New Interview: Josh Widdicombe

Josh Widdicombe

I last interviewed Josh Widdicombe in late 2011, when he was first starting to be tipped for stardom. You can read that interview here. When I met up with him again at the Riverside Studios in February 2014, he was pretty much on the cusp of household name status, thanks to the C4 series The Last Leg, which he was about to film later that day, as well as regular panel show appearances and sell-out tours. He deserves success too - he's an easy-going nice guy, and, most importantly he's very funny – onstage, onscreen, and, hopefully, here in print where he talks about his life, work, influences and much more. Now read on…

BD: How do you make The Last Leg with Adam Hills and Alex Brooker?

JW: The topics are normally dictated by what excites us the most in the room. It's the third series so we've kind of worked out a system now. On Wednesday we come up with vague topics and vague ideas for little things and sketches we can do. Then on Thursday we hammer them out.

BD: How would you describe the show. It's not a chat show is it?

JW:  No, this is a team effort. That's why you get a lot more sketches and big things at the end. It's amazing what we can get away with, like Adam singing Prince songs and me dressed as a massive Prince symbol. You suggest it and they go 'yes we'll sort that out'.

BD: Do you compete for the best lines?

JW: This is the least competitive show I've ever worked on. There's a reason why we are talking about sport and not doing it. It's the only show I've worked on where the show comes first. This sounds glib, but we all know we will get a chance and because we are working together we all know we have got stuff. So there is never any pressure to say 'shit I should say this before Adam says it!'

BD: I presume you will be doing more about the Winter Paralympics when they start?

JW: Your guess is as good as mine! We didn't do the Superbowl. I think the whole show is based on luck and happenstance rather than an idea, which is maybe why it has worked so well.

BD: It's an interesting hybrid of a sports/topical show.

JW: Let's not beat around the bush, we've all got our eyes on tickets for the Rio Olympics in 2016…

BD: What attracted you to first doing it in 2012?

JW: I took the show because of the free Paralympics tickets. I thought nobody would watch the show, so it had that gestation period with no pressure, which allowed it to create its own identity. If you'd pitched this show you'd have been laughed out of every TV company. 

BD: When not doing The Last Leg you are touring now aren't you?

JW: Yes, there are about 40 more dates. 

BD: Do you like the fact that you mix things up, that you aren't on the road every night?

JW: I'm one of those people who likes what they are not doing. If I spend more than five days in a hotel I go stir crazy. I toured for three months with Stephen Merchant and it was actually more fun to be the support because you can change your set, whereas Stephen was doing same show every night. 

BD: And you are finished by 8.30pm. What did you do then?

JW: Sit in the dressing room, nominally try to use the adrenaline to do some work on my set, but usually watch a lot of old TV shows on youtube. I remember watching Ghostwatch with Michael Parkinson, stuff like that. Or I'd watch Stephen. By the end of that tour I could have performed his show. But if my support came out and watched me I'd say 'what are you doing with your life?'

BD: Who is your tour support?

JW: Suzi Ruffell is supporting me. It's as much about emotional support and helping me not be bored and lonely as it is of being a performer. The key skill is just being a nice person. Choose a mate and it's job done. You've got to spend hours in a car with them. Obviously I won't let her talk to me!  

Actually she does most of the driving. We meet outside the Hammersmith Apollo as it's the easiest way out west. We get obsessed with certain radio shows, Janice Long at midnight on Radio 2 is classic coming home stuff. Liza Tarbuck on Saturdays. There's comedians who will sleep in the back all the way, I'm not a good car sleeper.

BD: How do you feel about this "English Seinfeld" tag that has stuck to you?

JW: It's become a shorthand, I don't know why. I guess it's because it's observational humour. I was on holiday in Mexico and I saw his book Sein Language, from 1993. I was making notes and when I looked back I was writing in his voice and it didn't work at all for me. If you watch a comedian too much you pick up their tics. I very rarely laugh at a book. I never understand that idea of a book being laugh out loud, though I did laugh at Tony Hawkes' Round Ireland With A Fridge. 

BD: Do you think you are like Seinfeld now?

JW: The nuance is different. I've been very wary of doing it from early on, but if I watch comedians I do pick things up so I avoid watching him

BD: When did you first get into comedy?

JW: I grew up obsessed with British comedy in the mid-late 90s. I read that book Sunshine on Putty. That was the era. I grew up in Devon so there was no live comedy scene, then went to Uni in Manchester. The first comedy I remember was Paul Merton. My parents were into him and I remember watching HIGNFY? when they were slagging off Robert Maxwell and Clive Anderson Talks Back when Peter Cook played all the characters. Harry Enfield, The Fast Show, Father Ted.

My favourite thing ever was Fantasy Football League. I thought it would be the most exciting thing to be friends with Frank Skinner and David Baddiel, they must be having the best time ever. I never really set out to be a stand-up. It's the classic thing where I drifted. I did some sub-editing at the Guardian very badly – but it was the Guardian so you can get away with it –  then I wanted to write scripts so I thought I'll have a go at stand-up. The first gig went well so it snowballed, otherwise I'd have given up.

BD: Comedy, chat, sketches - there seems to be a lineage from Fantasy Football League to The Last Leg?

JW: Not consciously, but maybe in a way there is the same spirit of clips, lo-fi sketches, live on Friday night thing. We are hoping to have Frank Skinner on so I'll ask him!

BD: Did things happen quickly when you started out?

JW: In the two years before winning the Leicester Comedian of the Year in 2010 I did 400 gigs. If I could give any tip split up with your girlfriend. I decided I'd better throw myself into this otherwise I've lost everything.

BD: I've noticed people are always asking who your girlfriend is on Google or "is Josh Widdicombe related to Ann Widdicombe (or Widdecombe)"

JW: The other top search is "Is Josh Widdicombe disabled?" A guy was tweeting me and saying 'can you send me a picture of your feet with no shoes on?'. I thought maybe it's a charity thing, then I looked at his site and he was a foot fetishist. 

Continued on Page 2. For more Josh Widdicombe click on 'next' on the right below.

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