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Marissa Burgess has been a freelance journalist writing about comedy in Manchester for 14 years. She has contributed to various publications including the Manchester Evening News, City Life, Manchester Confidential and Chimp magazine.

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Marissa's Manchester Comedy Festival Diary - Final night! - 30th Oct

And so the last day... sniff. I'll miss all this bodding between all the different venues across the city. Though of course there's comedy every night in Manchester so no excuse for not going to see some the rest of the year.

Anyway it was back to Apotheca tonight to catch an early show, Ivor Dembina's Stand Up Jewish Comedy. First of two performances of the show, the latter being at 8pm. As you might have gathered by the title the show is a journey through Dembina's life as a Jewish man – of course with plenty of jokes along the way. From joining the synagogue where he was presented with the gifts of an orange and a new name, through his Bar Mitztvah, starting stand up, and travels to America, Australia and Israel where he and his settler cousin disagree as to where in the world exactly the promised land of the Jews is. His is a measured performance that evocatively conjures his life story and frequently pauses to poke fun at Jewish stereotypes along the way.

And on to the Comedy Store for New Stuff their regular twice a month night where comedians try out new material (though you'd probably worked that out from the title). It's another of Toby Hadoke's regular gigs where he gathers together largely professional comedians to test out their new gags. It works surprisingly well with local acts Mike Wilkinson (though technically he lives in Cumbria now), Ciamh McDonnell, improv troupe Comedy Sportz, Daliso Chaponda, Katie Mulgrew, Eddie Hoo and Vinca Atta. Plus dropping in were Stuart Mitchell from Glasgow, Latin American/Chinese Javier Jarquin and the London based Thom Tuck after finishing the second outing of his solo over at Soup Kitchen.

And so after a cheeky glass of red and a slice of pizza at the end of festival party I'm off to bed... night.

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Marissa's Manchester Comedy Festival Diary - Soup Kitchen - 29th Oct

So the penultimate night of the festival and a return visit to the lovely Soup Kitchen venue. After some actual soup – I can recommend the beetroot and horseradish, lovely. In fact the recommendation comes from Nick Sun last weekend so you can thank him.

Anyway back to the comedy I'd popped in to catch Manc based Preston comic Phil Ellis' tea time show and bumped into comedian Susan Vale beforehand in the bar/café upstairs. Armed with a cream cake she was to have a small part in Ellis' show. Come show time, though the number in for the teatime show was reasonable many already knew Ellis. His shtick is largely to chat to the crowd and improvise off them little difficult if you last saw said audience member last Tuesday. So gathering together his pink post sticks everyone retired to the bar instead. I never did find out what the cake was for.

Thom Tuck's show however went ahead as planned. This year at the Edinburgh Fringe the acclaimed Victorian gentlemen sketch troupe The Penny Dreadfuls parted company to put on solo shows. Each of their shows garnered great acclaim too and Tuck was nominated for the Edinburgh Comedy Award for best newcomer (as it was his first solo show it still counts as a debut solo). It's easy to see why. Like Goldstein's show here the week before, Tuck draws on his theatre training for a show that mixes stand up with relatively straight theatre. On one hand Tuck chats to his crowd about the 'Straight to DVD' of the title Disney films; those extra flicks made by the company to squeeze as much money as possible out of the original cinema released movie. Then he pauses to withdraw into a series of poignant monologue pieces about all the girls that have broken his heart. It's a effective and moving device making for a show that's not simply about trawling through a load of largely bad animated DVDs. Though I do worry for his sanity after all that research.

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Marissa's Manchester Comedy Festival Diary - Frog and Bucket - 28th Oct

Tonight wasn't an extra show for the festival though there have been plenty of them across the fortnight but a trip to the Frog and Bucket was overdue and dropping in at their regular weekend show seemed like a good thing to me. Of course the Frog and Bucket alongside the Comedy Store are the city's only dedicated comedy venues and a regular night is every much a part of the festival as the special solo shows they've played host to from the likes of Brendon Burns and Richard Herring.

Tonight's was a fine and worthy line up too. Manchester's adopted Preston fella (what do you call someone from Preston anyway?) Phil Ellis was compering and clearly thoroughly enjoying chatting to and riffing off the crowd. Up first was a set from Paul Kerensa the Cornish comic now based in London with a love of algebraic equations. He's even had some slogan t-shirts made up with them on. Kerensa's also got an intriguing bodily secret but if you haven't seen him before we're not going to give it away, you'll just have to go and see.

Another adopted Manc, Sam Gore - this time from Yorkshire, he moved across the Pennines a couple of years ago - filled the second section. His is a solid set with some trademark close to the bone gags sprinkled amongst his regular observations providing some catch-your-breath/I-can't-believe-he-just-said-that moments.

And to round off the night a fine set of material from the one time Manchester based Canadian Jason John Whitehead (we really are that popular in this city). He's selling a DVD at the moment and you'd be recommended to buy it as over the years he's honed a brilliant style that is simultaneously laid-back and gently irritated as he tells of his previous, somewhat unfaithful girlfriend, the hazardous experience that is drinking in the UK and tripping a small child in Toys R Us.

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Marissa's Manchester Comedy Festival Diary - O2 Apollo Manchester - 27th Oct

Though the comedy festival is about all the acts and shows whatever their experience or notoriety - the newcomers and the circuit acts as well as the household names - it's always nice to have a big name on the programme to highlight the festival as a whole. Aside from Rob Brydon at the Royal College of Music the biggest name this year has to be Stephen Merchant and his three nights at the Apollo.

The Office and Extras co-writer has been on a nationwide tour for a few weeks now and most reports have told of a good show. Yet it still feels weird that Merchant is out performing solo without his sidekick Gervais, particularly as Gervais is the one that you think of as the performer of the two writers.

However Merchant had first tried stand up in 1998 and it was only the swift success of the Office in 2001 and subsequent writing accomplishments that have kept him away from the circuit. Keen to get back he booked in to do some dates despite still having plenty of writing work to do.

And what a show it is. He can certainly back up the three nights at the Apollo and his apparent popularity. The first night was almost full, the Friday sold out and a third date, Saturday was added.

The premise to Merchant's show, entitled Hello Ladies is that he's on the look out for a wife. But of course there are things that get in the way – largely his life long membership of geek club and his love of pedantry. He likes nothing more than to work out everyone's exact restaurant bill on his Casio Calculator watch. Elsewhere he pokes fun at Venn diagrams but it's a running gag in the show that he seems to enjoy using a little too much just to be simply poking fun...

We've only really seen his appearance as Darren Lamb, Andy Millman's hapless agent in Extras but on that big stage by himself he's a skilled performer of his own material, it's a wonder he hasn't done this earlier. Much of the material is accompanied by mimed actions to enhance the humour – a favourite is his imagining of the scenario when a gynaecologist asked out one of his patients.

Also another special mention for the support act. This time the fine talent that is Josh Widdicombe. Since winning the Leicester Comedian of the Year in 2010 he's been making steady headway out there on the circuit with a solid set of gags amusingly middle aged pedantry – lovely compliment to Merchant's act – can't be too long before his work's all over the telly too.

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Marissa's Manchester Comedy Festival Diary - The Lass O'Gowrie - 26th Oct

And back to Lass O'Gowrie tonight for their annual comedian of the year competition. Unlike some comps in the city this one's not regional and gathers in contestants from all over the country. It's a great opportunity to see what burgeoning talent is out there. I'd also been honoured with the task of judging alongside last year's winner Scott Bennett and club promoter Mike Taylor.

The heats of this, the fourth competition, had whittled the players down to a neat eight. Compere The One Like Fish popped up to warm the crowd through with some gags and a quiz prize of some furniture touch up pens (really, you can't go wrong with that). Then, with the unenviable task of going on first was Rob Coleman whose set contains an impressive amount of puns. He also has the kind of wild hair that is a gift to comedy – as Charlie Chuck would bear out. Up next was Big Lou, with big support in the crowd. He's got an amiable stage presence with which he couples some deceptively close to the bone material – he pulls no punches with polar bear material and his mum's rosewood dildo/ashes urn. Third in the first section was the impeccably turned out Helen Keeler (I wouldn't normally mention a lady's attire but it is part of her set and she obviously sets out to dress well). Her material was just as carefully crafted with with some nicely turned one-liners and wryly delivered punchlines. Rounding off the first bit was Sir Reginald Tweedy Duffer a lovely and uncannily accurate portrayal of an out of touch Tory MP who likes nothing more than to quote the Beastly Boys and Mr Morris of The Smiths.

Into the second section and Karl White. His stage presence is quiet and unassuming but belies a amusing anti-comedy device – 'I don't know where that one was going...' he says of a number of gags without delivering a punchline. Whether he's doing it on purpose frankly it's difficult to tell but nevertheless it makes for a beguiling and humorous set. David Stainer was thrown a little by an inconsiderate pissed up bloke who didn't get the concept of not heckling people in a comedy competition and so unsurprisingly seemed a little nervy but given some work his off-the-wall material could be on to something. Nick Cranston had a confident presence and opened his set doing stuff covering the fact that he is deaf, '1st rule of deaf club you don't talk about deaf club...'

Then last up was Justin Palmer with some smut, thus making a lady at the front blush and armed with his forensic torch he checked the audience for unseemly stains.

Following a second beer break Scott Bennett did a 15 minute set demonstrating why he won last year. He's got a great stage presence and his gag about his Yorkshireman Dad 'building' his meal at a pub carvery is a fab routine. And thus it was revealed that we'd decided that the winner was Helen Keeler with Sir Reginald Tweedy Duffer in second place and Karl White in third.

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