Interview by James Rampton
Josh Widdicombe has a flourishing TV career. He co-presents the award-winning C4 programme, The Last Leg, one of the most popular comedy shows on television.
He has also made memorable appearances on Mock the Week, QI, Live at the Apollo, Have I Got News For You and The Jonathan Ross Show. In addition, he has written and starred his own sitcom, ‘JOSH’, which was broadcast on BBC3 last year, and the highly anticipated second series this autumn.
But for all that TV success, Josh is delighted to be returning now to his first love: stand-up comedy. His is embarking this autumn on a major nationwide tour, visiting Eastbourne’s Congress Theatre on Tuesday 11 October before returning on 12 November to The Brighton Dome with a superb show, “What Do I Do Now? …”
Josh, who hails from Devon, is a stand-up of the very highest order. A wonderfully relaxed presence on stage, he generates a terrific sense of warmth in his audience. A mesmerising performer, he is rapidly emerging as one of the best loved and most in-demand live comedians in the country.
But don’t just take my word for it. The critics have been singing Josh’s praises, too. The Guardian commented that, “This Devonian observationalist has embedded himself among the comedy elite.” Meanwhile, The Independent lauded Josh for his, “Nicely crafted observational comedy.”
In person, Josh is equally entertaining. He is naturally funny, but also possesses the quality we Brits prize above all others: self-deprecation. It is a very appealing combination.
Josh begins by underscoring how delighted he is to be returning to the live comedy arena after a sustained period locked away in various TV studios. “I love stand-up,” he beams. “I think of myself as a stand-up. It’s not like a proper job, but it’s what I do. Other things just happen to me, and they have all come out of my stand-up. It’s good to remind myself why I ended up getting my own sitcom.”
He can’t wait to hit the road with “What Do I Do Now? …” “I’m really looking forward to it. Because I haven’t been on tour for a while, I feel so rejuvenated.”
Josh adds that he relishes the whole process of touring. “I really like the lifestyle, and I really like travelling around the UK. It’s a very pleasant way to see the country. It’s really interesting to see where people come from and then talk to them about those places.
“It’s also quite a meditative way to spend your time. When you know you’re going to be in a car for the next four hours driving to tonight’s venue, your day is prescribed. You think, ‘This is going to happen’. So you just sit there and chat because you can’t do anything else. It’s actually very stress-free.”
A hugely gifted radio performer who hosts BBC Radio 5Live’s legendary Saturday morning sports programme, Fighting Talk, and has previously presented two successful years of The Josh Widdicombe Show on Xfm. Josh is really excited about the prospect of reconnecting with his fans while he is on tour. He has a tremendous rapport with his audience.
The comedian says that relationship is really important to him. “That interaction with the audience is what keeps the show lively and it’s what keeps you interested as a performer. If you’re doing a show for fifty nights, it’s very nice to make every show a bit different. That way, each night feels like a one-off for that particular audience.
“It’s really good to create the sense that something’s happening that night which is not happening anywhere else. To do a completely rehearsed show would seem odd. You might as well send the audience the DVD. It’s important to remember it’s live entertainment.”
He jokes that he is only concerned about die-hard fans. “I say that the loyalists are the ones I’m interested in, the ones who have been there from the start. But in fact I’ll take everyone!”
Another reason why Josh is so popular is because, in spite of his great success, he remains appealingly down-to-earth. “I find it hard when well-known people moan about the difficulty of fame,” Josh muses.
“I was in Edinburgh last week and a lot of people came up to me and chatted. You can’t complain about that. If that’s the tax I have to pay for getting to do what I do, that’s absolutely fine by me.”
Josh adds that, “People are very well-meaning. They don’t shout abuse. It’s all really positive. They don’t want to talk about much because in these days of camera phone everyone is obsessed with documenting that moment.
“As long as they’ve got proof that it happened, it’s fine. That’s how it works. But that’s really good because you can’t spend all day walking the streets talking to people about your canon!”
So what subjects will Josh be addressing in “What Do I Do Now? …”? “As a stand-up, you naturally talk about what’s interesting you, so I’ll be discussing what’s annoying me right now.
“But I’ll also be doing a lot about growing up in Devon in the 1990s. At my primary school, there were only four children in my year. It was a very different experience from a lot of other people’s. So I’ll be doing some comparing and contrasting with how I live now.”
During the tour, BBC3 will be transmitting the second series of Josh’s sitcom. The comedian explains that, “The main character is called Josh and it’s based on me five years ago. It’s me when I wasn’t as successful and was living in a shared house. It’s about the trials and tribulations of that.
“The sitcom Josh is not a success. He’s single and frustrated with his life. He’s a character who’s trapped – that’s what all sitcoms boil down to. I don’t want to watch anyone else being successful, and I don’t want to put viewers through that, either!”
Josh reckons that his material works best when it is taken from his own experience. “With the sitcom, I didn’t want to create something high-concept. Like my stand-up, it’s about my life. I’m not going to set it in a lighthouse because I don’t know what that’s like. The way I work makes it easier to write because the raw material’s all there.”
The comedian is also continuing with his other major TV project, The Last Leg, the much-loved topical comedy show which Josh co-presents with Adam Hills and Alex Brooker.
Josh attempts to put his finger on why The Last Leg, which has grown and grown in popularity since its initial short run during the London 2012 Paralympic Games, is so widely adored. “Why has it struck such a chord? It’s a total fluke rather than a grand plan! We didn’t plot a good way of making the show – we just stumbled across it!”
The comedian, who previously had a successful career as a sports journalist on The Guardian, carries on that, “The chemistry between the three of us is obviously key. You can theorise as long as you want about why we click, but the truth is that some groups just work really well together and some don’t.
“The fact that The Last Leg goes out live helps – that gives it a real energy. Also, for the last ten years, a lot of TV panel shows have looked the same, but The Last Leg feels very different.”
Finally, Josh would like to convey a reassuring message to the people who will doubtless flock to see “What Do I Do Now? …” “I don’t talk about big issues in my act. On TV, a lot of shows are topical, but that’s not why I started doing comedy.
“I’ve never done stand-up about politics or human rights. That’s not what I talk about on a day to day basis with my mates, so why would I go on stage and talk about it?”
He adds that, “I don’t draw any conclusions in this show. You won’t learn anything about me or yourself. But hopefully it’ll be really funny. That’s the primary aim.”
And it’s one that Josh achieves quite brilliantly.