WE’VE all become used to Joe Thomas’s schtick; he plays the nice, decent guy, the sensitive one who looks aghast at the world around him.

He’s stared in disbelief in stints in The Inbetweeners, and again in student house comedy drama Fresh Meat.

And he was only a little more world-wise in White Gold, the eighties TV tale of the double glazing con men you couldn’t fail to see through.

Now, Thomas has a new role, which casts him in a very different light.

He’s starring as the rather unlikeable Vincent What’s In A Name?, the theatre play set at a cosy dinner party, or at least all is cosy until the name of Vincent and Anna’s child is revealed. (Clue;would you name a child after a murdering tyrant?)

“Yes, and I get to act,” he says, grinning in reference to the past roles which haven’t taken him to the outer limits of performance skills.

“I’ve shown vulnerability in the past, but this character is brash. He almost thinks he’s the most important person in the play, a stand-up doing his own introduction.”

Thomas makes the point it’s easier to get laughs from a softer character.

“Comedy has so often come from the Beta males in society, the Hugh Grant- Judd Apatow figures, who are apologetic. And it’s been hard to find characters who are funny who aren’t a bit sad.”

Perhaps Rik Mayall’s Alan B’Stard? “Exactly. But machisimo isn’t seen as being funny. However, there is room for rudeness and it’s really interesting to take on this sort of challenge.”

The actor adds; “I’m not sure I would have been given the chance to play this role on television. When I was offered a role in this play I assumed I’d be playing the guy who was offended. Thankfully, theatre likes to cast against type and I’m now the show-off offender.”

Is society afraid of bad boy characters? Is theatre afraid of vaunting toxic males? “I think there is a little bit of that. But that fear isn’t always well-rounded.

“I’ve written a bit of comedy myself and there is a tendency for jokes to be about language, about mistaken comments. And what I like about Damon Beesley’s writing, in White Gold, for example, is men say exactly what they want to say.

“The comedy character doesn’t have to be aware of their own shortcomings. David Brent is also case in point.”

Joe Thomas didn’t grow up with dreams of becoming an actor. He grew up in Essex and read History at Cambridge, although the lure of the stage was underlined when he joined the Footlights, alongside future Inbetweeners star Simon Bird.

“I had been in the debating club at school. It was performance of sorts which I think was down to my love for The Office,” he admits of the Ricky Jervais-fronted series.

“But I also think I’m really rather easily led. When I got to Cambridge the people I was most jealous of were those on stage having a laugh. I’m just a bit easily swayed.

“And when I met (Pembroke graduate and Footlights alumnus Johnny Sweet) I was just about brave enough to become half of a double act.”

After graduation, Thomas briefly shared a flat with Bird and Johnny Sweet.

They wrote extensively, taking an act to the Edinburgh Festival.

“It was a bit like being in a band. And Simon was so motivated. ‘Let’s get up and do some work.’ And I’m quite a loyal person. I wanted to make them happy.”

He smiles; “And I’ve also come to realise I’m not a self-starter, but I’m quite good once someone tells me what to do. I’m a good team player.”

The Edinburgh Festival gigs proved to be a showcase for Thomas and Bird and they landed the Inbetweeners.

But he hasn’t really acted on stage since his university days.

His opening slot is almost stand-up and he admits he’s been trying a little too hard.

“You are desperate for them to start laughing. Perhaps because I haven’t done much theatre since university it may betray a little bit of nerves on my part.

“Yet, the idea of acting, of showing off is really a live form. We should all do it. And I’m enjoying the break from doing the TV stuff.”

He’s playing a self-congratulatory, smug creature. Which politician did he have in mind in rehearsals?

“Any one of them,” he says, grinning. “But I think he’s more of an Essex wide-boy. There’s a bit of the Danny Dyer about him. I like Danny and he has a bit of vulnerability about him too as well as the swagger and the twinkle in the eye.”

He adds; “Hopefully I’ve been able to bring more of my self in as the play goes along (when he reveals a vulnerability). At the end he’s a bit more humble.”

What of his TV roles? Would he have expected to play the role of the decent fellow, the everyman? “I think telly has a lot to do with how you look. I don’t look hard, bad or mad. I’d have hoped to play murderers at some point, but then playing the everyman is a challenge.”

He grins; “You have to work hard to look that calm and normal.”

There is a real sense of humility about Thomas. He’s far from starry. In fact he laughs as he reveals he’s had to work at being more of an ‘ar******. ‘

“In the first year of The Inbetweeners I was so obedient. The first assistant was a female called Jo and when people called out for Jo to take bags to a room or whatever I’d pick them up and take them. It was only later I realised I didn’t have to be the gofer.”

Success has been almost constant. Did he ever pinch himself?

“Yes, I felt I was so lucky to get Fresh Meat (Channel 4), and then Taskmaster (Channel 4) and then White Gold. (BBC1).”

Will we ever see The Inbetweeners get back together?

“All I can say is I really likes those guys. And we’re still connected.”

He grins: “If they can dredge the cesspits of their minds and come up with something, I would certainly be up for reading that.”

What’s In A Name?, the Theatre Royal, Glasgow, October 2- 5.