Jason Manford brings his everyman charm to Liverpool Philharmonic, so Getintothis’ Banjo brings along his picnic basket.
There is a school of thought that all performers, including comedians, are meant to have an angle or gimmick or a persona to make them stand out from the crowd.
As examples, in the overcrowded world of stand up comics, we have the likes of Rhod Gilbert (angry, shouty), Joe Wilkinson (scruffy, mad) and Jon Richardson (OCD nerd). If this is true, it would be hard to say just what Jason Manford’s angle is, but we would hazard a guess at ordinary.
His is an observational comedy that many people would recognise, with routines based on the trials of parenthood, cars and life in general. He avoids the search for shock so seemingly beloved of many of the current crop of stand ups and comes across as a nice, regular guy who just happens to be find himself on stage while telling his tales.
His latest tour, going under the banner of Muddle Class, finds Manford supporting himself. As he says, ‘I’m not going to pay someone to do something I can do myself’. To be fair, he does this well; the first half of his set consists of the ‘admin’ side of things, as he discusses the Philharmonic’s rules and settles himself into his work.
The first half of tonight’s show has a more casual feel about it, as support sets are traditionally supposed to do. He mentions the football of course, as he has to do when playing Liverpool Philharmonic on the night of the European cup final, and gives thanks to all those who have showed up at his gig rather than join in the city-wide football fever evident on the way to the venue. In truth, there are a few more empty seats than there should be in a sold out venue, but he takes it all in good spirits.
In this first half, he introduces one of tonight’s two themes, that of there being two versions of us all – one perfect version that eats salad, is polite and is a good parent and child, and a second that will eat three packets of jaffa cakes just before midnight after a day’s dieting. Even at this early stage, there are nods of recognition and people all around prodding each other with elbows as they identify with the observations. This puts us in mind of a Stewart Lee quote, where he pictures two people discussing a gig of his, with one saying ‘was he funny’ and the other replying ‘No, but I agreed the fuck out of him’
But Manford is funny. It is largely due to his charm and character though, writing his jokes down and re-reading them later, they barely seem like jokes at all with his characterful delivery.
For set two, when the gig starts proper, Manford looks at class. Coming from a poor background in Manchester’s Moss Side, where he says his family were laughed at for being the poorest family in the street, he has become successful and, despite his protestations, middle class. This obviously causes him some stress as he ‘doesn’t want to raise kids that he wouldn’t have liked’ when he was their age. He uses a brother working as a plumber to throw his step up the class ladder into sharp, comedic relief.
Muddle class, he tells us, is where you are unsure which class you now belong in – ‘you have a mattress on the front lawn, but it’s memory foam’.
One of the evening’s highlights is when he recounts a trip to Knowsley Safari Park, where he and his brother took their kids. His brother has supplied sandwiches wrapped in tin foil, in a carrier bag while Manford’s ex-wife gave them a picnic basket with hummus, quinoa and chicken goujons, along with ‘the hand grenade of the class war’, an avocado.
Writers and comedians are advised to ‘write about what they know’, and this is what Manford does. Of course, what he knows know is the life of a professional comedian and father of five, so this forms the basis for a lot of his material. At one point, he is even telling us about a joke about him telling a joke, in a whole meta routine that borders on comedy eating itself.
We obviously cannot relate to this, the same way that those of us without kids cannot relate to the large sections of his show concerning parenthood, but this is where the art of observational comedy really lies, not in the observation, but in placing the listener front and centre of the comedian’s experience.
And this is where Jason Manford excels. Despite his success and the contents of his picnic basket, he is one of us, he is an ordinary Joe made good and we can still relate to him.
Especially when we find ourselves eating jaffa cakes at midnight.