A Christmassy Comedy Balloon stage

A Comedy Balloon Christmas

Ah, Comedy Balloon. The show where we first introduced ourselves to anyone as Cup of Beans, before staring awkwardly into our pints because we hadn’t written anything yet.

Indeed, we didn’t actually write anything about that night, a fact that organiser Jason is quick to remind us of. Time to put that right.

If you don’t know Comedy Balloon, it’s the longest-running open mic night in Manchester. It couldn’t be much more centrally located, housed upstairs in the Ape and Apple pub between Albert Square and Deansgate. It’s seen early sets from acts such as Sarah Millican and Alan Carr. Oh, and it’s free.

That little fact file out of the way, Jason takes to the stage to introduce the acts. And it is quite obviously Jason, despite a disguise of a papier-mache head and feather boa. There’s seasonal goodwill in the form of a baby Jesus doll in a carrier bag, and we’re underway with the first act.

Stephanie Laing’s set is almost exclusively vagina-based, taking us on a profoundly bleak tour of her dating history. The oversharing is really cranked up to eleven here, as the smorgasbord of sexual horrors is divided into ‘rude’ and ‘dark’. Where the line between the two sits is hard to say.

Then there’s Eric Rushton, who somewhat slips under the radar as one of the stronger acts of the evening. There’s some political stuff at the start, which is always going to lose a few, but is exactly our sort of thing. The ‘awkward guy’ routine can fall flat in clumsy hands, but this is clearly an act who’s evidently a settled performer.

Ad ‘Dougie’ Douglas is an act we’re excited to see, as he’s won gong shows at Frog & Bucket and The Comedy Store in recent weeks. The routine is as weird as his social media presence would suggest, with a rambling style that attracts a curious sort of bemused laughter. If you’ve never seen someone literally beat themselves up on stage before, it is every bit as fantastic in reality as it probably is in your head, particularly when it’s followed up with a cracking punchline.

Abdi Omar is a reminder of why you’ve never been quite brave enough to get onstage yourself. It’s because exactly this sort of thing might happen. His first joke mentions how hard it is for a black comedian to perform to a white audience, which would be just fine if it weren’t for the fact I can see five black audience members without even turning my head.

To his credit, it’s only his fourth gig and he doesn’t bottle it, finishing his ten minutes despite a set that doesn’t really get off the ground.

Hopefully he stayed to watch Harriet Dyer, who is by all accounts a proper comedian. She’s one of those acts whose name keeps cropping up when we ask other comedians who we should see next, so it’s nice that she’s doing an extended set here.

It’s a enjoyable piece of silliness in which she reveals her plan to start her own detective show, complete with theme tune and dance. It’s hard to tell what’s going as planned or not here, with a swift pace that doesn’t allow us much time to dwell. Whatever, it all gets laughs from us.

Mizz the Entertainer has waited patiently at the front of the audience all night, and now it’s his turn. He’s got some strong observational stuff about working in Subway and visiting the bank and as far as his somewhat bold moniker goes, he’s on the right side of Trade Descriptions Act.

By whimsically billing himself as ‘The Christmas Elf’, Adam Hughes leaves us wholly unprepared for what’s about to happen. He is far and away the most confrontational act we’ve seen this year. Whether he actually had a set planned is unclear, as he instead sets about getting ‘all up in the grill’ of anyone who dares to interrupt him. It’s funny as hell when it’s happening to someone else, but we’re mighty relieved to avoid doing anything that might attract his ire.

As it’s Christmas, we finish with Santa Claus. However, if you’ve been paying attention so far, you’ll have guessed that we’re not looking at a jolly old man. No, this is a very untraditional Santa indeed, as the night ends with deliberately crap presents and general inappropriateness all round. ‘Tis the season and all that.

“How on Earth are you going to review that?”, wonders Jason. Well, now we know, and we’re pleased to finally get round to it. Much like an actual balloon, Comedy Balloon is affordable, it’ll keep you amused for a couple of hours and we’d be visibly distressed if an unexpectedly strong breeze took it away. If you’ve not been, put it on your to-do list for 2017.

Comedy Balloon happens at 8:30pm every Wednesday at the Ape & Apple. It’s back on January 11th and you can keep on its Facebook page for details.

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