“I really hate people who moan about being famous,” moans Josh Widdicombe.
True to his comic persona, he’s found something to get mildly, slightly, gently annoyed about. “People come up to you and tell you they like what you do for a living. How can that possibly be bad? If it means I have to look awkward waiting for someone’s phone to work for a selfie, big fucking deal. I guess I’m lucky I’m not divisive enough for people to come up to me in the street and tell me I’m shit. Maybe they will once they’ve seen the sitcom.”
So far his eponymous sitcom hasn’t been described as “shit”, which is fortunate for Josh. While he’s not at Jerry Seinfeld’s level, the Hammersmith-born, Devon-raised 32-year-old’s recognition factor is rising, and it’s a long time since he was mistakenly assumed to be the son of ex-MP and dancing queen Ann Widdecombe. As well as the TV series currently screening on BBC3, there’s an epic four-month UK stand-up tour – What Do I Do Now – and the award-winning The Last Leg is going Down Under.
Having a shelf life, the possibility of being a flat-sharer aged 60 on TV and the time his girlfriend dumped him because he was so obsessed over stand-up comedy were his main concerns when he sat down with Loaded.
L To distance himself from being identified as the traditionally incompetent, very British loser of Sitcomland, did Josh consider changing his character’s moniker?
JW There was no point, because I’m so clearly playing myself in the show. But there has been a concern when I talk about the series, because I have to say, “One of the best things about writing Josh is…” and talk about myself in the third person. So I sound like a massive bell-end.
L But you’re stuck with this version of Josh now…
J The character is basically me five years ago, so it should have a shelf life. But I’d have absolutely no qualms in keeping the character as a failure if it meant people still wanted to watch. I think some sitcoms are killed off too soon and I’d love to carry on making Josh for as long as possible. If that means I’m still sharing a flat when I’m 60 on TV, so be it.
L Not many sitcoms use references to former, oft-injured Arsenal midfielders…
J Absolutely. We loved putting obscure football references in. I don’t think it matters at all if you don’t know who Abou Diaby is, because the joke should still work in context. If I didn’t understand who an American TV presenter was who The Simpsons referred to, I’d invariably still laugh because you could recognise the type of person it was meant to be about.
L Does writing a sitcom burn up material you might have mined for longer in a live context?
J I’m slightly conscious of running out of things to say that everyone can identify with. Maybe in three tours’ time, I’ll just be writing about hotel air conditioning. But my life away from the stage is as mundane as it’s always been. It doesn’t matter how much money I have in the bank, something as ordinary as beermats will wind me up. And yes, I do have a routine about beermats in the new show.
L So the mounting modicum of fame hasn’t caused you any hassle yet?
J I’ve never seen comedy as a way of getting myself written about in the papers, so I’m happy that nobody really knows anything about my private life. What you have to understand is – my life is so normal that nobody could possibly be interested. But then I heard Steve Coogan say much the same on Desert Island Discs – what he couldn’t understand when he was written about in the Press was why anyone would care.
L Has anyone else’s fame ever given you flutters? Have you met your idols?
J People who say, “Never meet your heroes” are wrong. You should always meet your heroes. I’ve never been disappointed, at least not by anyone who really mattered to me. The only problem is that sometimes I’m working and too nervous to really appreciate it. When I was on The Graham Norton Show with Blur I wanted to just go, “You’re amazing!” to Damon Albarn, but I had to try and be funny myself. So annoying. But I got to go to a secret Blur gig in Wolverhampton afterwards and that was one of the best five nights of my life.
L What’s in store for The Last Leg? And who would you like to persuade onto the show?
J We’re doing a two-part special in Australia early next year. Noel Gallagher would be my dream guest. He’d make a brilliant stand-up comedian – Noel is responsible for more memorable quotes than anyone else in Britain over the past 30 years. I’d love to have Morrissey on too, though I can’t quite see him joining in with the sketch at the end.
L Talking of Mozzer-esque misery, is it true that you took your first steps into comedy because a relationship had ended?
J No that’s not quite it – what happened was I started doing stand-up and immediately became so obsessed with it that my girlfriend finished with me! But there was no bad blood and we’re still on cordial terms, so I’m afraid there’s no story there, mate.
L Do you ever miss having a more “normal” job with regular hours?
J I do miss the routine of working in an office. I find it really hard to say no to work offers, so I haven’t had a proper weekend in years. I miss that routine of being full-time – mainly because I miss having days when I could slack off and still get paid.
Josh is on BBC3 every Wednesday at 10.30pm. See his site for tour dates.
Loaded freelance reporter Chris Roberts has written extensively about music, film, literature and TV. He is also the author of around a dozen books.