In Conversation with Jon Richardson
Interview by: Caroline Foran
For someone self-described as a grumpy arsehole and a perpetual misanthrope, the last thing you'd expect from a phone call with Jon Richardson is a pleasant and fun-filled exchange. Turns out, he's a bit of a sweetheart. Between TV appearances and a gruelling tour - which takes him to Dublin's Olympia Theatre tomorrow night - the 'smiley comedian with a rather skewed view of the world took some time out for entertainment.ie, showing us that there's perhaps more to him than his 'Don't Happy, Be Worry' philosophy would suggest.
As the Mahon Tribunal draws to a close, revealing the truth behind Bertie's shady financial dealings, it'll be a while yet before the people of Ireland come out of their 4 year-long pisser. With more than enough reasons to empathise with Richardson, he couldn't ask for a more suitable audience. "Everyone everywhere is grumpy and pissed off." Suits him then? "Yeah absolutely,my material is resonating everywhere at the moment", he chuckles.
Unlike most of the comedians I've had the pleasure of speaking with, Richardson didn't just fall into comedy. "I wrote a letter to the BBC after dropping out of UNI telling them that I wanted to become a comedian and asked them to take a look at some of my material. Needless to say, they wrote back saying 'Well it doesn't really work like that'. They did suggest, though, that I put in for their comedy talent search which I did." Upon winning his first heat, this would prove most fruitful for the budding comedian over the years to follow.
Backtracking to a time when it all began, I asked Richardson to recall his first onstage experience, one that was recorded by the BBC: "I was pissed! I drank so much beer before I went on. I was so nervous, never more so in my entire life. I couldn't sleep, I couldn't eat. And I stupidly invited my Mum and sister and all my old friends from UNI and then was thinking 'oh sh*t'. But then, once you get that first laugh from an audience, it all becomes worthwhile."
Speak to any comedian off duty and you'll find they possess a dual persona: On stage they come alight, their sets serving to continually underline the comical manifesto that will accompany their biography, while off stage they may be shy or even altogether different. Richardson is no such comedian. It is true, for those of you who wonder, he is as disillusioned with the world off stage as he is on. But he's not a miserable git altogether. "I think to be jumping around smiling and happy and delighted with life when I'm not working, and then to go on stage and be a miserable arsehole would be contrived. I don't really have an on stage persona." Approaching his 30th birthday however, Richardson does profess that his attitude to life is morphing somewhat. "It's changing a bit, yeah, I'm getting more perspective now and realising that, well, I can go on stage and have a moan, but people don't really care if you're miserable or not. I'm looking back on my twenties now though as a decade that's been good to me."
Hmmm, maybe there's a bit of optimism in there somewhere. Discussing those among us who see the glass half full, Richardson likens optimism to religion, something that people adhere to and believe in despite the reality that sometimes, things do just suck. Would he go so far as to say optimism is a form of ignorance? "When I'm really feeling like a good ole moan, ‘ignorance' is the word I'd probably use, yes."
For many, comedy is a place to escape the problems of the world and, in the company of Jimeoin for example, laugh about things as silly as eyebrows. For Richardson however, comedy is a more powerful place to comment and perhaps work through the problems we encounter on a daily basis - be they personal, social or political. Does he profess a particular agenda? "I do remember saying that it'd be wasteful to be with an audience for an hour and not say something interesting and I do stand by that but I'd hate to think of myself as a comedian with an agenda. My job is to make people laugh. I like to discuss things that I find interesting and, yeah, that involves me having a moan about whatever." Richardson acknowledges the fine line between a comedian who touches on subjects of importance, the power of comedy as a forum for discussion of real issues and the fact that really he is a just a comedian, paid to get laughs, not to perform as an activist, which wouldn't interest him anyway.
Wherever it is that he stands on the threshold between pure gags and meaningful, humorous discussion, as one of the most ‘in demand' comedians currently working the UK circuit, he must be doing something right. With just the right amount of self-deprecation, in 2011 Richardson spoke of having not yet achieved his goal. "My goal is to do something that will outlast my own fleeting popularity." Keen to ensure he doesn't spend too long wallowing on his recent success, Richardson tells me he plans on touring annually. "It'll keep me on my toes. Sometimes I'm sitting in my office thinking ‘I really must write something intelligent and meaningful' but I suppose sometimes I should just enjoy it and kick back." Yes, that he should.
‘It's Not Me, It's You' is the name of the show, featuring the best bits from previous tours and some new material that those lucky enough to be attending the Olympia tomorrow will see. It's also the name of the book he penned as a guide to relationships from the point of view of someone who's not been in one for quite some time. Having read that while Richardson tends to avoid relationships (and in fact people in general), he eventually got himself a girlfriend, I'm eager to find out whether his defeatist attitude towards relationships has been – well - defeated. "Eh no I'm single again," he laughs. "Thanks for pointing that out," I panic. "Oh dear, so you're back to the same point of view you held before?" I scramble to gloss over his romantic misfortune. "Yeah, pretty much. I got into a relationship after my last tour ended and like everyone else in a relationship that's working, you think this is the deal breaker, the one that will last forever but it wasn't. At any given show I know that half the audience are listening to me moan about failed relationships thinking ‘well, that's not me'." "But", I joke, "They're just delusional, aren't they?" He knowingly agrees.
Well then, given that a relationship guide would suggest he's an expert, what's his one piece of advice for people either involved in a relationship or not? "Don't listen to anything I say. Honestly. Come to my show, laugh, but go home telling yourself to think the exact opposite of what you just heard… and don't read my book."
Despite that glowing endorsement, we recommend you encounter both if you can.
Jon Richardson plays Dublin's Olympia Theatre tomorrow, Saturday 31st of March. For future tour dates keep an eye on his official site here.
Story by EI Team | 09:00 | Friday 30th March 2012 | Comedy