One of the many successes to come out of last year’s summer of sport has been The Last Leg, Channel 4’s irreverent look at the Paralympics events.
Fronted by Aussie comic Adam Hills (who has a prosthetic leg), sports journalist Alex Brooker (who has one foot) and Josh Widdicombe, it wasn’t afraid to find comedy in disability, inspiring plenty of awkward yet hilarious moments, and prompting TV bosses to quickly commission a second, post-Olympics, run.
One of those most surprised by the continued success of the series is Widdicombe, the fast-rising comedian who previously dabbled in sports writing for a broadsheet.
“Yeah, I was surprised, mainly because there wasn’t an attempt to be anything other than a late night sports show,” he says, before recounting how he became involved in the series.
“I met Pete, the producer, in a Starbucks and he just said, ‘You fancy doing this for the Paralympics?’
“I thought, what’s the worst case scenario?
“I get to see the Paralympics! Which was no bad thing. Then I met Adam and it went really well.
“Maybe the reason it works is that it’s not overly plotted. The fact that it comes naturally, from any angle, subject matter, and the chemistry between three people, and I think that’s maybe the charm of the show – if it does have a charm.”
And it does have a charm, with a clear, visible chemistry between the three presenters who had little prior personal knowledge of each other before the show.
“I’d gigged with Adam a few times, I knew him to say ‘hello’ if we passed on the street, but I didn’t have his number.
“I think it’s just one of those things, that chemistry on TV is luck, we were lucky. We all make each other laugh, we all have different roles to play, although there are no defined roles, we just fell into those roles because of who we are.”
A third run of extended 45-minute shows is currently showing on Channel 4 – no doubt driven by the million-plus viewers it attracts.
“I try to cut myself off from those things,” Widdicombe interjects. “I don’t avidly check the ratings or things like that, but from what I’d heard, it’s exceeded expectations.”
In between TV commitments and his weekly Saturday morning XFM radio show, Widdicombe is enjoying the extended UK-tour of his 2012 live show, The Further Adventures Of.
“I’m really enjoying it after a break. I feel renewed, refreshed,” he says. “I’d kind of forgotten that I liked the show, so getting back out I thought ‘Oh! This is really fun!’.
“The show is so set you just know what you’re doing. It’s a nice almost relaxing thing to do next to writing the next show, The Last Leg and the radio show. The tour feels like a safety zone, I know it so well.”
Widdicombe has a busy few months ahead planning his debut DVD, which clearly elicits both fear and elation in the comic.
“Yes, I’m doing a DVD, which is me and Seann Walsh. We’re both recording our own DVDs at the Hammersmith Apollo on September 26, which is 50% terrifying and 50% exciting … which is a good way to live as a comedian if you want to get better – you need to push yourself,” he says.
“It’s like a football manager picking his team – who’s in?” he jokes of his approach to selecting material. “It’s a nice problem to have. I’ve done three shows, so I have three hours of shows which I need to cut down to an hour and 10 minutes. It should be good fun but I’m not going to think about it until the tour’s over.”
As preparation for his DVD recording, Widdicombe will be playing a tiny show (compared to some of the biggest venues he’s appeared) at Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff next week.
The gig is being staged by the comic’s brother – Henry Widdicombe; one of Wales’ leading comedy promoters and the man behind the Machynelleth Comedy Festival.
Five years on from his stand-up debut, the rising star has already performed in some of the UK’s biggest venues. “I have almost forgotten,” he smiles. “I did eight nights at the Hammersmith Apollo and most acts can’t even do one night there!”
It should be stressed though, that while Widdicombe certainly has the comedy chops to make it, his appearances at these mighty halls and large theatres were as support act to such household names as Alan Carr, Kevin Bridges and Stephen Merchant.
“Playing big nights with those people you learn a lot – I’ve really improved as a comic,” he says. “When you go back to a smaller room now, it’s far less stressful. I remember the first time I played The Glee Club in Cardiff and I thought, ‘How am I going to do this in front of an audience that big?’ But now appearing in front of 500 people at The Glee is easy!”
Josh Widdicombe plays Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff on Thursday. For tickets, call the box office on 029 2030 4400 or visit www.chapter.org
The Last Leg is on Channel 4 on Wednesdays at 10pm