Comic Jason Manford is going through a bit of an identity crisis – but he knows just where to come to talk it through.
The stand-up star has built his fortune on paying humorous homage to his earthy, working class Mancunian roots but success hasn’t come without its difficulties.
“My kids are a little bit middle class,” admits Manford, who grew up in Salford in Greater Manchester and got his big break as a last-minute stand-in during a comedy club night at the pub where he worked setting tables.
Manford is bringing his latest show, Muddle Class, to the UAE for a whistle-stop tour of Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Ras Al Khaimah, and he’ll star at the Grand Millennium Hotel in Barsha Heights on New Year’s Eve.
The show chronicles the inner conflict between his working class upbringing and the middle class status a comedy career has afforded him.
“There couldn’t be a better place to do the tour than in the UAE,” says Manford, who won Best Comedy Gig for his 2016 show at the Time Out Dubai Music & Nightlife Awards 2017.
“It’s all about where you are in your life and where you have come from. I’m very much working class but my kids are a little bit middle class. I find myself being somewhere in between.”
The 36-year-old, a seasoned star of stage and screen, feels he doesn’t have to adapt his set too much wherever he lands on the globe – as he is inviting the crowd to enter his side-splitting world.
“When you go anywhere in the world you have to adapt, but it’s not just about the world the audience is experiencing, it is about sharing what goes on in my world,” he adds. I find it works well in the UAE as people’s lifestyles here have changed, but they do like to hear about the old country.
“We get a lot of nationalities coming to the gigs. That’s great for a comedian.”
Family is a major focus in Manford’s comedy, too. He is a dad of five and the little ones not only provide a source for plenty of material, they will be coming along for the ride to the UAE as well.
“My family plays a big part in my comedy,” he says. “I talk about my kids a lot and my parents as well. They are all a big part of my set.”
Manford’s tour – brought to the Middle East by Laughter Factory – will start with a bang with a New Year’s Eve set, before he heads to Ras Al Khaimah on January 4 then on to a gag-packed finale at the Park Rotana in Abu Dhabi the following day.
Manford is looking forward to the fireworks, on and off the stage.
“The family will all be coming over for the tour and it will be a lot of fun,” he says. “I will just slink off to do the gig on New Year’s Eve and then we’re aiming to stick around for the fireworks. We’re looking forward to it.
“It’s something different to do a gig on New Year’s Eve. I know I always struggle for things to do on New Year’s Eve, it often ends up being a disappointment and is never quite as good as you hope it will be, so I thought why not do a comedy show on that night?”
He’s also hoping to take in tourist attractions such as Burj Khalifa, Ferrari World and Yas Waterworld during his UAE visit.
Manford wil be in his element reeling off one-liners behind the mic, but he has also been striking a chord as a musician after releasing his first album, A Different Stage, featuring songs from his favourite shows.
And having spent much of the past year turning his hand to stage theatre, most notably playing Caractacus Potts in the critically-acclaimed UK tour of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in a 12-month run, Manford is excited for a return to comedy. For Manford the transition is no laughing matter, even though some critics may struggle to see him in this new light.
“I think it has been hard for some people to get,” he says.
I knew I could do it, I’ve been in musicals, so it made sense for me. But in Britain, sometimes people don’t like you to step outside your lane. They like to pigeonhole you and put you in a box.”
Comedy remains his first love, however, and Manford was inspired by some of the greatest stage stars in history.
He adds, “I was inspired by a lot of the comedians my dad liked, like Les Dawson and Tommy Cooper. Then a bit later I discovered Billy Connolly, who is just amazing, and, of course, Peter Kay.”
Now Manford is a comedian that rising talents look up to, which is a mantle he is happy to take on.
“There are loads of good ones coming up,” he continues.
“We are always churning them out in Britain. There are the likes of Chris Washington, Daliso Chopanda [who recently appeared in the UAE on his own Laughter Factory tour] and Laura Lexx. The great thing about comedy is that it is a meritocracy. You will only make it if you are good at it. I like to help up-and-coming comedians when I can. You can either bring the ladder up or leave it down.”
The countdown to 2018 is well and truly on and Manford can’t wait to see in the New Year in style in the UAE.
“The shows in the UAE are always really good fun and always include the audience. I am really looking forward to getting out there again,” he says.
And we’re looking forward to seeing him. Book your tickets now.
From Dhs195. Sun Dec 31, 7pm. Grand Millennium Dubai, Barsha Heights, www.800tickets.com.