Jason Manford has lost count of the number of times he has gigged in the UAE – “A good few,” is the best estimate he can come up with.
But the British A-list comic is unlikely to forget his last visit in a hurry. After a string of performances for The Laughter Factory on his way to the top, Manford returned as a conquering hero in June 2014 for two shows to mark the regional comedy institution’s 18th year in the UAE. But it wasn’t the double standing ovation that made the trip memorable – it was the realisation that some of the material on his hit First World Problems tour didn’t work so well with an expat crowd, who are perhaps a bit more pampered than their UK counterparts.
A familiar face on numerous British TV panel shows – including 8 Out of 10 Cats, QI and Have I Got News For You – as well as the TV drama Ordinary Lies, Manford is one of the United Kingdom's best-loved comedians, with an incredible 1.3 million Facebook fans (the equivalent of one in every 50 Britons).
So it is little surprise that the 35-year-old comic’s show on Thursday, August 25 is sold out, with 650 tickets snapped up more than a week in advance – so fast it crashed The Laughter Factory’s website. That might be the only thing this amiable northerner has in common with Kim Kardashian, mind.
Can you remember how many times you’ve performed in the UAE?
I’ve lost count over the years – a good few. For me, what’s nice [is] it’s always a fun crowd, a good gig, always well put together by the Factory. There’s nowhere like Dubai, and the crowd that you get is so randomly mixed up, you just can’t get it anywhere else. It’s always a magic night.
Your last visit was on the First World Problems tour, where you asked the audiences to share their own trivial grievances. There were a few from the Dubai crowd you might not find anywhere else in the world.
Absolutely. What was funny was the problems I thought were universal. There was a big one I did where I’d say “when you come home from work or a night out, and you get to your bed and your bed isn’t made, the sheets are in the wash, and you feel like crying because you’ve now got to make your bed before you get into it”. And everywhere I used to get huge laughs. Well, in Dubai I launched into it with full gusto – this was my big first-half closer, a big laugh – and it got a little titter from a few people, and everyone else was staring at me like “nope”, awkward silence. It seems nobody has that, because they’ve had someone come in and do it for them.
This time you're doing a Best of Jason Manford tour – sounds a bit like a reformed 1970s rock band.
[Laughs] Yeah, it does a bit. I went to see [fellow British comic] Jimmy Carr who, funnily enough, is doing a “best of” at the moment. I’ve seen all his shows and I watched it and I really had a great time, and I thought “you know what, I don’t remember any of this stuff”. I’ve got about half an hour towards a new show in the bag, but that’s for next year.
How many jokes do you write that we never get to hear?
I’d say you don’t get to hear nine out of 10. You try stuff – I always try it with a few pals first, before an audience, and then I’ll do gigs at really little clubs, 100 to 150-seater, and literally read jokes off bits of paper and see what comes off. Generally, you’ve got to be a harsh master, because people have spent a lot of money to come and see you – they don’t want to hear [rubbish], however funny you think it is.
Who is the funniest person in UK today?
The person who makes me laugh the most is Lee Mack, he’s hilarious. I’ve been working recently with Phill Jupitus, Noel Fielding and Ross Noble – there’s so many funny people. I’m quite a generous laugher, I’m not bitter about it if someone else is being funny.
On your last visit to Dubai, you wrote a hilarious Facebook post about a hotel mix-up. Tell us what happened.
I was dozing in bed, with jet lag. I answered the phone and the guy was going: “Jason Manford? Can we sort that?” I said: “I don’t know who you think you’re speaking to.” He was getting very angry, I was getting really angry back. Essentially, what had happened was that he’d rung the hotel and said “tickets for Jason Manford”, and then they’d just put him through to Jason Manford’s room – and he was trying to buy tickets off me for my own show. We met each other at the gig and had a good laugh about it – but I’m staying under a pseudonym this time.
• Jason Manford performs for The Laughter Factory at Mövenpick Hotel Jumeirah Beach, Dubai, on Thursday, August 25. Tickets are sold out