How broadcaster and all-round TV favourite Jonathan Ross is setting the stage to give up-and-coming comedians their big TV break…
Jonathan Ross has a long history of showcasing new comedy talent. Giving funnymen such as Paul Merton, Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer their first TV break on his 1987 chat show The Last Resort and its follow-up, One Hour With Jonathan Ross, the motormouth host has been instrumental in launching the careers of some of the biggest names in showbiz.
With so many comedy venues across the UK forced to shut their doors during the pandemic, there’s been nowhere for up-and-coming stand-up comedians to reach new audiences. That all changes this week as Jonathan gives comics, on the cusp of their big break, a stage on which to make people laugh with his new ITV show, Jonathan Ross’ Comedy Club.
Each 30-minute show will re-create the atmosphere of a small comedy venue – all filmed within strict social distancing guidelines – and will see new faces, such as Jordan Brookes and Babatunde Aleshe, perform a short set for Jonathan, alongside established names like Katherine Ryan and Rob Beckett, who’ll be popping by to try out new material.
Here, Jonathan Ross, 59, tells us why championing new talent has always been important to him…
Why did you want to make this show?
Jonathan Ross: “I was growing increasingly concerned, as lockdown carried on and theatres and comedy clubs weren’t re-opening, that young comedians had nowhere to work, so weren’t earning any money. To practise, these guys need to be in front of an audience. So I mentioned the idea of doing this show to ITV, got a flat fee for all the comedians appearing, and now we’re filming it!”
What can people expect from the show?
JR: “There will be three newcomers on each show, which will include an open-mic type spot, where the acts will do a quick-fire, two-minute set each. I’ve also got a sidekick, Mawaan Rizwan, who’s going to be a huge star. Throughout the series, established names – such as Rob Beckett and Katherine Ryan – will try out new material. We all just want to watch something that’ll make us laugh and this show will be a fun, upbeat half hour.”
What’s the standard been like?
JR: “It’s been amazing. There are three or four acts who, I’m telling you, are going to be as big as Michael McIntyre in a few years’ time. It’s very satisfying seeing comedians in the early stages of their careers and watch them go on to become huge stars. I remember seeing Michael McIntyre’s first gig – and Alan Carr used to be my warm-up guy!”
How are you going to re-create the atmosphere of a small comedy venue while sticking to Covid-secure guidelines?
JR: “Well, we’ve got an audience of just 50 people and they’ll all be wearing masks throughout the show – that will be a little weird for the comedians, performing to people where they can only see their eyes. After each act, the microphones are sterilised and, generally, there’s a LOT of cleaning going on. As one of the first shows to try working in a TV studio again with an audience, we need to show how it can be done, safely.”
You’ve been showcasing new talent on your various shows since the late-80s. Why has that always been important to you?
JR: “When I made my TV presenting debut on The Last Resort in 1987, I wanted to do an American-style talk show and, crucial to that, was the comedy element. But, back then, the stand-up comedy circuit in the UK wasn’t as well-established as it is now. So we would invite up-and-coming comedians on – it’s where Have I Got News For You’s Paul Merton did his first TV stand-up. I’ve always loved watching comedy, so providing a platform for new acts has always been important to me.”
Have you ever done stand-up yourself?
JR: “I was thrilled to land the job on The Last Resort but then I panicked and thought: ‘I’ve never presented in front of an audience before’. So, to get some practice, I did some open-mic spots at The Comedy Store in London. I think I went down OK – the material wasn’t great but it gave me the confidence to stand in front of a crowd. I’ve never wanted to be a stand-up. The ones I know are always looking at the world from a slightly different perspective. My mind doesn’t work in that way – I’m far too interested in when I’m going to be able to lay down next and read a comic book!”
We’re thrilled The Masked Singer has been given a second series. Are you looking forward to filming that later this month?
“JR: I’m really looking forward to it. There’s no Ken Jeong on the judging panel this time due to travel restrictions but, instead, we’ve got comedian Mo Gilligan. I think he’ll inject something different to the show. I’m really looking forward to working with Davina McCall and Rita Ora again and, of course, Joel Dommett, who’s a great host. And I’m really excited about seeing which famous faces are going to be underneath those masks!”
Jonathan Ross’ Comedy Club starts on Saturday September 12 at 10pm on ITV.