Jon Richardson: interview

Posted: Wed Jan 26 2011

Is Jon Richardson just a grumpy bastard? Time Out looks beneath the gruff exterior...

Jon Richardson had a large, loyal following for his BBC 6Music radio show, but in March this year he gave it all up to focus on his first love: stand-up. A double Edinburgh Comedy Award nominee, he's been described as many things over his seven-year comedy career: grouchy, grumpy, sophisticated, misanthropic, petty, hilarious, vulnerable, endearing, confessional…

How would you describe yourself?
'I think I can be all of those things and much more besides. You've been very kind there and not tallied up how many times I've been described as each - I suspect “grumpy” far outnumbers “sophisticated”. It would be nice if, when you die, you get to find out how many times you've been called various things, so you could understand exactly how you're going to be remembered. “I was 123 parts 'hilarious', 289 parts 'sarcastic' and 68 parts 'bastard'.”'

Your onstage persona is that of someone whose glass is not only half empty but cracked and leaking. Are you really that disappointed in the world?
'I don't think there's anything wrong with complaining about a half-filled, broken glass if you paid for a pint. I put a lot of effort into not upsetting people and trying to do things the right way, so I feel I can reserve the right to complain when I feel let down by others. I think comedy can be a way of sugar-coating a pill that needs to be taken and whatever I complain about onstage, I hope I justify the negativity by using humour to make the point. Can I look on the bright side of a world in which arrogant men like Wayne Rooney, John Terry and Andy Carroll are allowed to earn what they do while people die from curable diseases because of a lack of money for medical care? I'm afraid not.'

In 'Don't Happy, Be Worry' you tried to write an upbeat show, but failed. What happened?
'I certainly tried to talk about less complex things, but I've had to accept that it's just not what I do. That isn't to say that my shows are depressing - they aren't. At least I hope they aren't! The problem I have with stories about happy things is that they don't require any skill from a comic - they just repeat the details verbatim. If a comic can write great jokes, or generate laughs from something that isn't, in itself, obviously funny, that's more interesting to me. You have the opportunity to talk to an audience for an hour - I think it would be wasteful not to try to say something more interesting than, “It's funny when a dog farts.” '

As you've become more successful has your outlook on life changed? Are you happier?
'I'm content with what I've done so far in comedy, but I'm well aware that I haven't really achieved anything yet. My goal is to do something that will outlast my own fleeting popularity. Having said that, I'm not foolish enough to think that work is more important than your private life in making you happy, and there's a lot still to work on there.'

What are the positive aspects of pessimism?
'I think a pessimist is just an optimist who has had their heart repeatedly broken. Of course we all want to see the best in people and hope everything will turn out well in the end, but that doesn't get the washing-up done. It takes immense powers of head-in-the-sand delusion to remain optimistic sometimes, and that's not something I admire in people.'

You're 28 and have been single for seven years - is this a case of 'It's not you, it's me' or 'Actually, it is you'?
'Oh, it's definitely me. I suspect anyone reading this interview would be hard pushed to see me as someone that they would want to be around 24 hours a day. I'm hard work, so I avoid relationships - and people in general - to avoid making someone who used to like me hate my guts. I'm fairly certain this will catch up with me. In my sixties I'll probably be some lecherous old perv who's trying to regain the youth he squandered being pretentious in interviews. I'm looking forward to it already!'

You've said that if you had a catchphrase it would be 'Fun must be sacrificed for efficiency'. Is this true when writing a show?
'I would never knowingly sacrifice fun in a show, but I have dropped jokes that were dishonest. It sounds very self-important, and I'll probably grow out of it, but you have to be really comfortable with yourself to be able to play the fool on stage, which people like Harry Hill and Lee Mack do so well.'

What can people expect from your Soho Theatre shows?
'All the best bits from my Edinburgh show this year, plus whatever else is on my mind. I've locked myself away for the last month to write, so any psychology enthusiasts might enjoy seeing the effects of self-enforced isolation on a mind already frayed around the edges.'