GOSH, what is it about Josh Widdicombe? He’s one of Britain’s top stand-up comedians, he’s a serial TV panelist, he’s back this week with a new series of Channel 4’s The Last Leg and is on the first leg of a national tour.

Yet, despite a career forward thrust that suggests a burning ambition the 35 year-old maintains he never set out to be a comedian. Growing up in Devon, Widdicombe reckoned there was as much chance of becoming a sheep farmer as had had of ending up packing the likes of the King’s Theatre in Glasgow.

But major success doesn’t just land without creating a landing platform, does it, Josh? We come to that but chat kicks off with talk of The Last Leg. It’s unusual hit. And in theory it shouldn’t work at all; it’s not biting satire, it’s more a gumsy nibble at the edges of political strife. “What is it? It’s a complete mess, it features three blokes, two of whom are disabled – which we used to talk about but not as much as we used to - then we talk about the news for a bit and end with a song. What a terrible idea for a show that is. If you pitched that now it would be the worst idea for a TV show you could ever have.” Widdicombe is speaking from a London street where he’s been waiting for an Uber in London, on his way to a meeting. The Uber is late but Widdicombe is relatively calm; the TV persona seems to reflect the reality.

He continues; “Someone once said to me shows such are these are like sitcoms. Those appearing have characters. And we just sort of work well together.”

What of the Widdicombe character? It seems to feature some interesting contradictions “Oh, yeh?” he says, clearly wondering what’s coming next. Well, Josh, you say you never set out to get into comedy as such. After Manchester Uni you worked as a sub editor with the Guardian before taking to the comedy stage.

But surely anyone who can get up on a stage and tell (hopefully) funny stories has to have the performance gene? “I didn’t set out to be a stand up,” he rewinds. “What I wanted was to be able to write in an amusing way. I wanted as much to be a Jon Ronson, and I realised I loved writing. Meantime, I’d always been fascinated by jokes. But I’m not someone who needs to perform.”

Really? He laughs: “I really enjoy it and I have fun but I’m not one of those who says after a show (fey, pompous voice) ‘I’m only myself on stage.’ I don’t have one of those psychotic compulsions to be on stage that, I can confirm, some comedians do.”

Yet, if Billy Connolly’s comedy was forged in the welding huts of Glasgow’s grey, unforgiving shipyards, what elements combined to create this funny, sheep-haired young man who could pass for Elton’s bookish younger brother? Widdicombe, in fact, grew up in a little village in Devon. “It was like growing up in Postman Pat,” he says grinning. “Except that I never got any mail.”

His primary school class contained only four pupils. “There was nothing to do. I grew up in the middle of nowhere so I was obsessed with television.” He muses; “You know when they say ‘Too much television will ruin your mind?’ Well, I was doing the sort of hours that should have destroyed me.”

Young Josh grew up obsessed with comedy such as Harry Hill, TFI Friday , Reeves and Mortimer, The Fast Show. But it never occurred to him to perform - in any fashion. “I wasn’t into making classmates laugh - or any of the comedy clichés. I wanted to disappear. I was a nonentity. I wasn’t too clever but I wasn’t in the bottom group. I wasn’t loud but I wasn’t quiet. I wasn’t a bully and I wasn’t bullied. I was like the Pointless answer that everyone forgets.”

When it was time to go to high school was there a little yearning to be recognised? At least in primary school he’d stood out? “I genuinely don’t know. I do know that in being thrown into a big pond amongst 200 it probably took me a couple of years to get my confidence back.” He adds, in mock serious voice; “I’m not going to lie to you. I wasn’t really a ladies man when I was a teenager.”

Widdicombe left Devon to study Sociology at Manchester University. He loved his new world. “From my first day dropped off in Manchester’s student area, with all these neon kebab shops, I thought like I’d walked onto Times Square. I had three, guilt-free, cheap-drinking, getting-trashed brilliant years before the coalition government put the prices up. In my last year I picked four modules on the same day so I could have six days off in a row. But let’s be honest. You’re not there to learn.”

What he did learn was that he was now attractive to the opposite sex. And he met a girlfriend and began a long term relationship. (Six years). On leaving university, Widdicombe worked as a sports reporter and a sub-editor, all the time trying to make his copy as witty as possible.

He began to write comedy and then tried it out on stage. “If my first gig hadn’t gone down well I wouldn’t have continued,” he maintains. “I’d have thought ‘Well, I’m not good at this.’ It’s like when you play tennis and you realise from the start that your rubbish. Later on with stand-up, when it did go badly, I was able to think back and say ‘Well, at least it has gone well.’”

Widdicombe’s rewind suggests a man who sort of fell into comedy like it was a kiddie ball pond. It’s when he reveals the story of the relationship break-up you realise he believed comedy to be a very serious business. “When on the comedy circuit I became obsessed with stand-up, to the detriment, I realised later, of the relationship. In fact, It ruined it. Although looking back, I can laugh about the ending because it turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me.” What? How so, Josh?

“She was great, but it made me think ‘Well, I’ve lost everything doing this comedy thing so in for a penny, in for a pound. I’ve got to go for it.” He adds; “I think when you start comedy there are some real advantages to being single and in a low-paid job. You have nothing to lose. It’s not like I was a well-paid lawyer when I began. I was earning so little I was able to sell myself to it.”

Widdicombe may have drank his way through uni, but in the comedy world he applied himself with real conviction. “I don’t buy into the phrase ‘comedy genius’. It’s like football; you can have the talent, but 90 per cent is hard work, the other ten per cent is trying to make it all look as natural as possible. The great comedians are always thinking about how to make it better.”

Widdicombe says his new tour is the best he’s ever done. “It’s been about trying to constantly improve,” he says, in serious voice.

And the theme of the show? “I’ve had a baby. And the theme is me trying not to talk about the baby ¬- because no one wants to hear about it. If you’ve got a baby the last thing you want to hear is someone complaining about theirs. Or if you don’t have a baby you feel they are the most boring things that ever lived.”

So it’s about everything but the baby. Except for ten minutes about the baby. Which is nice. But then Josh Widdicombe is nice. He’s a little Michael McIntyre in that sense. He’s not in the Frankie Boyle business of headbutting his audience with affrontery. “It’s not that there are jokes in my head about Harvey Weinstein that are too edgy, and I hold them back. I just don’t think in that way.”

Widdicombe doesn’t seem to want to court controversy. When asked about Ricky Gervais’s recent Golden Globes roasting he says he doesn’t know what Gervais said because he was “away” and “it would be madness to comment.” What? You were in New York, Josh. Not a Mongolian yak. No matter. He’s a likeable, funny fella.

You learn he won’t try out his routines in front of his partner, or a few individuals because he doesn’t have the confidence. And when he explains he’s desperate not to fail and a natural worrier it makes Widdicombe all the more endearing. “Having a child brings with it greater responsibility,” he offers. “ It makes you want to work more because you worry for the future. But then I’ve always worried that it could all end tomorrow. And when you achieve a bit of success you worry even more because you feel it could all go away.”

He adds, with a wry smile; “What if I say the wrong thing on stage in Glasgow and it ruins my career?” Won’t happen, Josh. “No, probably not. But you’ve still got to focus on being good at your work. And try not to worry about the things you can’t control, try and enjoy it, and hope the rest will come.”

Josh Widdicombe is back on The Last Leg, Channel 4, Fridays, at 10pm. He appears at the King’s Theatre Glasgow, January 25 and Aberdeen Music Hall, January 26, Edinburgh Playhouse, May 31 and Perth Concert Hall, June 1.