WITH everything that’s been going on, the past few years don’t seem on the surface to be much of a laughing matter.

But there have been many ridiculous moments of such utter ludicrousness that laughter often seems the only sensible response.

While much comedy has ignored or glossed over the pandemic and the chaos which has followed, Jason Manford is tackling those shared experiences headlong in a new live show which comes to Oxford’s New Theatre tomorrow (Wednesday, November 9). And he is having a good chuckle as he does it.

“It’s about having a cathartic chuckle over the past few years,” he says cheerily with that trademark chummy Salford swagger.

“I thought it was important to have a bit of a ‘time capsule’ and have someone do a show about it. It was such a momentous moment in our lives.”

The title of the show is ‘Like Me’. I ask if that is meant as a statement or request?

“It’s a bit of both,” he says.

“It started off with the obsession about being liked in modern cultures, but then turned to the pandemic.

“It’s rare to go through the same things your audience have been through. There was a lot of cr*p, but also lots of funny moments from being forced together with family or other people. It was an interesting time to be around. There were awful times but also good things, like spending time with the kids and walking and things like that. And for a comedian, that’s where the comedy is. And it’s been fun to talk about.”

Oxford Mail: Jason Manford

Warm and engaging, you can’t help but like Manford.

The neatly bearded, beaming stand-up is a household face through appearances on 8 Out of 10 Cats, Unbeatable, The Masked Singer, Live at the Apollo, QI, Have I Got News For You, and – for a while – presenting The One Show.

And there’s something of the old-fashioned all-round entertainer about him. Unusually for a comic he has starred in a string of West End and touring stage musicals, including Sweeney Todd, The Producers, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Guys and Dolls, and Curtains.

He is at home everywhere from the Theatre Royal Drury Lane to the studios of a shiny TV panel shows and Absolute Radio, on which he presents his own Sunday morning hangover-busting show.

But neither would he look out of place on the stage of working men’s club or at the end of the pier in a northern seaside resort.

Oxford Mail: Jason Manford will headline the Festival of Comedy 2022

So, for all it’s flashes of humour, did the pandemic change him?

“I think so,” he says after a thoughtful pause. “Like a lot of people, you find something that galvanises you and you find yourself asking ‘who am I? What’s my job? And do I have to find a personality?’

“I was someone who needed to spend a bit more time on himself and his family rather than working, as you never know when the job is going to be over.

“It made me bit more appreciative.”

And, he says, people seem keen to reflect on the strange interlude we’ve all been through.

“I had wondered whether audiences would be over it and not want to talk about it, but it’s like doing a gig in 1946 and not talking about Hitler.

“You can’t not talk about the madness of it all.”

And does he get political? “Well, I’m a working class Northerner and the people in power are not the ones I wanted,” he says. “You can’t help but take the Mickey – but then they do that to themselves.

“It’s low hanging fruit. It’s just too easy.”

He goes on: “They live in a different world. It’s not about North and South, I do think it’s a class thing.

“Most comedians come from a working class background anyway. It’s about finding the light in the dark and making people around you happy. When I was growing up, I couldn’t make people financially richer but I could make people laugh. There’s a fine line between comedy and tragedy

With a reputation as top class funnyman and musical star, which stage role does he prefer?

“I love stand-up but you do end up touring by yourself for a long time,” he answers.

“What I love about theatre is being part of a team. Stand-up takes a lot out of you. It takes a year to get up and ready to tour and give people their money’s worth and then a year and a half to tour and then have a break. Each tour can be a four-year endeavour, but when you are doing theatre, it is already written and you’ve just got to rock up and go on.

“It’s a real treat and I find it quite relaxing.”

But, he says, he loves it all. “I like singing and acting and stand-up. There was a time when comedians would finish on a big song and that was expected. That still happens in America, but in this country it’s sort of ‘stay in your lane and do what you do’.”

He chuckles: “I don’t want to ruin the show but I do end on a musical number that people have been enjoying. And it is such a good ending.

“I love what I do!”

  • Jason Manford plays the New Theatre in George Street, Oxford tomorrow (Wednesday, November 9).
  • Tickets from atgtickets.com