Jason Manford seems almost impossibly cheery – despite heading into the second lockdown having to cancel a packed month of stand-up shows.
As he beams a broad smile down the Zoom line from his Manchester home, the comic appears as bright and bouncy as he does when he strides on stage to make people laugh.
But rather than discuss his empty diary, he would much rather talk about how excited he is about Christmas and spending time with his children.
It’s the kind of positivity that endeared the funnyman to many during the last lockdown when, after being forced to close his touring musical and lay off 100 crew, he happily applied for a job at Tesco, delivered shopping for Iceland and helped drive patients to their hospital appointments.
A video of Jason serenading a woman isolating on her own on her 80th birthday with the song On The Street Where You Live went viral and cheered up millions at the height of lockdown.
But the nice man of comedy insists he really is the same person in real life.
“I’m not one of these people who are pretend nice when the cameras are on,” he says.
“I’m always jolly and friendly. I want people to like me and I genuinely like other people. Here at home we’re always laughing and having fun.”
Big-hearted Jason, 39, who has six young children from two marriages, continues to spread lockdown love by volunteering as a driver helping vulnerable people get to hospital.
“I do a couple a week,” he says. “I’ve got one tomorrow. I just send them my availability and crack on. I’ve had some lovely chats, they’re generally elderly people who don’t know who I am. It’s been really nice actually.”
But he says he won’t be doing any more shifts for Iceland, after one customer’s reaction to seeing him delivering her shopping made him feel bad.
Iceland offered him a day’s work as a delivery driver in return for a donation to an NHS charity.
He says: “I felt really sorry for one poor woman. She saw me coming up the path from her window. Iceland had sent a photographer round and I think she thought she must have been the millionth customer and I was arriving with her cheque.
“But it was just me with her shopping. She looked really disappointed.”
Determined that the new lockdown won’t ruin his family Christmas, Jason insists his decorations will go up on December 2.
He says: “My dad’s birthday is on the 1st, so I don’t want to take that away from him. But on the next day the decorations will be up and Christmas songs will be being played.
“We’re also doing an advent calendar of Christmas films –we’re going to watch a different film together every day. Christmas has always been the time we all get together, have a big meal. It’s still my favourite time of year. I think this year of all years, we need to get into the Christmas spirit.”
And he says his garage is already filling up with presents for his kids.
He has four children – twin daughters, a daughter and a son – from his previous marriage, and a daughter and a son with wife Lucy Dyke, who he married in 2017.
Jason says: “I bought yet another game of Monopoly. My kids like role-playing so we got them a little shop and a cafe. My eldest girls just want AirPods, but there’s no way they’re getting those. I’ve got some and I don’t know where the different pieces are – imagine an 11-year-old.
“I’ll try to get the rest of the presents from the little toy shop in our village, who work really hard to compete against online and are now having to shut for lockdown. With the number of kids I’ve got I could go in and get my shopping and he could then close for Christmas.”
In keeping with his love of Christmas and festive films, Jason is working with Sky Cinema ahead of it airing popular Will Ferrell movie Elf, on December 8.
But fans of the comic will be disappointed to find out they won’t be seeing him on I’m A Celebrity this year, despite a slew of rumours.
He says: “I wasn’t approached and if I had I wouldn’t have done it this year in the cold! Maybe another year.
“I’ve been asked to do Strictly a couple of times. I was signed up for it 10 years ago, but had to pull out. I’d like to do the first male partnership, me and Anton.”
Jason grew up in Manchester’s Moss Side council estate with his four brothers and sisters, while his mum was from a family of 11.
He remembers being bullied at school.
He says: “I feel sorry for kids today having phones. When I got bullied at school it finished at half three. At least you’d have the night off.”
Aged 17, he took his first job as a glass collector at the legendary Buzz Club comedy club at The Southern Pub in Chorlton, where he decided to get on stage himself after watching local talent including Peter Kay and Johnny Vegas.
Just six gigs later, he won the 1999 City Life Comedian of the Year competition and is worth an estimated £1.5million.
When his brother Colin followed him into stand-up, he decided to use a different surname so he wouldn’t be overshadowed by his sibling’s fame.
“But then it was like, hang on a minute, this isn’t working out, I’m not getting any of the benefits,” chuckles Jason. “He changed it back and more people came.”
He adds: “My mum sometimes says, why don’t you take your brother on tour as your support act? I would because he’s funny, but the problem is he talks about the same things as me, only differently.
“He’s a lot more rude than me. Whereas I talk about my parents as this slightly dopey couple, he talks about them like some sex-crazed maniacs.”
Despite his success, Jason reveals he is plagued with feelings of inadequacy, especially when seeing other comics. “I always feel like I could be better,” he says, recalling a set from Patton Oswalt.
“Afterwards my friend said to me, ‘Didn’t you enjoy it? You weren’t laughing very much.’ I loved it, but I was just sat there thinking, ‘God, I have to improve, there’s a huge gulf between where I am and where he is.’ It was consuming me the whole time.
“And I guess that’s how I’ll always be. I’ll never be satisfied, thinking I’ve made it. I’ll always feel that I could be better.”
*Jason is speaking on behalf of Sky Cinema to celebrate Elf coming to Sky Cinema on December 8.
His UK tour, Like Me, now kicks off in September 2021.
For tickets and venues visit JasonManford.com.