Like a Premiership footballer in pre-season, Jason Cook is training hard. There are comedy muscles to be honed ahead of a run on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and a UK tour thereafter.
Which, we must assume, is one reason why he woke up in the early hours at the bottom of the stairs at his Newcastle home. “I’m recovering from a hangover,” he tells me the morning – no, the afternoon – after the night before. The voice is a little muzzy.
“My agent came up to see one of the last previews of my Edinburgh show and said, ‘Let’s go for a drink’. Fatal!”
This, football fans must hope, is where the short-lived Premiership simile dies. Comedy requires a different sort of readiness to football, especially if it involves a stand-up routine called Broken.
Yes, Jason Cook is broken... shattered. See that photo. “Work, family and comedy have all conspired to create a shell of a man who is unable to interact in society without being told exactly what to do,” explains the blurb outlining his new show.
And yet: “Despite this, he keeps searching for the joy of life and uses the trials and tribulations some might moan about to turn his life into a richer and happier one.
“The show explores change and how we might resist it with the evolution of life being the key to eternal happiness.”
Gathering his addled wits, Jason elaborates: “It’s just about how I’ve had too much on and eventually it broke me.
“During Hebburn (his biographically-inspired BBC sitcom) I slept for three hours a day for three years. It takes its toll on you. I had to see a therapist. I’m on my seventh one now.”
With many comics you can’t always be quite sure where truth ends and fantasy begins. In Jason’s case, the line is particularly blurred. Hebburn might look like a fictional attempt to create a madcap family (the presence in the cast of Vic Reeves, fellow comic Chris Ramsey and Jason himself hardly discredits this notion) but he will tell you it’s akin to a Panorama documentary.
We’ll come to that. But for the time being Jason says: “You look for the joke in everything (even on those therapists’ couches) and it becomes automatic after a while. I’ve been doing this for 13 years. You look for the joke and often it’s not appropriate, others will tell me.
“For me it’s when sad things happen. You (by which he means ‘I’) find the humour in something that’s really sad because it’s more interesting.
“When bad things happen in the family it’s always a joke that helps to bring things back down to earth. When my dad had a stroke in 2006 he was given three copies of The Strokes album from members of the family. He loved it.
“He’d had a heart attack some years before, on February 12, so he got all this Valentine’s Day stuff, T-shirts with hearts on them.”
Jason has cited his late father, Tony, as an influence and comedy accomplice.
Hebburn, I’m beginning to think, might have been a bit understated. The BBC has decided not to commission a third series which will dismay the fans. “It was a decision made way above my pay grade,” says Jason.
“We had set out a third series and there was more material. It’s based on my family so I only have to give them a poke to say stuff that I can write down.”
If that’s the bad news, the good news – apart from Jason being able to get a bit more kip – is that the Americans are interested in Hebburn (just excuse me while I guffaw and exclaim: Whaat?!).
Yes, the show has been shown in Canada, Australia and across Europe and now, it seems, it has been sold to Happy Madison Productions which numbers American comedy series Rules of Engagement and The Goldbergs among its successes and is part-owned by Adam Sandler.
Tom Hertz, the man behind Rules of Engagement, has been working on the scripts and the ABC network is the cited destination of a Stateside Hebburn.
Jason says: It’s set in Pennsylvania and I’ve read the scripts. It’s pretty good. They’ve taken elements of what we’ve done but they’ve got to put American references in.”
For now, Jason is focusing on stand-up. “TV and stand-up are very different because in stand-up, in the middle of a show, you can take a left turn whereas on telly you write and write and when it’s finished, that’s it.
“On stage there are points you have to get to but in between you can muck about.”
Jason’s Wikipedia entry states that after leaving South Tyneside College he joined the Merchant Navy.
Having always wanted to be a writer – even a journalist at one point – he found a taste for comedy while entertaining shipmates in the bar. “You are stuck in a metal box for five months and there’s nothing else to do. It sharpens your storytelling skills.”
They are, indeed, sharp. Jason sailed the high seas for “seven or eight years” before venturing out onto comedy’s rough waters.
His show at the Edinburgh Fringe begins on Wednesday with the first of three previews and runs until August 24.