DCSIMG

Interview: Jon Richardson, comedian

IF YOU can't trust a man with OCD to be punctual, who can you trust? Jon Richardson keeps his clocks fast so he won't ever be late but my coffee cup is drained, the empty wrapper of the fancy Italian biscuit-thingy is carefully folded and placed under the saucer – thought I'd better clean up for his arrival – and the temptation to rearrange the sugar bowl is becoming irresistible.

Time to check Richardson's words on latecomers in It's Not Me, It's You, his new memoir which explains why his OCD tendencies hinder romance. Page 151.

"How these people are allowed to exist is beyond me; being late is always status play … Until we all make a decision to leave behind those who do not respect schedules, they will never learn."

I don't quote it when he arrives. (He may be a comedian but that doesn't necessarily mean he has a sense of humour.) Anyway, he apologises and there's probably a voice inside his head screaming: "Why did you write that? Idiot!" so I take pity.

Though obviously not enough pity not to mention it. But he does say that if teaching people about punctuality means leaving your 12-year-old son behind at an M1 service station then so be it – he has to learn. So he'd better just swallow his own medicine.

Jon Richardson is 28. He hasn't had a girlfriend for eight years which, even to someone with my limited mathematical abilities, adds up to trouble. Most men his age try to convince you what studs they are.

Was he frightened of making himself sound like a loser? "No, this needs to be honest. I want this book to say to people, 'This is not just a stage persona. This is who I am. I am the guy who hasn't got a girlfriend.'"

The latest 8 Out Of 10 Cats team captain thinks it's because his extreme perfectionism is off-putting.

Secretly, I think a man who feels an overpowering need to lay the spoons in a drawer in a particular way, gets twitchy over dust on the skirting board and obsesses over washing dishes and scrubbing floors would be even better than a BOGOF of Cillit Bang.

(Incidentally, he also obsesses over apostrophes – how good is that?) Most women would view such a man as a fantastic labour-saving device so what else is going wrong? What's the matter with him?

The matter is that he'd rather not try dating at all than fall short of perfection and fail. Take 'Gemma'. Gemma is a waitress he flirts with every week in a Sunday carvery. She eventually writes her number on his bill and during the course of his book, we see Richardson fantasising about her, but immobilised by fear.

He's so terrified it will all go wrong that he agonises about texting her at all. Finally, we breathe a sigh of relief when he sets up a date, only to be overcome by a desire to shake him when he looks ahead assumes ultimate failure and chickens out, cancelling with a text that says: "It's not you, it's me."

Gemma sounds a bit like a metaphor but Richardson has said the book is really honest so perhaps she's real?

He hesitates. He might be good at comic exaggeration but he's obviously a man who feels uncomfortable telling an outright lie. (If we're keeping score, here, I'd say that's 100 extra points.) "There's no specific Gemma," he admits. "But there are girls who were Gemma, a multitude of girls I have been in that situation with." Well, we knew really. It didn't add up that a man with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder would flirt with a waitress in a restaurant he visited weekly, threatening the routine of his Sunday carvery – even if the broccoli is described as damp enough to wring out like a wet sponge.

Richardson could sound like a cynic. He isn't sure he believes in lasting love and he doesn't understand why people go into a relationship knowing it will last only six months.

Why bother? But actually, his almost impossible demands of perfection really suggest a deep and unfulfilled romanticism. He found it devastating when his last girlfriend got increasingly unhappy around him. So devastating he's been wearing an emotional sackcloth ever since.

"If I'm with someone I want them to be perfectly happy all the time. That for me would be the reason you would devote yourself to one person." But life isn't like that, is it? Experiences can be fantastic without being perfect. "I accept you can't achieve perfection all the time but you can achieve perfection of intent, maybe. I don't think you can go into a relationship with anything other than the intention of it being perfect."

On stage, Richardson has a light-hearted moan about things, and is particularly sceptical about love. (Though he's also capable of a good old rant about people's selfishness, their lack of empathy, their coarseness on a Saturday night when they're plastered and spouting disgusting chat-up lines in the town centre with kebab sauce dribbling down their chin. And who can blame him?)

He's the young Victor Meldrew who picks out the most loved-up looking couple in the front row and tells them, to gales of laughter, that if they're that into each other, they're going to feel even more terrible when it ends – which it will.

"I am comfortable saying that because I know enough to know that when you are in love, it doesn't even enter your thoughts. I am portraying them as the victims but clearly I am the victim because I'm the moany old wizened fool sitting on the couch prodding people who are happier than me. People can laugh because it's clearly me who has the problem."

There is something gentle and vulnerable about Richardson, hidden under a crisp but very thin shell. It's quite hard to describe his niceness without making him sound a bit too benign, like an Andrex puppy gamboling endearingly in soft peach toilet paper.

Later in the day, I meet his fellow comedian, Sarah Millican, who knows him well. Her face turns quite gooey when I mention his name. Isn't he adorable? Didn't I just want to adopt him? Millican has a sister but if she had a little brother, she'd like one like Richardson. But it would be wrong if this makes him sound wishy-washy or characterless; he actually has a lot of interesting – and quite forceful – opinions. He knows what he wants and where he's going.

At the start of the interview he's given his first sight of the final copy of his book in published form. He touches it with slightly awed reverence. Stand-up is so instant, so disposable. This is what he wanted. Something lasting. He can look back in 20 years and know exactly where he was in his twenties.

The book sprang from a cover article he wrote for the magazine of a Sunday newspaper for Valentine's day, in which he discussed his lack of partner.

Society, he says, is obsessed by whether or not he has a girlfriend and he resents feeling under constant pressure to find one. Why don't people take the same interest in what he's done to make his career a success (channelled everything into it instead of love, apparently), or what he does for charity, or even what he thinks about the world.

He's quite political because he doesn't see how you can avoid it. He heard a story on the news the other day about Colonel Gaddafi giving his soldiers the go-ahead to use rape as a weapon of war.

How do people just switch off the telly after hearing such a story and go and get their Jaffa Cakes? These things occupy him and, anyway, he thinks it better to learn to live with yourself before you try living with someone else. "My big thing is that you should be comfortable on your own in the dark. There's nothing eating away at you."

I think maybe there's quite a lot eating him, actually, but Richardson is really game for being questioned. He didn't show anyone his manuscript before publication – not even his mum – because he didn't want to be influenced but now he finds the process of being challenged on it interesting. For someone so afraid of falling short of perfection, he is amazingly fearless about revealing his soul.

And the really key thing about all this is that despite his love life being a disaster, his inner self longs for the apparently unattainable.

"I don't think I believe any more in the perfect long-term relationship. But much as I have written off relationships, maybe one day I will meet someone and if that's the case I'll give up comedy, I'll move … there's nothing I won't do."

Why would he need to give up comedy? Just a sign of his all-or-nothing approach, really. He might not have to but he'd be willing to. "However negative I am, there is a feeling that I am constantly waiting to be proved wrong."

Turns out there was a girl when he was writing the book. She just wasn't called Gemma. They went out to dinner but it ended quite quickly. Richardson talks about it with a mixture of hurt and humour.

"She called it off quite early on and I found that even harder to deal with. So now, next time I will think even more, do you know what, I am not even going to go to the Italian because that cost me sixty quid! You can go to Pizza Hut, eat for 5.99, and then walk off."

We're both laughing but he's obviously a bit sore.

"I am angry at myself for letting my guard down because it upset me a bit. I can't help thinking I could have been doing something all the time that was on my mind. Doing more comedy or setting up a charity or … It's quite a selfish thing to be thinking about. Nobody benefits from your relationship except you and the person involved. Not your family or the disabled or the ill. It's all-encompassing and when it ended I couldn't believe how much it had taken over my life. How much crying you do.

"You can't seem to think about anything else. And then as soon as that ends – and it doesn't end for any other reason than that you decide you're not doing it any more because you have stuff to do – you think, I can't believe I spent so long not doing anything."

The point he stopped looking for a relationship was the point he devoted himself to comedy and his success stemmed from that single-mindedness. But in any balanced life isn't there room for both? You can't always be driven entirely by protecting yourself from pain.

If you don't ever risk anything emotionally, you don't ever gain anything either. Isn't he like the guy who wants to win the lottery but hasn't bought a ticket? Well yeah, he says, but maybe he gave the pound to someone else. That's the other thing Sarah Millican said about him. He always has a clever comeback line.

It will surprise nobody, I'm sure, to learn that Richardson's parents were divorced when he was very young, pre-school age. His mum had a long-term partner until he was about 18, so he had a male role model, but they eventually split too.

In fact, he says in his book he only knows one long-term relationship that is still as good now for the people involved as it was at the start. He's expecting a few relatives' calls on that one. He'll just tell everyone they're "the one".

His mum, now in her late 50s, lives alone and is addressing some of the same issues he faces in his 20s. "The pressure to be in a relationship never really goes away."

He really values his relationship with her and phones every day. "My mum's amazing. She's the person I admire most, I think, in her sacrifice to me and my sister and her level of emotional sacrifice to people around her. She takes a high level of personal responsibility for the welfare of people around her."

And apart from that she's just a typical mum who worries he has an eating disorder if he hasn't had his tea when she calls, and wants to look after him. "Every time I go to see her, she can't bear not to give me something when I'm leaving. She's grabbing things … like candles … 'Can I give you this?' … well, that's your keys you can't give me those. She wants to provide for me still and that's lovely."

His obsessive tendencies started when he was a student but he was a normally messy little boy, growing up in Lancaster.

"I played out and got dirty and camped. I have an enduring memory of leaving a mint Feast on my computer and it melting in. It still makes me shiver that I would be the kind of kid that would do that." But he does remember his father being particularly fastidious.

"I used to go and see him on Sundays in his flat and he had one shopping list, hand-written, that was the same every week and was always at a right angle to the table. It was written in caps lock and was in the order he would find things in the supermarket – so fruit and vegetables would need to be first."

His teachers noted Richardson's sense of humour in reports but he was quite studious and serious in class, geeky even. Secretly he dreamed of being a comedian.

"I assumed it wasn't available. It didn't occur to me that you were allowed to become one. I thought you either are a comedian or you're not – and obviously I'm not, otherwise I'd be on tour." His cousin smuggled him a tape of Roy Chubby Brown.

"The rhythm of it just obsessed me. I listened to it over and over. I didn't understand any of the jokes, didn't know what he was talking about. I knew it was rude. I knew he was a dirty comedian, but the rhythm of his speech and their laughter was the most exciting thing I'd ever heard." He smiles.

"I've grown out of my Roy Chubby Brown phase now. Last week, it was. I just thought, not for me any more, this."

He went to university to study Spanish and Portuguese but knew it was a mistake and only went because his friends did. He dropped out, fed up of stressing over essays that were only marked on how well he told his lecturer something the lecturer already knew. Where was the creativity or originality in that? He loves the fact that stand-up is entirely about his own unique perspective on the world.

"It's purely about your ideas. You are your job. I have really worked hard, made sacrifices. I haven't seen my family as much as I should. I haven't been on holiday for years.

"I haven't had a girlfriend. It does feel like a lot of pressure. But I've done some amazing things, and I've written a book, and if it did end tomorrow, I would be all right with it because I know I have achieved things."

When he left university, he briefly became a chef, then dedicated himself to comedy. He still dreams of owning a pub in the Lake District in his later years.

"I'll be the chef and cook the food and I'll have regulars who come in and I'll go walking. That to me is a dream. That's perfect. I don't see my life lacking in anything in that but then, if I meet someone and had all that plus a relationship that would be great. But I'm not building my life round not being able to bear the thought of being in my 60s and not having someone next to me when I wake up in the morning. That's not what drives me."

He does occasionally worry that he'll reach his 50s and think, 'I haven't slept with enough people. I haven't done any drugs.' But on the whole, one night stands and cheap thrills don't appeal to him much.

Maybe, he says, his next book will be about meeting the perfect woman and settling down. (Millican is quite certain of this scenario. Oh, he just needs to meet the right woman, she insists airily – and he will.) But how is he going to meet the right woman if he is unwilling to take the risk that they turn out to be the wrong one?

Richardson thinks it's not entirely in his hands because young women think he's a bit boring and a lot of them are only interested in men who're good at sex and, well, he doesn't really see himself fitting the bill. In fact, he describes himself as a bit short with too round a head to be fully comfortable passing a tennis court.

Man, but he has an image problem. He needs repackaged and advertised for the single women of Britain. "Young, principled man seeks very tidy mate who knows which way up a Cif bottle goes. Caring, loyal and nice to his mum. GSOH. Very GSOH. Permanent position. No time wasters."

Go on. Apply. He's sweet as an Andrex puppy. And far, far cleaner.

It's Not Me It's You is published by Harper Collins, 11.99

This article was first published in Scotland On Sunday, 26 June, 2011

 
 
 

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