Jon Richardson has carved a career out of his own neurosis – and with a new show set to analyse his biggest worries, it’s certainly done him no harm. He tells Gemma Dunn why comedy is the only job for him.
It’s 10 in the morning and Jon Richardson looks troubled.
“My big worry at the moment is that my daughter is listening to a show called The Wiggles,” he begins, sinking into a plush sofa.
“I bought her the album to play in the car and I’d say it’s been three days now since I was able to not hear a song called Do The Propeller! in my head – and I’m starting to think it’s never going to end.
“And it’s not good music!” quips the dad-of-one. “No offence to The Wiggles – they know their market and they’ve fulfilled that remit – but as a 35-year-old, I’m ready to stop doing the propeller now. And I can’t!”
Couch, tick. Coffee in hand, tick. Notes taken, tick.
But this is no therapy session. Rather, the award-winning comedian is vexing ahead of his brand new Dave show, the aptly named Jon Richardson: Ultimate Worrier.
The eight-part series will see Richardson attempt to analyse, assess and log every worry that’s ever been had in his high-tech Worriedness Index – from an impending nuclear apocalypse, to whether he will die an embarrassing death.
“It’s just an hour in my head, basically,” he says with a shrug. “I guess it’s trying to find some order in the world, instead of stressing about everything all the time.
“So we pick some small personal worries and some big global worries, and then try and rank them so that ultimately, they’ll be a giant database.
“So, if you feel like having a worry for 10 minutes, you can decide what level you want to worry at, and then you can just have a stress about it.
“It’s basically a service I’m providing to the world.”
The Lancaster-born stand-up, whose first solo Edinburgh show about his obsessive compulsive personality disorder was nominated for the Best Newcomer award in 2007, ironically isn’t joking.
By his rankings, loading the dishwasher and moths warrant a red grading (severe), while CCTV and marriage are marked as green (low).
“It depends on how you feel on that day,” he laughs. “Some are definitely personal that I find red, like toilet door handles…
“There’s a lot of people who have just never thought about how to come out of a toilet before,” he quickly follows, sensing the need for explanation. “You use your elbow or your knee or another person. Sometimes, I wait 20 minutes if it’s a really dirty toilet.”
Is it fair to say some of his concerns are a tad irrational?
“I feel like most of them are rational once you get through to it,” he reasons. “Ultimately, I need to worry less, but I just don’t like people who don’t worry.
“Whenever I’ve met someone who describes themselves as ‘laid-back’, I never really get on with them. I find that’s an easy way of saying, ‘I let most other people do the work’ – that’s what that means.”
But even he had to accept some help was needed to tackle the colossal task at hand on Ultimate Worrier.
Richardson is joined in the studio each week by two big comedy names, who include Jack Dee, Romesh Ranganathan, Sara Pascoe, Rob Beckett, Jonathan Ross and Victoria Coren Mitchell.
Even his wife, comedian Lucy Beaumont, drops by.
“She was one of our experts,” he recalls. “So we filmed videos, and one of my worries is that, while I was away, she would replace me with a robot, so we sent her a robot to just confront it head on.
“We had her on with Jonathan Ross, who provided the counter-argument, shall we say. He was quite brutal at points. That was probably the closest I came to crying on a show.”
Taking his unease into account, how does he cope with a career that’s synonymous with baying crowds and, in the early days, frosty receptions?
“There’s something about the urgency of it,” muses Richardson, who is currently completing his acclaimed UK tour, The Old Man.
“Any other job I’ve done, I’ve worried about so much that it’s affected my ability to get certain things done. And there’s nothing like the pressure of 3,000 people staring at you to make you do it.
“It’s that ‘being in at the deep end’ thing – some nights, if you don’t feel particularly funny, those nights in any other job, you might phone in sick, but you just can’t when it’s 7.30pm and you have to be funny for a living.”
And despite a flourishing TV career – Richardson is a regular Have I Got News For You panellist and team captain of Channel 4’s 8 Out Of 10 Cats and its Countdown merger – he insists stand-up is where his heart lies.
“If I had to describe my job, I am a stand-up comic, so that’s the thing I’ll be doing in 30 years’ time,” he elaborates.
“Telly is a privilege; you get to do it because somebody takes a gamble and that’s amazing. I’m very lucky to be able to do that, but I’m aware there will also come a point when people will have had enough of me.”
One thing he would like to try is Celebrity Mastermind, he confesses. But there’s just one thing standing in his way.
“I have a rule in terms of bookings – which I’m sure that now I’ve said this I will break – but I don’t take anything with ‘celebrity’ in the title, because I feel like I’m a comic,” he confides.
“I want to do Celebrity Mastermind just to see if I’m as clever as I think I am, but because it says ‘celebrity’ – that’s when you surrender the right to have a meal on your own.
“You’re saying, ‘I’m famous for a living, so you can come up and take photos when I’m on the train’,” he continues. “So that’s my rule.”
Jon Richardson: Ultimate Worrier will air on Dave on Wednesday, May 16.