At first glance, The Comedy Store may seem a little out of place on the Deansgate Locks strip. After all, this is the Manc relative of the infamous 30-year old London club that helped kick-start the illustrious careers of many well-known comedians, among them Alexei Sayle, Rik Mayall and Ben Elton. As a result, it feels like the older, more respectable sibling of the brash venues it shares Deansgate Locks with.
Although it’s closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, you can find something happening on every other day of the week, should you be in the mood for a comedy fix. Wednesdays and Thursdays are where established comedians, local and international, perform extended live acts from 8pm onwards, whilst Friday to Sunday is host to shorter sets by five comedians from around the world. Special nights include King Gong (1st Sunday of the month), where members of the public get to try their hand at stand-up before an audience. Fancy your chances? Well, as Justin Moorhouse, one of the comedians to make his name on the Comedy Store stage, once commented, you will need balls of steel to give it a go.
The tone of the venue is well established in the main bar, with black and white photos of previous comedy alumni adorning the walls. Some you’ll undoubtedly have heard of (Bill Bailey, Jo Brand, Lee Evans, Eddie Izzard), while some you might not have (Ricky Grover, Andrew Pipe, John Sparkes, The Calypso Twins), but it’s good to see there’s an eclectic mix of funnymen (and women) on display. As well as the arty portraits, there are several neat touches that add a sense of individuality. Leopard-print upholstery gives the place a certain kitschy charm, and there’s a dash of surrealism in the clock which tells you the time in The Comedy Store in London.
One thing that does strike you as odd, and not in a good way, is the awkward positioning of the lavatories in relation to the main stage. To get to them, you have to go up a flight of stairs, across the main bar area, then down another flight of stairs and through a second room. This, coupled with the advice from the Comedy Store that you shouldn’t get up during a performance, means that you have to expertly time your toilet trips, and you’re likely to clock up an impressive distance when you do.
But what of the performance area itself? It’s a good-sized room, with the seating arranged in a crescent shape facing a small, well-lit stage. Although it can seat around 500 people, you never feel that far away from the performers, even if you’re near the back, so there’s always the chance of being talked to, interrogated or picked on. Granted, it’s more likely to happen if you’re sat in the front row, but if you sit there you really should know the drill. As you’d expect from looking at the photos, the comedians themselves are a varied bunch, hailing from a wide variety of backgrounds and countries, with an array of styles and techniques, so you never feel like you’re seeing the same performer twice (although if you are a regular visitor to comedy clubs you will invariably end up seeing the same act at some point).
Because of the intimate nature of the venue, heckling is almost inevitable, which is good for keeping the comedians on their toes. On the King Gong nights, it’s practically encouraged, and audience members will invariably let rip with some pretty brutal remarks if they don’t like an act.
The clientele are a healthy smattering of young and old comedy lovers, and while heckling may be fairly commonplace, for the most part, they’re a well-behaved bunch. The staff are friendly enough, and they are very helpful when it comes to answering any queries you might have.
Depending on how much time you have and what you’re in the mood for, you can either eat in the bar or in the more formal basement restaurant space. The bar menu offers a solid, if unspectacular, line-up sticking as it does to old favourites like burgers, sausage and mash, fish pie and nachos. They also do a decent selection of stone-baked pizzas (£7 upwards), which compliment the informal tone of the place quite nicely, as well as giving you some sustenance while you wait for the comedians to come on.
In the basement, the more formal restaurant space caters for those who want to make an evening of it, over a three-course meal. The food is good hearty fair, with a few modern flourishes. Prices are obviously more expensive here, but with all the food on offer certain deals are in place to make it better value all round.
The beers on tap are a pretty standard bunch (Fosters, Strongbow, and Guinness), although it does throw in a couple of curveballs for good measure (Amstel, Birra Moretti). Pints average about £3. Bottled drinks are nicely varied from the ones on tap, and include Peroni, Becks, Magners, as well as the obligatory alcopops, and there’s a small but varied selection of spirits as well.
The Last Word
Overall, a trip to the Comedy Store is highly recommended. Whilst the food, drink and staff are good in their own right, they play a supporting role in helping to exemplify the best part of the experience, the thing that most people will undoubtedly come here for: the comedy.