By James Rampton

Jason Manford is a multitalented man. He is equally gifted as a TV and radio presenter, singer, actor, and musicals star.

But now, I’m very pleased to report, Jason is returning to his first love: stand-up comedy. He is embarking on “Muddle Class”, his first nationwide tour in some years, and he couldn’t be more delighted about it.

The comedian, who is just as funny away from the microphone as on it, takes time out of his busy schedule to chat to me in the run-up to his show at the Watford Colosseum on May 17.

He begins by expressing his pleasure about the prospect of returning to live comedy. “Out of everything I do, stand-up is the job I love most. It’s great to be returning to the freedom of being in charge of what I say and do. It’s just lovely to be back!”

Jason’s legions of fans up and down the country will be equally glad about his return to stand-up. One of the most gifted live comedians in the UK, he enjoys a wonderful rapport with his audience.

A naturally talented comic, Jason is one of those rare acts who simply has to walk on stage to have everyone in fits of laughter. He just possesses “funny bones”.  After spending two hours in his company, the world seems like a happier place.

The critics agree. The Evening Standard describe Jason as, “Effortlessly entertaining”. Meanwhile, the Daily Telegraph assert that, “He’s blessed with the sort of laid-back charm and sharp turn of phrase you can’t manufacture”.

Jason has, of course, enjoyed a hugely successful TV career, starring in such hit shows as 8 out of 10 Cats (Channel 4), The Nightly Show (ITV1), Sunday Night at the Palladium (ITV1), Live at the Apollo (BBC One), Have I Got News For You (BBC One), QI (BBC Two), The Royal Variety Performance (ITV1), and Bigheads (ITV1).

But, he reveals, stand-up holds a special place in his affections. “What I love about live comedy,” Jason says, “is that it’s different from everything else I do – TV, theatre, musicals, and music. Each night is completely different from every other night.”

The comic goes on to give an example. “I’ve been doing stand-up for 20 years now, and during a gig last night loads of stuff was happening that had never happened to me before.

“I was talking about women’s football, and a woman in the audience jumped to the conclusion that I was slagging it off, whereas I was actually praising it. She got argumentative, but I let her have a say. Then I turned to the audience and said, ‘She is saying exactly the same as me!’ I was a victim of sexism!”

Jason adds that, “Things will happen tonight that won’t happen tomorrow and didn’t happen yesterday. Every night is unique. That’s the magic of live. I just love it!”

The comedian also adores the act of touring around the country and getting to know different places. He laughs that, “I get stir-crazy if I stay in one place too long. My whole adult life has been spent touring, and I love it. I couldn’t do a 9-to-5 job. That would hurt my head!”

“Muddle Class” is a hilarious exploration of Jason’s confusion about his current social status. The comedian explains the inspiration behind this brilliant show. “It came from watching other unnamed comedians chatting about being in the queue at Sports Direct. I was saying to myself, ‘You don’t shop at Sports Direct!’

“So”, Jason continues, “I started thinking, ‘What happens if you have some success as a comedian? Do you have to stop doing stand-up because you are different from other people?’ Of course you don’t. What doesn’t change is your relationship with your family and friends. There’s still a huge amount of comedy in that.”

As he started to develop this idea in warm-up shows, Jason discovered that it struck a real chord with audiences. “A lot of people count themselves as ‘Muddle Class’. They find themselves in a place where they think, ‘I don’t know where I belong anymore’. The show is about being in that sort of social muddle.”

What is so entertaining about “Muddle Class” is that it is a very original take on the subject. Jason observes that, “Most class comedy is about people aiming upwards and trying to get out of the working class. Look at Hyacinth Bucket. But I’m aiming the other way. I’m trying to be perceived as working class, even though my life is now very much middle-class!”

What marks out Jason as a stand-up is the honesty of his work. His material raises such laughter because it is so obviously culled from his own life.

For instance, in “Muddle Class”, he bravely tackles the subject of his desire to lose weight after he got stuck in a slide at a waterpark. Jason muses that, “Weight loss is something you don’t hear men talking about very often. We feel self-conscious about it. So it’s nice to hear a bloke discussing it.

“The subject transcends gender. Women come up to me after the show and say, ‘I felt like that as well’. I think that section works so well because it comes from a real place. It’s part of me being very honest on stage.”

Another aspect that distinguishes “Muddle Class” – which also features superb segments on why Disney films focusing on the death of a parent are so depressing, why his brother is suspicious of Jason’s new-found middle-class inclinations, political correctness, and speed awareness courses – is his mastery of physical comedy.

He has an uncanny ability to really bring his routines to life. The comic explains that, “One of the things I really enjoy about stand-up is using other skills. I love playing different characters and doing different voices. Otherwise, it’s just one person talking for two hours.

“It’s a much better show if you observe other people and do things in different voices. Then it’s not just me showing off! At the end of the show, I feel like doing a group bow because there are so many different characters involved.”

His comedy also stands out because it is not trying to score political points. Jason comments that, “I just want people to have a laugh. I do like comedy with a message. I like satire and clever comedy. But no one goes away from my stand-up show thinking, ‘I had a really good think there’!”

Jason is one of the hardest working people in showbiz. As well as fronting a hit three-hour live show on Absolute Radio every Sunday morning - for which he was nominated as Best Music Presenter at The Radio Academy’s 2017’s ARIAS - he is about to present a new primetime show on ITV1, What Would Your Kid Do? This follows on from his successful run presenting ITV1’s Bigheads, which won Best TV Game Show at the 2017 Rose d’Or Awards.

In addition, he has recently released his debut album “A Different Stage” on Decca Records. Drawing on his passion for musical theatre, the Top 10 hit recording includes On the Street Where You Live from My Fair Lady, Hushabye Mountain from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Stars from Les Misérables ,and The Impossible Dream from the 1965 hit Broadway musical, Man of La Mancha.

The stand-up also somehow finds the time to run Manford’s Comedy Club with his brother, Colin. Featuring the top comic talent in the country, the club has employed over 300 comedians to play to more than 45,000 people in over 60 different venues around the UK.

But for the time being, Jason is very much concentrating on “Muddle Class”. He confides in me that the aspect of the tour he is looking forward to most is being reunited with his armies of loyal fans. “People do seem to connect with me,” he affirms.

Jason is eager to repay the compliment to his devoted audience. “I know the effort and expense people go to in order to be at my show. It’s about having respect for that. I know how much it costs to pay for tickets, taxis, food and babysitters.

“Even if you are a huge comedy fan, you might only go to two or three gigs a year. I realise it’s a very big deal that they have come to see me. I know how rare it is for couple to be able to have a night out. So the fact that they want to spend it with me is a real honour.

“As a consequence,” Jason carries on, “I want to ensure they have the best possible night and have a really fun time with me for a couple of hours.”

Jason concludes that, “A lot goes into making ‘Muddle Class’ what I hope is a terrific show. The audience make an effort to be there, I put in the same effort, and together we create a great show. The audience is as important to the show as I am.

“It would be equally rubbish if either of us wasn’t there!”

He’s right. And now I can’t wait to be part of the “Muddle Class” experience. Can you?