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Alan Carr looks back on his early days on the Manchester comedy scene

The first time I saw Alan Carr perform was in a heat of the CityLife Comedian of the Year competition back in 2000 at the Buzz club in Chorlton.

It was his third ever gig. Largely unknown to the local circuit it was nevertheless clear that he was a natural talent.

Fast forward 11 years and he’s a household name, has his own successful TV chat show, a weekly Radio 2 show and is coming back to Manchester for two dates at the MEN Arena next month.

But amiable Alan hasn’t changed a bit.

“Oh what a blast from the past,” he exclaims when we meet again. It’s going to be difficult not to just sit and gossip about old times, I note.

“Yeah it can’t be Friends Reunited. ‘Do you remember…’ like two old timers talking about the war,” he laughs.

He was so much the gifted comedian back then, that material from that early routine still has the power to make you laugh.

One such gag featured the ‘Jesus Army’ buses that once were a common sight in the city and were eager to recruit people. We unison the punchline to the gag, “the next thing I knew I was on my way to Milton Keynes with a tambourine in my hand”.

“Oh my God, it really has taken me back. That happened! I was stopped by the Jesus Army and someone started to ask me about Jesus. Do I want to meet Jesus? Pardon? Then you write that down and that’s how it happens. A lot of crazy things happen to me.”

Taking those stories and working on them, he began gigging around the country and, of course, the myriad of gigs here in his adopted town.

“The Dancehouse Theatre, I remember when I performed there for an anti-BNP thing, The Briton’s Protection, Ice Cream Sundays at The Comedy Store.

“But then the downside to it was that every place was a stand-up club. I remember being handed a mic through a serving hatch in a pizza restaurant and I was like, ‘I’m not poo-pooing your venue but…” he chortles.

It’s even more impressive when you think back to who he was working alongside on the local scene. “It was an amazing time. People wouldn’t believe this but when we did Sheffield or Leeds me, Jason Manford, Justin Moorhouse and John Bishop would be in a car going across the Pennines on the Snake Pass.”

It’s a good job the car didn’t go off the edge, who would we watch on TV? “I know, Channel 4 would have to close down!” he japes.

It’s a far cry from the telly celeb world of today. So go on then, of all the people on Chatty Man, who are your favourites?

“Anyone that gives us a little bit ‘special’. Rhianna I enjoyed, Kylie… and it’s nice when you have your friends on like Gok or David Walliams because they just let their hair down.”

And the worst? “Probably Vic and Bob because they were absolutely paralytic. The trouble is when they’re drunk, they’re not like happy drunk, they were quite morose drunk. That’s never good. I don’t mind chirpy fun drunk.”

But of the two jobs, he can’t resist a bit of radio.

“Just for the fact that I’m a lazy sod and you can just rock up in your jogging bottoms and T-shirt,” he laughs.

“And the scope that you can talk and muck about is just wonderful, I love it.” Plus he and his Radio 2 co-presenter Sykes, herself from Manchester, get on great.

“I’ve been lucky, she finds me funny and I find what she gets up to hilarious. It just works.”

Though Carr’s been thoroughly enjoying the opportunities, the only downsides to fame are stories made up in the press and the controversy that surrounds the smallest gag that is suddenly perceived as controversial.

“There’s this really worrying thing where you’re getting journalists from certain newspapers coming in to see you to catch you out. Your audience is your judge and jury.

If you say something in bad taste, the audience won’t laugh or you’ll get a groan – end of. That’s it. A good joke, you’ll get a cheer or a laugh.” Though there are some more entertaining light-hearted articles out there too.

“We’ve read something today saying that, for my birthday, J-Lo surprised me in my dressing room by singing Happy Birthday to me, necking cheap drink and having ice cream and jelly with me along with Adele and Gok Wan. That didn’t happen, but I’m telling people it’s the truth.”

This autumn, it’s back to his original love – stand-up.

His first tour since 2007’s Tooth Fairy. Starting on “September 11…” he says. “The ten year anniversary of the biggest terrorist atrocity! I sort of believe in omens so I’m er… being positive,” he intones wryly.

The show’s written and is being tested out in metropolises across the country, such as Weston Super Mare and Barrow in Furness.

“It’s a continuation of Tooth Fairy, you know? It’s just my world really. I’ve never said I’m going to bring down any governments. Don’t worry, Afghanistan is not going to get a mention – it’s just what happens to me and how my life’s changed.”

Meanwhile, while he’s back on Manchester soil, he’ll probably be popping into the The Mall in Stretford where he used to live and still has a flat. “Well, I like to call it the Arndale – I’m old school, I was there when it was Arndale. The Drum was my local.”

You never know, he may well drop in there for an after-show pint too.

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