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Manchester Comedy Festival

Trudie Robinson on what makes Manchester the funniest city of them all

Published on October 17th 2008.

Manchester Comedy Festival

There are many preconceptions about Manchester: that it rains persistently (ok so it’s doing that as I type but c’mon it isn’t all the time), that we all have a Stone Roses/Ian Brown CD in our collections and that we get Eccles cakes on prescription.

But one preconception that is true is, boy, do we like a laugh. The comedy scene in this funny city of ours is an impressive one. Yeah, there are clubs all across the country these days, a bit of a scene in Birmingham spreading across to the East Midlands, the likes of Bill Bailey and Russell Howard kicked off their careers on the Bristol/Bath circuit and just about every arts centre/village hall/bar in every town has had a stab at putting on a night of stand-up. But of anywhere that a comedian plays, one of the most popular destinations is Manchester. Bar London it’s the biggest scene in the UK. And what better way to celebrate that fact than with an annual comedy festival.

The inaugural celebration of Manc comedy talent was back in 2001. It started with the London Comedy Store setting up a northern camp in the city in the previous autumn. The new club proved a welcome addition to the scene as Don Ward, the Store’s boss outlines: “We were the happy alternative, people were still going to the Buzz and the Frog and Bucket so all that happened was the comedy scene got stronger.”

So feeling confident, particularly after a successful New Year’s Eve celebration in association with the city council, the following year Ward and his team decided to put on a comedy festival. Since then, “each year it has become stronger. In the first year I think we had about six venues and it’s organically grown. Each year the enthusiasm of all the other promoters and of the comics is no less than the enthusiasm of the council. Each year they go, yep ok here’s your dates and now we are into our eighth year and I think we have become, or I hope we have, a permanent fixture in the calendar for Manchester.”

As a southerner setting up a business in the north, what does Ward think of our city? “I think Manchester is the most exciting city in the UK now because of the way it’s grown. In the last five or six years nothing can match it. And the pride of Manchester, that’s the great thing, ‘we’re the best’ and I love that. Everyone should come out and support the festival whether it’s at the Store, the Frog and Bucket, Opus, Green Room, TV21, get out and support it that’s what we want.”

So what’s on? This year, as ever, the line up is impressive. At the Store there are nights of double comedy from award winning (and award nominated) comics such as Phil Nichol and Reg D Hunter. There’s a ‘BBC presents’ event hosted by Dave Spikey, a competition final as well as the regular weekend shows. The Frog and Bucket is matching that line up, putting on extra solo shows from the likes of the ever controversial Brendon Burns and seasoned performer Richard Herring, plus they have the final of the Beat the Frog World Series contest. XSMalarkey at Remedy in Fallowfield opens its doors for weekend shows from Ricky Gervais’ friend and sometime collaborator Robin Ince and the wonderful, inane style of Seymour Mace. The open mic night Comedy Balloon is putting on extra nights too. In addition regular promoters such as Rob Riley, Agraman and Des Sharples are presenting events.

The big theatres are receiving comedy guests in the next ten days too, the Apollo plays host to two stars of 8 Out of 10 Cats, host Jimmy Carr and team captain Jason Manford (a Whalley Range boy no less). The Palace hosts the grumpy but brilliant Dylan Moran and the Opera House sees Mock the Week’s Russell Howard return for the second time in just over a month, whereas the Dancehouse puts up the enchanting Tim Minchin and his grand piano.

There are many other gigs of the simply hilarious varieties plus more eldritch choices to be sampled so check out the listings on www.manchestercomedyfestival.co.uk.

Manchester’s may still be a touch smaller than some of the more established festivals on the scene - the Edinburghs, the Leicesters and the Brightons - but in the words of Gorillaz, ‘it’s coming up.’

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