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Escape with Josh Widdicombe

No Place to Preach

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Toby Hambly
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I spoke to Josh Widdicombe at the beginning of last month, which meant there was only one opener: how was Edinburgh?

“I visited for two days but I certainly wouldn’t make any claim that I had a tough month up there like other comedians.” Oh, I thought, that’s nice – usually at this point returning comedians, actors and producers are a little traumatised by it all – so no Vietnam-movie flashbacks? “Oh no, all I’ve got flashbacks of is going to my friends’ shows and getting drunk really. I’ve got no real tales of horror. It’s quite good going for the fun stuff, I suddenly realise why people go now.”

He did two previews of his new show Bit Much at the Fringe, but why not a full run? “I’m going round the country touring the show – I don’t think it’s helpful to people up in Edinburgh trying to get audiences for me to come up and do a show that people can see in their home cities. I remember when I was starting out in Edinburgh, a big act would come to a huge venue and take lots of ticket sales away. I always said to myself I wouldn’t do that if I got to that level.” That’s gracious of you, I say, plus it means you can be a punter, so everyone’s a winner – “Exactly. It’s a very holistic way of saying that I didn’t want to do any work up there.”

We’re also talking the day after our PM threw a constitutional spanner the size of Wales into the Brexit-works. For political comedians, it’s got to be a struggle to keep up in these exceptionally fluid times. For Josh’s ilk, concerned more with “the minutiae and the facile things in life”, I wonder if staying clear of politics is more about deliberately not doing political material or simply a case of finding other things funnier. “Obviously I’ve got my views on it but I generally don’t feel I know enough that I’m in any place to preach to people about it,” he explains. “I read that stuff and it depresses me.” For someone who’s paid £50 for a babysitter, forked out £40 on dinner, as well as show tickets – “I kind of want it to be a bit of escapism.”

The tour begins in York and gets to New Theatre Oxford on Halloween. Unlike the majority of comedians I’ve spoken to, he seems to unequivocally love touring. “There’s a part of me – the sixty-year-old National Trust part – that really enjoys travelling around seeing different places. And you get to go to these lovely theatres that have history – in Oxford, I’m playing in the theatre where I supported Stephen Merchant and that’s really fulfilling. People come out and watch you and most of your day is spent listening to your music and hanging out in the hotel.” So he doesn’t mind tour life, but I always thought the hardest part would be the polarity – one minute you’re an onstage superhero, next minute you’re alone in a hotel room. “I don’t feel like a superhero,” he self-deprecates.

There isn’t much of comedy land that he hasn’t been to. A regular on Stand Up for the Week, Mock the Week, Insert Name Here, Taskmaster and The Last Leg with Alex Brooker and Adam Hills, he’s also hosted his own weekly radio show on XFM and continues to produce his nostalgic 90s football podcast, Quickly Kevin; Will he Score? I ask what the transition to panel show host is like, having just hosted season two of Hypothetical with James Acaster. “You feel like going, ‘Bloody hell [Adam Hill’s] got more of a job than I thought.’ I thought he was stealing a living on Last Leg.

“What’s really fun about it,” he continues, “is when you go on a show as a guest you’re focused on whether you’re being good on it. When you’re a host your job is as much about enabling other people to be good.” Dara Ó Briain always seemed like the master of that to me, “He’s superb at it, he’s so good at bringing people in. I think that’s the key skill. To be honest, Graham Norton is the king of that. When you go on his show, he makes people at ease and confident – it makes them the funniest they can be.”

So if we’re not expecting any Boris-bashing, what’s Bit Much about? “I’m not gonna lie, I’ve had a baby,” he begins, “but I don’t want to do a show talking about that because no one wants to hear me talk about having a baby.” I know what he means – hearing about other people’s kids is inherently boring – but I’d posit that his slightly miffed, high-pitched ire would be perfect applied to fatherhood. In a media landscape where ever-louder voices vie for an ever-shrinking slice of the pie, there’s real value in someone making a room full of people laugh about life’s little nuisances. In that sense, while it’s an exciting time to be Laura Kuenssberg, we might need the Josh Widdicombes more than ever.
That’s perhaps all a little grand. I’m sure the escapism he aims to provide is more to do with just having a decent night out than much else. That said, when I said I was looking forward to seeing him on Brexit day, there was a slight change in his voice as he asked, “I’m in Oxford on Brexit day?” Yes you are mate, right on time.

Bit Much lands at New Theatre Oxford on 31 October. For tickets see atgtickets.com, for all info go to joshwiddicombe.com

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