From humble beginings Matt Richardson is now friend to the stars. But, he tells Katherine Macalister he is still a small town boy at heart
He may be fronting the Xtra Factor, but Matt Richardson’s cheeky charm is also helping to make him a household comedy name.
Not that this Didcot lad is an overnight success – he wants to make that clear. Even though the 22 year-old is still young and living at home with his parents in Didcot, the comedian has worked hard to get where he is.
Having launched himself as a stand-up and being spotted at the Edinburgh Fringe, Simon Cowell nabbed him for the X Factor’s backstage gossip show, which he now hosts with Caroline Flack.
With his Hometown Hero tour having been extended, a panellist slot on new ITV2 comedy show Viral Tap, several other TV pilots under wraps and the X Factor returning soon, he’s now a very busy man. “I just said yes to an opportunity I couldn’t pass up,” he says.
So what did Simon Cowell see in him? “Well, I’m good at chatting to audiences, having compered at Jongleurs, where I had to deal with hen and stag dos, so ad-libbing and thinking on my feet was something I learned the hard way,” Matt says.
Even so, he still has to pinch himself sometimes: “I do feel like I live two lives, because it is ridiculous the really famous people I’ve met through X Factor; introducing my mum to Gary Barlow or my dad to Keith Lemon, and having dinner with Nicole Scherzinger. But even though they are incredibly famous, they are just normal people,” he says.
“And then the next day I’ll be back in Didcot drinking coffee with my mate who works in a pub. But I don’t talk much about the fame side of things because if I got up on stage and started talking about celebs I’d been at a party with, the audience would think I was an ass. But talk about something that happened when you were out with a mate and they can relate to that.”
But while he may be partying with the likes of Kate Moss and Katy Perry, he’s got a tour to do, and that takes priority.
“Touring is all I’ve ever dreamt about when slogging up and down the country’s motorways, doing five gigs a week, playing to 20 people at a time – so I’m not going to mess it up now,” he laughs. “It’s taken 300 shows and 35,000 miles to get here, so I’m going for it now,” he grins.
So when did Matt know he had the gift? “My first gig at Oxford Brookes Student Union went really well, and then I got into the So You Think You’re Funny competition final and looked up the previous finalists. It was like a Who’s Who of comedy and I thought ‘maybe I could do this as a job,” he says.
It still took Matt years to summon up the courage to pursue his dream, his comedy lightbulb moment occurring while watching a Jimmy Carr DVD at home aged 14: “I thought, I want to do that,” he remembers.
It wasn’t until he was mid-way through university, however, that he had the nerve to do anything about it: “I was doing publishing at Oxford Brookes and my lecturer could see I wasn’t happy and asked me what I actually wanted to do.
“I was gigging five nights a week by then and she told me that university would wait, but if this was my time it might not come round again. She gave me the push I needed and I never went back.”
So what did his parents think about their son taking up comedy as a career? “My dad (a lighting salesman) wasn’t happy, but then he came to see me at the Cornerstone in Didcot and said ‘you can do this. I can see that now’.
“But he could also see how much I love doing it. I can’t put my finger on what I love, because only one per cent of stand-up is actual comedy. The rest is admin and travel. But it’s so addictive and like nothing else. And it’s tangible because you can see yourself visibly improving.”
For those of us yet to see him then, is he as slick as his comedy hero Jimmy Carr? “No, the total opposite,” he says. “I’m not a king of the one-liner. To me that’s magic. I’m more yappy and anecdotal, rude and physical. I talk about my mum and dad a lot. It’s not highbrow stuff. My friends are funnier than me. I think I’m just more vocal,” he says cheerfully.
Still living at home, Matt has yet to make the move to London. So does his mum still do his washing? “Yes, but I do my ironing,” he says defensively. “That’s how rock-and-roll I am. But I love Didcot, even though it’s a town like anywhere else. It’s where I always come back to and always will.
So what’s his big dream? “To fill Oxford’s New Theatre single-handedly. It’s where I always went to see my comedy heroes Russell Howard, Greg Davies and Jimmy Carr, so that would be making it in my mind. But then comedy is a brilliant example of meritocracy – what you put in you get back.
“You start at the bottom and put in the hard graft and it’s not glamorous. You spend a lot of time on your own on trains and in cars, which can be demoralising,” he says. “But now I’ve played to crowds of several thousand and that’s amazing. I love it more than anything,” he says.
Matt Richardson plays The Theatre Chipping Norton on Saturday (01608 642350) and Oxford’s Glee Club on April 30 (0871 4720400)