Comedians Jon Richardson and Matt Forde, and me, are sitting in an orange VW Campervan in London’s King’s Cross talking about Channel 4’s new road movie-style comedy Jon Richardson Grows Up – and what it takes to be happy – when Richardson suddenly suggests that he may have to switch careers.
The stand-up comic and captain on panel show 8 out of 10 Cats has made a living from his shtick of being cynical and downbeat, but now he’s stupidly gone and fallen in love with the woman of his dreams. What a fool. Eighteen months into a relationship with his comedian girlfriend, what’s he going to do now?
“It’s taken a while to realise that happiness is more important than my character,” he says in his deadpan way. “If I’m not funny any more then I’ll go and be a chef again or be a teacher. I was a chef after uni….
“For a long time I assumed I’d never get married but I guess I’m normal now,” he laughs, shifting slightly uncomfortably in the tiny space of the Campervan, which forces him to hunch his legs and bend his neck (and he’s not even particularly tall).
“I guess they’re both as a result of me starting to mature and realising I had quite an immature view of life, that if all of life wasn’t going my way then I wouldn’t involve myself in any of it. It was quite petulant.”
Still, he and his travelling companion had a lot of fun in the Campervan in the three-part series, which sees the duo –best mates for many years and veterans of the stand-up circuit – travelling the country and interviewing people about what makes them tick. It is thematically divided – relationships first up, then children, then money.
“We tried to meet people who don’t necessarily prescribe to the conventional views,” says Richardson. “So there are people who are getting married for the nth time, people who have got a difficult relationship with kids or people who had a lot of money and gave it away or people who haven’t got a lot of money but want it….”
Ironically, Forde – who claims to harbour a more optimistic outlook than his mate – is single and looking for love, and episode one sees him embark on two blind dates.
“My fundamental view is that people aren’t all happy and yours is that people are not,” Forde laughs at his pal.
“There’s enough similarities and differences,” agrees Richardson. “We both enjoy sport and politics and the news but there are differences in that which make it a dynamic friendship.”
But why the Campervan, which by this stage is already proving a more than uncomfortable place to record an interview (and which poor Forde had to drive for most of the shoot)?
“We wanted it to have the road trip element. We didn’t want it to be too serious, because we’re comics and we’re just blokes who talk about not knowing what to do with our lives,” says Richardson.
“That is funny and that’s life for most people. We wanted it to be British and just have a pint in a beer garden. America has a copyright on the Route 66 road trip thing but we couldn’t do it without it being funny.”
And funny it is, joshing and mickey-taking and gentle but with a serious edge. And if the two of them did reach any earnest conclusions about life during the series, it was that money doesn’t really buy you happiness.
“We filmed a lottery winner,” continues Richardson. “He’s definitely happier than he was. He’s got a lot of money and he’s used it to do the right thing: houses for friends and so on, but it was actually toxic because he doesn’t see his friends any more because it shifted the balance. Going to the pub is no longer a normal friendship. Do you buy everyone the drinks or do they buy you them to show they don’t care…?”
Richardson and Forde would both be up for making more programmes, citing other themes they could pursue, such as politics, fame, religion and maybe even drugs.
“Ultimately there’s no real restriction when you’re making this sort of show,” says Richardson. “I think we have the variation that America has – the Lake District and Cornwall, the Peak District and the cities we’ve got and the Scottish coastline – such iconic landmarks and such different kinds of people.
“You get talking to a happy Geordie couple and then an old cockney guy, you drive past the Angel of the North and then the historic coastline. There’s the food and the beers as well. Driving across America you just eat hotdogs and burgers, here you can watch people eating fish and chips on the beach….”
Sounds pretty happy to me.
Jon Richardson Grows Up is on Channel 4 on Mondays at 10pm