The Empire Laughs Back
Belfast’s cutting edge comedy club
The laughter starts in the large queue that forms every Tuesday night on Botanic Avenue. It carries on tenfold inside the Empire, a traditional style bar that in a nod to its music hall roots plays host to the biggest comedy night in Northern Ireland.
Comedians come from as far afield as the US and Iran to pit themselves against Belfast’s famously cynical and quick-witted punters, with resident comperes Colin Murphy and Jake O’Kane doing their best to keep the audience in line.
The Empire has established itself as the best comedy club in Northern Ireland and, more to the point, has been a driving force in promoting new comedy in the region, not to mention giving aspiring comics their first shot at stardom. So what is it about this place that just captivates people?
As soon as you enter the building the layout imposes a sense of fun. Tables stretch right up to the stage for any punters brave enough to face the comedians and their wicked putdowns.
The night kicks off with the compere taking to the stage to warm up the audience and root out any troublemakers or hecklers. As a general rule of thumb the compere is there to encourage hecklers to take their best shot at him, thus making it easier for the following acts.
The sight of a rowdy reveller sinking back into his seat, proverbial tail between the legs, after been torn apart by a professional comedian, is enough entertainment in itself to warrant the £5 door charge.
Next up is usually a British or Irish comedian, often tipped as a star of the future. Alumni of the Empire Laughs Back include Junior Simpson and Northern Ireland’s own Patrick Kielty.
Those brave enough to take on the open mic slot can be less impressive. The aspiring ‘comedian’ takes to the stage for a five to eight minute slot. The objective? To impress the audience and promoter enough to get asked back, and not get laughed/heckled/bottled off stage.
Friendly audience participation is also encouraged with a competition to provide the best punch line to an unfinished gag. Those lucky enough to get a table can take full advantage of waitress service.
After the break comes the headliner, normally a top international comedian, seasoned through years of experience. The headliner will perform for around 40 minutes and guarantees a fantastic end to a cracking night’s entertainment.
Belfast’s appetite for comedy shows no signs of abating. Quite the contrary in fact. The night is always sold out, so be warned, start queuing early.
By Danny McCrossan