Two years ago, Manford’s Comedy Club was launched by comedian Jason Manford and his brother Colin.
The idea was to bring comedians from the UK circuit, personally selected by the Manford brothers, to small towns and cities across the country for a night of live comedy.
Since then, Manford’s Comedy Club has gone from strength to strength and has booked more than 260 comedians to entertain more than 40,000 people in 57 different locations across the country.
From holiday parks to art centres and from bustling city centre nightclubs to quiet out of town theatres, Manford’s Comedy Club has delivered a lot of laughs to a lot of people.
Next month it’s the turn of Ellesmere Port, where Jason will be bringing his club to the Civic Centre on March 17.
He is promising a great night of stand up in a quality venue.
“I’ve played every comedy club in this country and a lot in other countries so that’s given me a good grounding into what makes a good club,” says Jason
“What I noticed was that there was a real mixed bag of quality – you never know if you’re going to a top quality night or an open mic spot in the local.
“I was wondering if there was a way of creating some kind of industry standard so that people would see my name attached and think ‘well he wouldn’t put anyone rubbish on’!”
Jason says the club’s philosophy is simple: to put some of the best comedians in front of the best crowds.
The results over the past two years have been brilliant, with monthly sell-out shows and special guests dropping in such as John Bishop, Sarah Millican, Russell Kane and Michael McIntyre.
Jason also likes to pop in for surprise visits from time to time, while his brother Colin keeps things running smoothly as MC.
“It means I can give really good comedians access to a slightly bigger audience because hopefully I can get some people to come along who normally wouldn’t come to a comedy club,” he continues.
“They might go to an arena to see a big comic off the TV, but they wouldn’t necessarily go and see live comedy.
“I know how easy it is to do nothing, how easy it would be to sit and watch your favourite comedians on YouTube or Dave Ja Vu, but I know, and I think you know too, that there is simply, nothing like live comedy – it’s why stand-up comedy remains one of the best nights out you’ll ever have.”
Jason began his career in 1999 while working at the Buzz Comedy Club upstairs at the Southern Hotel in Chorlton, Manchester.
He was collecting glasses when a performer didn’t arrive for an evening set.
Jason, 17 at the time, stepped in to fill the gap, an event which marked the beginning of his comedy career.
Six gigs later he was crowned The City Life North West Comedian of the Year, but despite his rapid rise he worries some comedians aren’t paying their dues by playing the same venues he had to.
“The amount of clubs you’d turn up at and say ‘where’s the microphone?’ and they’d be like ‘what?’,” he remembers.
“The circuit is naturally a hard place, but I think comedians are fairly supportive of each other.
“You get the odd one, but as a general rule they all know how hard it is and that you can only do well if the audience likes you.
“It doesn’t matter who you know or how much you’ve got in the bank, because when you go out in front of an audience they’ll just stare at you if you’re not funny.
“I’ve done all right for myself, but there’s no point bringing the ladder up with you so I wanted to see who else I could help.
“Sometimes a TV producer will put people on TV too soon. I watch some comics and think ‘what are you going to be talking about in five years time?’
“I started stand up at 16 and I’d say I was 25 before I started to do all right. By then you’ve had a few jobs and things to talk about, so I think it’s better for you if you’ve had a bit of experience.
“It’s hard to speak to an audience if all you’ve got to talk about is being a comedian.”
The appeal of getting back to the clubs and away from the arenas where so many comedians are plying their trade is certainly proving attractive for some of the biggest comics in the country who have started using Jason’s nights as dry runs for their bigger shows.
“I’ve just been speaking to John Bishop who has asked me for some of the dates because he wants to try out some new stuff for his tour,” he says. “In the past we’ve had Sarah Millican, Michael McIntyre and Phil Jupitus come down.
“There’s only one way to try out new material when you’re a comic because you can’t just jump straight in and do an arena.
“They’re always looking for new clubs to practise in and what we try to do is not advertise it if someone famous is on. It’ll just go out to regulars at the club as a little thank you and that’s worked out really well so far.”
As Jason signs off he is full of praise for the Civic Hall and says he hopes Ellesmere Port can become one of the regular destinations for his club.
Manford’s Comedy Club is at Ellesmere Port Civic Hall on March 17. Ticket prices: £10 - £15 (+ booking fee). For tickets: http://manfordscomedyclub.com/gigs/ Twitter: @ManfordsComedy / Facebook: www.facebook.com/manfordscomedy