HE’S one of the hottest names in comedy, so it seems surprising that 28-year-old Jason Manford is already thinking of retirement.

The Manchester born-and-bred funnyman is planning to leave the world of stand-up to focus on fatherhood, following his upcoming mammoth nine-month UK tour, now that he's the proud dad of twin girls.

"I love fatherhood. It is the best thing I've ever done," he says, smiling.

"My girls are seven months old, so by the time the tour finishes, they'll be 18 months coming to two years. Being away from home, that never gets any easier. It'd be nice to spend the next four to five years at home really, taking them to school, doing that sort of thing."

Manford is, as some may say, at the top of his game. He's won awards, played sell-out tours, appeared on The Royal Variety Performance and Live At The Apollo, and is known for being a team captain on 8 Out Of 10 Cats.

His extensive 140-date 'I'm Turning Into My Dad' tour around the country kicks off on Wednesday July 14, and ends in April 2011.

"It's only that long because I've got babies. If I didn't insist on being home four nights a week, I could probably get it done in six months but because I only want to be away one night a week at the most, then it's taken a bit longer," he explains.

Before that, Manford will take on presenting duties in a new ITV1 show, Comedy Rocks. The one-off show, airing on Friday and hand-picked by the comedian himself, will feature performances from Pixie Lott and Scouting For Girls and appearances from comics Jo Brand, Joe Pasquale and John Bishop and ventriloquist Paul Zerdin.

"There's a bit of comedy, music and we've got a ventriloquist so it's a good mix — it's like an old-fashioned variety show that's been given an update," he says.

If viewers like it, it could lead to a series being commissioned - and he already knows who he would like to invite.

"We've got a long list of performers we'd like to work with and mix in the newer people. It'll be great to see the heritage comedians like Cannon and Ball and mix them up with younger comics like Bill Bailey," he says.

"In an ideal world, you'd go for Jerry Seinfeld, Eddie Izzard, Peter Kay, Michael Buble, and Neil Diamond, but you've got to live in the real world. I think what we've got is pretty strong to be honest."

Manford's path was set when he worked at The Buzz comedy club, in Chorlton, collecting glasses at the age of 17. When a performer failed to arrive for an evening set, he stepped in, hence kicking off the start of his comedy career.

The early days were rather tough, but he stuck with it.

"Early on in your career, you're doing gigs in the middle of nowhere for no money to an audience who don't necessarily like you, so every comic, no matter how big, will have nights like that," he recalls, with a grimace.

"But if anything, they're the nights that make you love the good nights. You need those bad nights because when you're doing Live At The Apollo and the good nights, you remember how bad it can be."

He may have been unfairly dubbed "the poor man's Peter Kay" when he first started, but Manford doesn't mind the comparison, because he's a fan of the Phoenix Nights star.

"Peter Kay helped me get started and on the way with advice and contacts. He was always a lovely fella and he was my favourite comedian. He's so successful, it's awe-inspiring."

Following a cameo in Shameless, he now plans to move into acting and writing for TV.

"I'll stop doing stand-up for a while and start writing, hopefully do more presenting and acting. That's the aim anyway," he says.

"I do enjoy acting. I'm pretty open. I studied drama at university so it was always something I had in mind."