© Channel 4
'Maybe I'd be a better person if I could live more in the moment'
Jon Richardson on his many fears
Jon Richardson is to present a new Channel 4 show entitled How to Survive the End of the World along with his wife, Lucy Beaumont.
Here he talks about the programme, which will air at 10pm on Monday February 20.
Tell us about the show…
It’s basically a small terrified man and his (would you believe it) even smaller and sometimes more terrified wife making a list of the things that they’re scared might kill them, and then me going out and looking into them one by one, in the hope that I can come home and tell her "D’you know what, actually these are all irrational fears. We don’t need to worry about any of them, and we can get on with our lives as normal.
What kind of dangers are you investigating?
It’s supposed to be all the major ones, so you’ve got the tabloid ones like terrorism and sausages, and then there are the personal ones. My wife’s biggest fear is air pollution, living in London as we do. She’s convinced that’s the big problem. And my own is sink holes, and the inevitability of us all, at some point, collapsing into a sink hole and never being seen again.
Where do you think your anxieties about the world come from?
I think I’m quite small, I don’t think that helps. I feel quite small in a lot of ways. And I also think I’m right – we’re all going to die of something, and there’s just a lot of awful stuff in the world. I know that’s not a particularly upbeat message, particularly coming from a comedian, but that’s all that life is, really: Dealing with horrific stuff and trying to make it funny.
How much does your anxiety impact on your life?
I think it’s more that it impacts on my demeanour. We’ve had a couple of incidents where we haven’t done things as a family: We’ll avoid built-up areas, so there’s times when we actually have changed events. But it’s more that sort of constant fear of things just stops you being the person you’d like to be.
I don’t know if this has come across in our dealings so far, but I wouldn’t say I’m a particularly sparkling, upbeat person to talk to. I need all the help I can get, so if I could at least not have that voice in the back of my had that’s always telling me to look left and look right and look up, and breathe through my nose and not through my mouth, so it’s double-filtered, and all those silly things, maybe I’d be a better person if I could live more in the moment.
Your wife is also a worrier. Do you wind each other up?
It’s more freaking each other out. We take it in turns to be the one who ruins a day out by telling the other one that actually something horrific might happen. We’ve both got an arsenal of facts that we pull out of our pockets that can ruin any occasion, really. Mine are a lot about food, and their sort of impact on the environment – the meat industry and a lot of industrial farming methods.
So I’ll take meals, and I’ll ruin those, and she’s very good at air pollution and cars and things like that, so she tends to ruin journeys and things like that. So between the two of us we manage to ruin most of the enjoyment that you can take in life.
Wouldn’t it be easier just to go and see a psychiatrist?
It would, but that would be a selfish route to my goal! It would sort me out, but I am in the role of giving to the wider community, and that’s why I’m willing to film my investigations and put them on telly. You will see a genuine upsurge in the wellbeing of Britain. I would say, in the two to three weeks after this, there will be an immediate spike. And then in the six to 12 months afterwards we’ll start to see the economic benefit of my work.
So you’re saving the nation?
Those are your words, but feel free to put them in inverted commas and say ‘People are saying…’ Yeah, I’m saving the world one documentary at a time.’
You found yourself in some pretty weird scenarios, making this film. What was the strangest?
Undoubtedly meeting a man called Troy in Canada. What you often find with these documentaries is that everyone you meet could easily have a documentary all to themselves. People’s lives are fascinating, and this documentary was certainly like that.
As for Troy, there should be a webcam on him all the time, just so that we can tune in and watch him for a bit. He gave us so much footage. He’s not just invented an anti-bear suit. He’s invented what he thinks is an improved Kevlar. It’s a lighter-weight, more flexible, bullet and bomb-proof outfit for the army, which he’s just made himself in his garage. He’s created a chemical which he says if you drop it in an ocean, it’ll separate the oil from the water, so that you can clear up the oil from an spill in minutes rather than weeks.
He’s invented his own laser, which he points at his own head daily, to regenerate hair growth. He’s one of the most intriguing people I’ve met in my life.
We filmed with him in the bear suit, testing it by driving through a brick wall. The hours in his laboratory were so intense. We could have just aired that unedited. And there’s a genuine possibility that he’s invented something that could change the world, and no-one’s listening to him. Because he sounds so intense, you end up just shuffling out of the room, because he’s just terrifying to be with.
But undoubtedly he was the most intriguing, and if I was more of a Louis Theroux type, I’d definitely go back and do a full week with him.
You were also out with plastic bags and butterfly nets in the West Country. What was that all about?
That would be the most humiliating day’s filming. When I’m filming a documentary, I feel like I should be the straight man, watching with a raised eyebrow. And that was the point, with my wellingtons on, running across a damp field with a carrier bag on a stick, that I felt I’d been roped in to becoming the butt of the joke.
The guy I was with bags up air and sells it to China and Hong Kong in neatly-presented glass cases, for extortionate amounts of money, and he’s deadly serious about it. And there’s a wider conversation to have about air as a commodity. As he says, if you’d told people 50 years ago that we bought water in bottles, they would have laughed at you. He may prove to have the last laugh, and he may be a genius, but I’m sure people watching the footage will draw their own conclusions about what he’s up to.
Did the programme go any way to calming any of your fears?
I’d say it was 50:50. It either allayed a fear or it ramped it up. It put some to bed completely, like terrorism. The threat on these shores just isn’t something we should be worried about. But things like air pollution were certainly ramped up.
Now that you’ve become a father, does that add a whole new layer of worries to your life?
Undoubtedly. When you are single you’re invested in the world because you have to be, because that’s all you’ve got. When you have a kids, it’s not more or less, it’s just a different way of worrying about the world. And worrying about the world after I’m dead.
When you’re on your own, before marriage, you think "Well, if it all goes tits up, I’ve got enough whisky to get me through a couple of weeks, Nicolas Cage-style. I’ll just drive to a cliff in Cornwall, get wasted, and watch the world go down."
But I can’t do that anymore. I’ve just ordered a book off the internet about robots, and how they’re going to change the entire way that the world works. I don’t know what job my daughter’s going to do. I certainly don’t want her to be a comedian. I think three in one house is too many.
So I’m about to read a book about whether she’s going to have a job when she’s older. And that’s a worry I didn’t have before. So it’s nice to have those sorts of things to stress about, when the everyday stresses are dealt with.
A lot of people are now worried about events over the Atlantic. What advice can you give to make people worry less?
It’s an odd role to put myself in, as the one to make people worry less. What I would say is there’s never been a time when good people are going to have to be more vocal. You can focus on that man and his deeds, or you can focus on the mobilisation of people, and history shows that, although horrific things may happen, the good people get there in the end.
So it’s going to weed out all the good people and force them to act. And I’d say it’s not enough anymore to check social media and have a chat over a pint about the way the world is going. There will be a lot to get involved in. Although I say that sat in my office, not doing anything!
What I will say is it will generate the best comedy. The best comedy comes out of the worst time. Thatcher in the 80s was when we got the alternative comedy. So this sort of horrific news just has to generate some lunatic, anarchic comedy.
Posted: 9 Feb 2017