Stand-up legend, presenter and performer Jason Manford probably needs no introduction, but you might not know that he’s a University of Salford graduate. I was recently lucky enough to have a chat with Jason about his university days prior to his gig at The Storyhouse in Chester.
Hi Jason! What did you like most about studying Media and Performance here at Salford?
The thing I learned was that you get out of a degree what you put into it. The way most transactions work is that you pay for something and then you get it, but a degree works differently- you pay for it, you work hard, and then you get it. So I think that’s the thing I learned the most out of it.
To be honest I thought university wasn’t for me. Then as it happens I bumped into another Salford alumni – Peter Kay. I met Peter on the comedy circuit, obviously he was the big headliner and I was the support, in fact not even that, an open spot really at a comedy club in Fallowfield. We got chatting and became pals, we’ve both got really similar upbringings and backgrounds. He was asking about university and said “It might be worth looking into the HND at Salford because you can audition for it, and if you do well in the audition you might get a place”. From that I did the HND for two years and then stayed on another couple of years…so technically I’m actually more qualified than Peter Kay because he only did the HND!
I bet you like to rub that in his face don’t you?
Yeah well you know…it’s almost like he’s not bothered!
So you started doing comedy before uni then? What did you use from your course that you’ve been able to weave into your professional life?
Me and my pals just made things, you could borrow equipment and make your own stuff so I actually spent a lot of time doing that.
And also I know it’s all gone fancy now with Media City, but they had a thing called Channel M – which was like a studio at the Adelphi Campus, so I did some presenting for them so that was good fun to do. The course was great and we did everything from singing and dancing, to feminism in performance, so I definitely stretched my mind and I picked things that I wouldn’t usually do. I wanted to expand my knowledge I guess. But the other thing I learned was that even when we were making projects such as a film, I wasn’t always in it as an actor, I would often do other things like camera, lights and sound. So when I come to a studio or a TV Set now, I do have an idea of what’s going on and you also have a bit of empathy and sympathy with the people doing those jobs. If someone’s holding a boom mic for 8 hours a day there’s no point in you saying ‘oh I’m tired today’ when you’ve been sat in a trailer with a runner bringing you cups of tea!
I know you mentioned Peter Kay earlier, are you still in touch with people from your uni days?
Yeah! Obviously I see Peter a lot, I see Reg – who was my best man at my wedding and I was the best man at his. He’s in Benidorm now, the TV show, he doesn’t live there. So yeah quite a lot of people went on to do brilliant things.
So how do you stay connected with Salford as an individual?
I’m always in touch with people who still work there, the lecturers. I come in and speak to the comedy students sometimes and I recently did a gig in the theatre. Lisa Moore still works at Salford, she was my TV Acting tutor!
Aw lovely, I bet it’s nice for her to see the successes of her students!
Yeah, doing some acting on TV!
What advice would you give to graduates wanting to go down the path you did into comedy?
I just made sure I did everything. I did singing and dancing, I even did the stuff where I thought “will this ever be useful?”. Now I’m able to do stand-up, musical theatre, acting and presenting so in that respect I feel like I got a good grounding. The thing for me was that I could have easily picked the stand-up comedy module, the thing I was already good at. But I just stretched myself. When you finish a course like that you need to be open to other areas of the business – because not everyone will make it, and that’s a fact. I think my main advice to people is to stay realistic, although I absolutely think people should dare to dream. Just don’t hurt yourself and your mind. Mental health is so important.
My dad said to me “your horizons should be your middle distance”. For me it wasn’t about saying “one day I will host the Royal Variety” or “one day I’ll have my own show”. I broke it down and I just remember thinking that if I could get a weekend at the Frog and Bucket I would be happy. If I could get a gig at the Comedy Store it would make my life…if I could get a few gigs in London that would be amazing…if I could do a show in Edinburgh at the festival that would be wonderful. I just feel like those were more manageable. That’s the thing I often say to people. Absolutely have ambition but break it down into manageable chunks.
Wow, what sound advice. Thanks so much for sharing that!
The other thing I’d say would be don’t compare yourself to other people. It can just eat away at you. Everyone’s on their own path! One of my best friends is John Bishop, who didn’t start his stand up until he was in his forties and now he’s huge and successful. Whereas I started at sixteen. You play your own game.
What would you say is your biggest professional achievement to date?
Certainly playing the Royal Variety in Salford when it came to Salford. That was pretty special, with the Royal Family coming up and seeing our city…that was great. I would probably say having your own show on the telly too, when your name’s in the title it’s very exciting. And working with amazing people, I worked on Ordinary Lives for BBC1 and that’s just a dream job so I don’t know! I’ve done a lot of things. I’m able to tour and play Manchester Arena, I’ve done an album and a book which is amazing. I’ve done so many things it’s hard to break them down.
They’re all so different too aren’t they! What’s next after the Muddle Class tour?
Little bit of down time…we’ve got another series of ‘What Would Your Kid Do’ which is a series I do for ITV. Then a bit of musical theatre later in the year. I’ll probably take six months off then to do a bit of writing and spend some time with the kids. That’s the hardest part of the job to be honest, balancing the work ethic and the family time- but I feel like I’ve got that this year.