Comedian Jason Manford on cancel culture, complaining – and why badly cooked steak in restaurants really bothers him
If you want to avoid getting on the wrong side of Jason Manford, just don’t serve him a badly cooked steak.
The Salford-born comedian, 40, is the host of a new Comedy Central show, all about the British public’s favourite thing to do – complaining. And it turns out that disappointing restaurant visits really grind his gears.
“Steak is one of the easiest things to cook. If you go medium rare and it comes and it’s either tough as old boots, or it looks like it’s just been shown the cooker… That’s the thing that bothers me the most – when it’s something that I can cook myself.
“And if there’s a hotel breakfast and I’ve ordered poached eggs and it’s not runny, it’s like, ‘Oh come on! This is what you do every day’.”
The Complaints Department sees two teams of well-known comics presented with a selection of interviews, tweets and letters in which Britons reveal their most heated moans about a whole host of situations – anything from Tripadvisor and Amazon reviews to articles in the local paper.
Cue lots of funny discussion from the panellists, who open up about their own whines and protests.
Panel shows have been a huge part of Manford’s career – most memorably, perhaps, as a team captain on 8 Out Of 10 Cats – and hosting his own was a “no-brainer, especially after not working for a year”.
“It was a lovely thing to do, got to see some of my mates; Jimmy Carr and Sarah Millican and Sara Pascoe, and John Thompson,” says the TV personality, who will be a judge on the new ITV singing talent show, Starstruck, later this year.
“Being able to get them on the show and have a laugh with them was a lot of fun.”
Asked about the pressure of leading a show, the father of six notes: “Hosting is easier than being a guest, actually, because you’re definitely going to be coming back next week! So, I wasn’t nervous in that respect.”
He adds that the subject of complaining is perfect for comedy, but viewers need to make sure they “tune into the mindset of the show”.
“If you sit there [and think], ‘These people don’t know they’re born complaining about these things”, then you’re not going to get it.
You can imagine he gets a fair few complaints. I can't imagine he finishes a gig without someone complaining!
“In the grand scheme of things, these [complaints] aren’t clean water and free healthcare. These aren’t life-changing problems, but I think it’s a really fun subject to get stuck in to.”
Reflecting on favourite moments from filming, he insists all the guests were “really, really solid” which “made it really easy for everybody”. But there are a couple of complainers who really stand out.
“Sarah Millican, who’s notoriously nice – everybody loves Sarah – hearing she actually lost it one time… You go, ‘Oh my God, I can’t imagine Sarah Millican losing it’.”
He also brings up his pal Jimmy Carr, quipping: “You can imagine he gets a fair few complaints. I can’t imagine he finishes a gig without someone complaining!”
Another comic who starred on 8 Out of 10 Cats alongside Carr and Manford was Sean Lock, who died last month from cancer, aged 58.
Manford says he’s been watching a lot of old clips of the Channel 4 show since his friend’s death.
“People have been sending them to me, and they’ve brought back a lot of memories. He was just a very, very funny man. When you think of doing comedy these days, he’s one of the few comics who didn’t really care what you thought of him, which is quite refreshing.”
This brings us on to the pressing topic of cancel culture, which is when people withdraw support for public figures who have done or said something that isn’t socially acceptable – a climate that could prove tricky for comedians.
Fundamentally, the people who come to comedy nights and go to comedy clubs aren't the same people who are cancelling people for telling jokes and are complaining on Twitter.
However, Manford – who married Lucy Dyke, his second wife, in 2017 – confides he doesn’t find himself worrying about his jokes and checking what he says.
“I’ve never been that sort of comic who needs to worry about saying something or doing something that’s going to upset people because that’s not my style of comedy. But, fundamentally, the people who come to comedy nights and go to comedy clubs aren’t the same people who are cancelling people for telling jokes and are complaining on Twitter.
“The people who come to comedy clubs and comedy nights to see their favourite comedians, or just come out for a laugh, they’re the same people who’ve always come out, and if something offends them, they just go, ‘OK, I won’t go see that person again’ or ‘I’ll ignore it’, and then hope the next comedian is better.
“The problem arises when somebody takes a joke from the context of a comedy night, puts it in print, and then somebody else is reading it on a Sunday morning, surrounded by their family, having a cup of tea and sees a joke that appears to be unbelievably offensive.
“But they’ve not had any of the build-up, they’re not in the environment of the night, they’ve not seen the twinkle in the eye of the comedian.”
Plus, people know what they’re in for when they go to watch certain comedians, he says.
“On paper, Jimmy Carr should have been cancelled a million times over, over and over and over again. His jokes are near-the-knuckle, they’re offensive, they take no prisoners – but go to a Jimmy Carr gig, and you can’t get a ticket! People find their audience.
“At the same time, people might come to see me and think, ‘He’s a bit gentle. I like my comedy with a bit of edge, and so I’m going to go see somebody different’.
“There are enough things out there in the world to be cancelled for; legal issues, harassment issues. I totally understand if someone’s broken the law or has hurt somebody, that’s obviously a legitimate reason for your career to be over, but not because you said something that somebody found upsetting or offensive. Just don’t go see that person again.”
The Complaints Department starts on Comedy Central on Monday September 13