Spring for laughs

A season of comedy is kicking off in venues around the north. Marissa Burgess chats to funnyman Adam Riches and rounds up the rest of the best

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Brennan Reece’s solo shows are following a bit of a theme. They run from Everglow, a homage to his parents’ relationship, through Everlong – about his much loved Gran – and now to Evermore, which comes to Salford (6 April), then York, Liverpool, Hull and Saddleworth. Focusing on the break-up of his relationship, Reece’s skill lies in combining the poignant with the laughs, his instinct for theatre framing a monologue stuffed full of quick punchlines.

On his latest international tour Wandering Mind, Greek-American stand-up Demetri Martin is performing just three UK dates and Manchester (16 April) is the first. Although he first caught attention over here when his 2003 show If I… won the Perrier Award at the Edinburgh Fringe, in the US he was a staff writer for Late Night With Conan O’Brien and appeared on The Daily Show With Jon Stewart. His are no ordinary stand-up shows. His sharp yet often whimsical one-liners are punctuated with musical interludes and illustrated by his own drawings.

Suzi Ruffell’s (main image) solo shows get better and better and her latest are in Salford (4 May), then Barton Upon Humber and Darwen. In Nocturnal Ruffell shares her 3am anxieties, not least having to tackle homophobia – largely from an internet troll. Her stress levels peak with a reluctant meeting with a stingray called Barbara, but all along the gags come thick and fast. Ruffell is at the top of her game.

Lou Sanders is well known for her gloriously off-the-wall shows. It almost feels like the surreal ideas are just tumbling out of her head and directly onto the stage. There’s a stronger sense of theme in Shame Pig, in which Sanders embraces all of her most embarrassing moments and steadfastly refuses to be (slut) shamed for them. There were an alarming yet empowering amount of #MeToo moments in the female comedians’ shows at the Edinburgh Fringe last year and this was Sanders’. Catch it in Hull (26 April), then in Manchester, Sheffield, Lancaster, Leeds and York.

Sarah Keyworth’s show Dark Horse impressed so much at the Fringe that she was nominated for best newcomer at the Edinburgh Comedy Awards. Your chance to see why is in York (16 May) and Salford. Stalking the stage, she’s an intriguing and beguiling presence telling of her sexuality and difficulties growing up in working-class Nottingham. Now her concern is Roly, the middle-class protégé she nannies for, and the maintaining of her burgeoning confidence.

Can Michael Palin do any wrong? Nor stop working? He’s been all around the world, even recently tackling North Korea, now he’s taking in the sights in Scarborough (14 April), Bradford and Salford.

The funnyman’s tour coincides with the release of his book Erebus: The Story of a Ship, about a Victorian vessel that disappeared in the Arctic in 1848. In this audience with-style show he reveals how this story fed into his travels, his work on Ripping Yarns and of course Monty Python.

If you could only use one word to describe Adam Riches (above), “fearless” would be apt. He’s a force of nature on stage, thrusting his characters forward and rubbing them in your face – sometimes quite literally. You really can’t avoid mentioning that his shows hinge on audience participation, but it’s always full of love. Amazingly this is his first UK tour – Salford on 12 May and Bradford and York in June – so he will be cherry-picking the best bits from more than a decade of critically acclaimed shows. You’re in for a treat, that’s for sure.

Inviting a member of the crowd in to a show is notoriously unpredictable. How do you manage it?
You’ve got a thousand reactions to things you’ve done before, so you’re going which type is this? You’re trying to get to the song that both of us can sing. Then when you find it, bang, you’re off and running – though it may well be that I haven’t encountered a personality like this before in my life and I have to invent a new one!

Given that word tends to get around that your shows are interactive, has it got easier or more difficult over time to get people involved?
In the beginning the front rows would never fill up. That creates its own dynamic in the room – when you pick someone you get that sense that there’s an excitement, a charge in the room, which is what you want as a performer, that electricity. Then I noticed the front rows would fill up first, as people would want to be picked. But you want that tension of an audience member having a reluctance to come up there and them to win through in the end. You want a journey for them to come on so in the end they take their seats with a huge round of applause because they’ve done something out of themselves.

Some of the audience participation is pretty up-close. How do you not catch something especially during an Edinburgh run?
I did a section years ago where someone was dribbling liquid into my mouth and I’d laced the apple juice with mouthwash. Now I don’t know if mouthwash is an industrial kills-all-germs but as a placebo in my brain… I thought I don’t want to get Fringe flu, but I didn’t get ill once. I must have a very strong immune system.

Probably your most famous character is a larger than life Sean Bean styled on the roles he’s played. How did he come about?
Sean’s career is my warm-up act! It’s a very Saturday Night Live thing and that’s a big influence on me. It’s riding on little bits of an impression but also putting that in an incredibly surreal place. I’ve always done alpha male characters, and I’ve always had a celebrity of sorts or an actor especially that I would lampoon. The Sean Bean one came about because I’d had Daniel Day-Lewis as a character. That had been popular and I knew that coming back I didn’t want to do exactly the same thing.

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