The Comedy Balloon, Manchester's longest-running open mic comedy night. An aspiring comic is shuffling in his seat.
"Why should people come and see me?"
He thinks for a moment. "I don't know..."
Welcome to the world of open mic comedy. No glitz, little glamour and definitely no polished PR fluff. This is where normal, everyday people come to try and be funny, or die (at least on stage) trying.
"There aren't that many places in Manchester to perform comedy that aren't gong shows," says Jason Cooke who, for the last 13 years, has run the Comedy Balloon. "We do things differently. It's free to get in and each act gets a full ten minutes on stage. It doesn't matter if it's your first gig or your five-hundredth."
The ruthless gong show format is notorious amongst new open mic comics. The audience have cards to hold up and can literally vote comics off the stage.
Young comic Adam Blaze has only been performing for 18 months, and his first gig was a gong show. "I come from a very small town and there was no comedy around there," he says. "I'd only seen it on the telly, and I thought, 'I could just go and do comedy and not learn the stuff I'd written and people would love it anyway.' But
Unfortunately for some comics, the crowds at gong shows don't hold back in expressing their lack of amusement. "When you hear the first 'boo', you think, 'That's not good,'" Adam says. "It took me four years to try again - all I'd think about was doing that gig."
The Comedy Balloon does away with 'boos' and voting and just gives everyone
a fair shot - even when it comes to actually hosting, or MC-ing, the evening.
"We have new acts MC-ing," says Jason. "A hosting spot is the hardest thing for new acts to get."
The MC's job is to hold the whole evening of comedy together. They come
on at the start, kick things off and then keep returning between acts to keep the audience buzzing. And, most frighteningly for beginners, they also have to ad-lib with the audience...
"It scares me a little," says Gaye Jones,
a first-time MC. She must police the evening, making sure no one is too rowdy, and deal with hecklers, all without
relying on her regular material. "You've got to keep the audience focused," she says, "keep them interested in the prospect of new
acts, make sure their phones are off, explain there'll be breaks throughout, that sort
And the MC has to be funny, too? She laughs. "I hope so!"
So why would anyone put themselves through this? What possesses a person to run the gauntlet of potential nervous foot-shuffling, coughing and deadly silence?
"My mates think I'm funny; I think I'm somewhat funny," says Tom Solan, who is performing his routine live for only the second time in two years. "I guess we'll find out tonight if I am."
But the actual, physical sensation of making someone laugh - even if it's a stranger - seems to be enough to get wannabes to take the long, lonely walk up to the stage.
"You always get a buzz from it," Tom says. "When someone laughs at a joke you've written yourself, it's the best thing
in the world."
Liam Guilfoyle, another relative newcomer to the Comedy Balloon, agrees.
"It's a really rewarding experience," he says. "It's one of the only free forms of art, just a microphone and a voice. If someone likes it and they laugh straight back it's instant, and you don't get that from any other form of art."
Need some comedy inspiration?
Next time you're in Blackpool head to the Promenade and check out the Blackpool Comedy Carpet. Stroll through greatness and enjoy catchphrases and quotes from 850 writers and comedians. Perhaps it'll inspire you to take the first step towards an act of your very own?
The region's best open mic nights
The Frog and Bucket Comedy Club
"Manchester's cruellest and best amateur night" - the audience decides who stays on stage who doesn't.
It's on every Monday from 7.00pm.
102 Oldham Street, Manchester
The Comedy Cellar at The Verve Bar
This place features the finest new comedians around and established acts testing
out new material. It's on every Tuesday from 8.30pm and it's free to get in.
16 Merrion Street, Leeds
The Laughter Factor
Comedians new and old try out brand new material in advance of their weekend shows. The laughs kick off on the first Wednesday of the month.
The Slaughter House, 13-15 Fenwick Street, Liverpool
A long-running beginner's showcase, often regarded as one of the very best open mic nights in the UK. You can check it out every Tuesday night - with the first act on at 8.30pm.
333 Woodlands Road, Glasgow