Interview: Jon Richardson - A grumpy young man who wants to be loved
By Jay Richardson
Jon Richardson feels that he has been misunderstood, says Jay Richardson
Jon Richardson truly suffers for his art. Notwithstanding a strain of OCD that dictates every item of cutlery he possesses has its own specific place, "tessellating magnificently in their drawer", last year's Edinburgh Comedy Award nominee has been single for seven years.
Despite winning admirers for his Sunday morning radio show on BBC 6 Music, the 27-year-old Lancastrian's burgeoning fame as a comic - and the perception of him as a pernickety misanthrope - has seriously compromised his love life.
"It's something I think about a lot," he admits, slowly stirring a cup of tea. "Because I only write stand-up on things I care about, it means I end up talking about relationships. I don't think I'll ever meet someone through comedy though. Anyone who knows my stuff has a skewed view of who I am, an edited version of me with all the punchlines put in and the filler taken out. I don't know what I can do because I have to talk about it. I would hate to think I'm staying single so I can continue doing material about being single."
Having previously shared a house in Bristol with fellow comics Russell Howard, John Robins and Mark Olver, Richardson currently lives alone in unfashionable Swindon, shunning the distraction of friends and family. "The other day I saw a description: 'more misanthropic stand-up from the grumpy young man'" he sighs. "Eight words that made me think 'oh God, is that who I am?' Someone who moans too much for his age?
"It frustrates me because there's a reason for my complaints. I don't ever want to be that guy on stage moaning about something no-one really cares about. I like to think these are things where people can understand my frustrations and have been in the situation themselves."
He's not instinctively unsociable, enjoying the communal atmosphere of watching sport with friends over a pint. A former chef, he has a retirement plan to run a pub or bistro.
"Every time I go up north I get a little twinge of homesickness," he confesses. "I have to be near London for my career but it's always there in the back of my mind. One of the things about being single is that I don't have the immediacy of a relationship to maintain, so my thoughts tend to turn to dogs, pubs and mountains in the Lake District."
Still, he can be forgiven for occasionally thinking the sky is falling. A terrible run of luck at the Melbourne Comedy Festival in March found him hospitalised with pneumonia on arrival, then stranded by Icelandic volcanic ash as he was about to leave.
"Fairly eventful," he smiles. "But I was chatting to [one-liner comedian] Tim Vine in Melbourne and I think he has a really good attitude. Being happy is about just deciding to be happy, making that decision to just enjoy things. I find it annoying that I can't seem to enjoy anything without my brain picking it apart, bit by bit."
And so, he's returning to Edinburgh this year with Don't Happy, Be Worry, which despite the title, will attempt to be "a much more optimistic show".
To assist him, he's reteaming with his colleagues from the 2006 Comedy Zone showcase, Dan Atkinson and Lloyd Langford, for a final week's run of GIT. An improvised 90 minutes, it will feature the trio trying to answer questions and complete challenges the others have pre-prepared.
"It's an experiment" he says. "We'll have to wait and see what the results are, but I hope audiences will enjoy watching as much as the three of us enjoy ripping it out of each other."
Certainly, it should be more relaxing than his recent booking on Have I Got News For You. Recorded the day after the general election, it placed him opposite deposed Liberal Democrat MP Lembit Opik. "That was fun but odd, because we had to record it at 10am," he recalls. "I'd stayed up all night to watch the results, then went straight to the studio, and yeah, it really felt like I was at the heart of something. Lembit had literally just lost his seat, jumped in a car and driven down. Phones were going off everywhere, everyone was trying to work out what was happening, and annoying as the possibility of a hung parliament was for the country, it was great for the show."
Since then, Opik has started dabbling in stand-up. But he's got some way to go to match Richardson for demand. After leaving his BBC 6 show in March, the comic "curated" Radio 4's Museum of Curiosity, was a regular on Radio 2's World Cup show Never Write Off The Germans and, alongside Jason Manford, Sarah Millican and Rhod Gilbert, writes and provides voices for BBC One's natural history footage sketch show, Walk on the Wild Side.
Richardson admits he used to be "snobbish" about popular, mainstream shows like Wild Side. "But the more you do, the more you realise you should take the opportunity to do something that's just core funny, getting paid to do what people do anyway, sitting around doing silly voices and mucking about."
For his own pet projects, he's more sensitive and discriminating. With a sitcom currently "on the backburner" and a book out next year, both focusing on his relationship difficulties, he abides by "a very strict regime" of quality control.
"I make sure the deals are never really definite, because I don't want to get to a point where I have to write something," he says. "I only want to make something good. I wouldn't want to write a book that succeeds because I'm a stand-up on telly, I'd like it to be readable in 30 years time."
As for his stand-up, he's enjoying it "more and more".
"Everything else involves compromise and collaboration, but when I get up on stage I can say literally anything," he says. Certainly, it's where his perfectionist streak shows itself most strongly. "I'm amazed when I see comics perform the same set over and over again, relating how something funny happened on the way to the gig, even though it happened at some point over the last 20 years. I can't wait to tell people about something that literally just happened to me and see if they find it as funny as I did. That's a real privilege.
"When I started, I had routines where I told something true that was quite funny, but then I'd tag on a punchline that I'd made up. And that would get the big laugh. I've weeded those out now because I can't justify it to myself anymore, you're abusing the trust that alternative comedy established. Joy is delivering a routine that's truly how you thought about something and it's hilarious."
• Jon Richardson: Don't Happy, Be Worry is at the Pleasance Courtyard, 7:40pm, until 30 August. GIT is at the Gilded Balloon Teviot, 23-29 August, at 10:15pm.