Jason Manford has risen up the comedy echelons thanks largely to his brand of brilliantly observed humour and a charm to his wit few others can equal. His stand-up act is replete with tear-inducing anecdotes, tremendous turns of phrase and lively, audience-inclusive banter.
The last time he played Dubai, his jokes (including one about his phone’s spell check taking the gloss off an angry email by signing him off as Jason Mangoes) went down a storm and he was given not one but two standing ovations. But even Manford was surprised when one of his go-to gags induced little more than a hushed silence, punctuated with a stifled giggle or two.
“It’s funny because I remember one of my favourite jokes on my last tour was the one when you come home after a long day and you go up to your bed and your bed’s not made because you’d put your sheets in the wash earlier,” he recalls.
“It would get a huge laugh everywhere – I’d act it out and make it silly and cry about it – but of course I did it in Dubai and it got nothing because nobody gets home and their bed’s unmade because a cleaner has been in, in the middle of the day, and done it for them.”
Such first-world problems (unmade beds, not crowd silences) were the theme of his last tour, but this time around, Manford is bringing a kind of “greatest hits” – along with a few bonus gags – to the Mövenpick Hotel Jumeirah Beach in JBR on Thursday August 25.
“I’ve just called it a ‘Best Of’ because it’s a higgledy-piggledy mix of some old stuff, some new stuff and some stuff that’ll happen on the night – we’ll see what comes up,” he says. “[The current tour has] been great, actually, because I’ve kind of forgotten a lot of material, so it’s been really fun just trying to relearn and re-remember some of the stuff from previous shows and previous incarnations. Each night has been different, really, because I do it as a bit of a Q&A – I get the audience to write down some questions and we just see what happens on the night.”
Such an ad-libbed style is something Manford is delighted to have been able to carry over to his theatre work. This year has seen him take on his third musical, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, in which he stars alongside fellow comic Phill Jupitus. “I’ve got kids, so I’ve started trying to do more things that they can enjoy and come and watch. I can’t bring them to my stand-up – the oldest one’s only seven,” he says.
“I love Phill. He’s ace to work with and it’s just great working with comics because even though you’re given a script and the director’s telling you where to stand and what to do, when you’re working with comics, you just never know what’s going to happen. There’s always something fun to be said or done and each night we always make it slightly different.”
In the adaptation of Ian Fleming’s timeless classic, Manford plays Caractacus Potts, a role made famous by everyone’s favourite failed Cockney impersonator, Dick Van Dyke. “It’s hard not to think about him [when I play it] but obviously I’m northern and he’s American, and sometimes Mockney,” he says. “In Chitty, he sings all the songs and acts in his actual accent. I presume they saw Mary Poppins and went, ‘Look, don’t worry about it, leave the role play’. So I just play it as me, really, a northern Caractacus Potts.
“I love the theatre… it’s nice to be in the company of different people on tour when you’re so used to being by yourself. I’ll probably have a break from it, though. Unless something amazing comes up – Cameron Mackintosh
[Les Misérables and The Phantom of the Opera producer] rings, I’d take one of his, absolutely.”
Asked if he’d be tempted to branch out into film, using Fleming’s most famous character as his inspiration for a spoof 007, Manford seems reluctant to tread on Rowan Atkinson’s toes. However, he does admit: “Some sort of overweight, northern Bond would be good. I’d be up for that. I actually thought of it before – The Pie Who Loved Me.”
Whether that particular pipe dream (and a sequel called The Man with the Currant Bun, perhaps?) will become a reality is anyone’s guess. But one thing is for certain, Manford will continue to endear himself to comedy fans with an array of anecdotes that are wonderfully self-deprecating and genuinely drawn from personal experience.
“For me, [the anecdotes] all start somewhere in real life because they’re the only ones I can really remember. I’ve written jokes and made stuff up, but that’s the stuff I forget. I presume memory is in a different part of your brain to creativity. And also, the thing with material is, you want to make sure that it’s your own. So when you’ve written a joke or a pun on something topical, if somebody else does that joke, it’s hard to claim, ‘Hey, that’s mine’. If you joke about your own story and you were there at the time, you’ve got more of a claim to it. So pretty much most of it is real-life.”
Manford is clearly delighted to have the chance to regale Dubai with his tales once more, despite the whistle-stop nature of his visit and the two lengthy flights in around 36 hours (“I’ve got kids so I don’t need a lot of sleep”). Thankfully, he doesn’t hold any grudges about a certain joke falling on deaf ears.
“I’ve done the whole Laughter Factory circuit and those gigs were always great,” he says. “The thing is, you’re really lucky in Dubai because you’re never going to turn up at one of their nights and have someone who’s a bit ropey because the expense for them to put on the gig in the first place means that it just can’t happen. You’re only getting top quality.”
And you should know all about Manford’s quality. Just make sure you laugh at his bed-linen gag, all right?
Dhs195 (regular), Dhs295 (premium). Thu August 25, 7.30pm. Mövenpick Hotel Jumeirah Beach, The Walk, JBR, www.thelaughterfactory.com (050 878 6728).