations he faces. I’ve written three episodes so far and I’ve got three to go. I’m in Dubai for a week, and I’m hoping to get a bit of time to write. It’ll be odd really, I don’t think I’ve ever had a holiday to myself.
By Adam Zacharias