Jason Manford: First World Problems | Gig review by Steve Bennett at The Swan, High Wycombe

Jason Manford: First World Problems

Note: This review is from 2013

Gig review by Steve Bennett at The Swan, High Wycombe

Being initially underwhelmed by a comedy show has to be classed as a first world problem in anyone’s book. Jason Manford’s ridiculously expansive new tour, which will see him on the road until at least the April 2014, contains some great observational routines, but also a fair chunk of filler.

Most of this occurs in the first half, where almost by his own admission he’s pretty much just shooting the breeze. He says he doesn’t need a support act as filling that role is well within his own skillset. ‘I can come on and be a slightly shitter version of myself.’

The routines are, indeed, standard stand-up fare: gripes about dealing with depersonalising call centres, wry comments on the 2011 riots, a call on Londoners to ‘cheer up’ and pointing out that he has a ridiculously cushy working life, being a comic. It would be a cheap shot to joke that he should therefore work harder at his material rather than simply coast, so I won’t make it. Only allude to it.

In fact, Manford delivers so naturally that even with his brilliantly observed routines – and they do come, later –  it always appears that he doesn’t have to work at this at all. So effortlessly likeable, normal and approachable does he seem, that fans try to cadge lifts home from him after gigs.

The first half is indeed all about forging bonds with the audience; making cheesy jibes at the area’s expense, chatting about the football team and identifying nearby posh districts and rival towns, so he can show an affinity with the local psyche. Interspersed with ‘what do you do?’ chats to the audience, it’s standard club MC stuff, but in a theatre it feels like compering for an act that never quite arrives.

However, it does the trick. Enough parochial gags make this seem different from the other 120 or so nights on the tour (for his benefit as much as ours, presumably), and camaraderie is forged. If Jimmy Carr was floored by the heckle ‘you’re not one of us’ the other week, that could never be levelled at Manford. A wealthy TV star he might be, but by his account he takes the bus into town, shares £1 pasties with his mum, and struggles to bring up three under-fives – and we believe him.

This domestic life is the meat of the second half; which hits the ground running with Manford reading examples of the First World Problems that justifies the tour title. Incorporating some audience contributions, this is one of the strongest segments of the two-hour show: sharp, pacy and striking a chord of recognition, it’s a hilarious segment.

There’s a fine line in observational comedy between the universal and the cliché, and Manford occasionally treads on the wrong side; but his affectionate, sometimes exasperated, views of family life – both with his children and his working-class parents – ring so very true that even non-parents will enjoy it. Though going, or having gone through, the same experiences will definitely help.

He has some stories about being ‘that bloke off the telly’, including the preposterous complains The One Show received when he made a light-hearted comment about the woman who put a cat in a bin, which only add to the credibility of everything he tells us about his life.

The first part of his finale is another highlight, when he points to a bit of casual racism that anyone might employ in acceptable, if adult, conversation without really considering how unpleasant it really is. The campaign to change this particular euphemism is as political as he gets.

Manford’s great strengths of his chummy nature and instinctual connection with his audience lets him slip great material like this under the disguise as being ordinary conversation, producing a strong ending to a show that initially seems like so much chit-chat, but turns out to be notably more rewarding.

Review date: 4 Jul 2013
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: High Wycombe Swan

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