Warm-up acts

What's happening on the Northern comedy circuit this winter and a chat with Manchester funnyman Brennan Reece 

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Riding on the back of being immortalised on screen by Daniel Radcliffe in Weird: The Al Yankovic Story, Weird Al Yankovic is back on tour with four dates in the UK including Manchester on 13 February. Yankovic has been regaling audiences with his ridiculous song parodies, wildly accompanied by his accordion playing, since the 1970s, as well as penning some of his own humorous songs. Early homages included Queen’s Another One Bites The Dust becoming Another One Rides The Bus and My Sharona as My Bologna and he’s continued parodying chart hits since. A gig to catch.

Josie Long started comedy young, wowing audiences and judges alike when she won the BBC Comedy Award at just 17. Since then she’s carved out a niche with intelligent, feelgood “homemade” comedy – giving away many bits and pieces of crafting to her loyal fans. These days she’s a well-established comedian with a husband, two kids and a recent ADHD diagnosis. Here in Re-Enchantment (Hebden Bridge 22 Jan, Lancaster 9 Feb and Leeds 10 Feb) she explores the personal and political, the time spent with her elder daughter during lockdown and her move to Glasgow, with its rich, non-conformist political history.

In comedy circles Simon Munnery is something of a legendary figure. Possessing a quirky and intelligent mind, he’s created numerous thought-provoking, innovative shows over the years. One many years ago featured him dressed as a bird, writing his lines on a card that was then handed to his wife in a gorilla suit, who held it up to a camera so it was projected for the audience to see. He once told me that if a joke works 10 per cent of the time and it makes him laugh it stays in his set. No doubt Trails and Tribulations (Liverpool 25 Feb and Salford 26 Feb), telling of his arrest on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile 20 years ago, will stick with that philosophy. A unique stand-up.

Babatunde Aleshe’s recent personable appearance on I’m A Celebrity… should mean more bums on seats for his current tour. Quite right too. A popular figure on the black comedy circuit with his wry observational comedy, his Edinburgh debut this year about family and fatherhood, Babahood, passes through Leeds on 9 Feb, Manchester, 25 Feb and Sheffield, 5 March.

While everyone was having something of a crisis during lockdown Zoe Lyons decided to add a mid-life one to hers and what’s more her hair decided to jump ship too in a bout of alopecia. In Bald Ambition Lyons charts her marital separation from her wife, the sports car she decided to buy and the running of an ultra-marathon (100km), which didn’t end as she’d hoped. Catch her in Carlisle on 3 Feb and Halifax on 9 Feb.

Manchester’s own Brennan Reece has been charming comedy audiences for more than a decade now with his sharp observations on life, told both frankly and hilariously. His tour Crowded reaches Salford on 13 and 14 Jan, York on 19 Jan, Leeds on 21 Jan and Carlisle on 26 Jan.

The new show gets everyone involved, doesn’t it?
It’s an extended version of the Edinburgh show. I’m told I’m not good at bigging myself up so I thought best to get it in early doors. The show is interactive – a leap from my usual storytelling shows – but you’ll eventually find out why it is so interactive. The audience anonymously answer a question on a card and I use their stories to form the structure of the show.

That must be interesting and a touch confessional.
That is what makes the show so special – it’s in the room, no judgement, just sharing stories like an old Irish pub! There’s been rude stuff, serious stuff, political stuff – my favourite was when someone revealed that their grandparents are first cousins!

Where did the idea come from?
Nowhere really. I have probably been influenced somewhere along the line. But when I’m making a show, I want it to feel like a show and not an extended comedy set. People have paid £10, £12, £15 for a ticket. Where I’m from that is a good chunk of cash. So I sometimes get these silly ideas in my head that are a risk. In previous shows I had a three-piece band underscore the whole thing. Another time the whole show was one giant magic trick.

How was the Edinburgh Fringe this year, the first one since Covid? 
It was good and bad and everything in between. I have always been lucky whenever I go up there, as the costs to perform are astronomical – every performer is risking around £10k of their own money. That is the worst bit about it, the whole system is built on the talent but the talent have to pay to be there. But the atmosphere was amazing, it was great to see everyone’s shows, to perform to full rooms and just be back in an absolutely beautiful city.

What attracted you to comedy and stand-up?
Honestly, I wanted to try it once. Acting became my job when I left drama school so I just wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone and try different things once. And as soon as I did it, I fell completely in love with it. You’re in charge of your own destiny to a certain extent. If you’re rubbish, you can get good. If you’re good, you can get amazing – it’s a never-ending project!

Were there any particular inspirations for you?
People, everyday people. My favourite thing to do is get a train into a city centre and just sit with a brew and watch. I’ve realised you can write the best joke you possibly can but nothing will compare to what you hear and see and smell and feel in the street. People are incredible and that’s what this show is about.

Anything you’d like to do given half the chance? 
Three things. I am going to be greedy. I would love to kick Matt Hancock right between the thighs. I would love to spend another day with my nan just playing cards and drinking sherry. I would love to give everyone reading this a free ticket to my show. But I can’t, so go and bloody buy one!

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