Time for a laugh as comedians flood the region

It's cold, miserable, pay day feels a long way off and festivities are finished. Arts reporter Nick Ahad talks to the country's comedians coming to Yorkshire to shine light in the gloom.

In the Nineties, comedy became the new rock and roll.

These days it's the new... well, everything. Weapon of mass entertainment, the cognescenti's choice for brilliant storytelling and performance, a great night out, a fun night in (DVDs by a plethora of stand up comedians were beneath millions of Christmas trees judging by the sales figures). Stand-up comedy has become one of the UK's most popular forms of entertainment.

Further proof of this, were it needed, comes from the line-up of comedians coming to Yorkshire over the next few months. York Grand Opera House, between now and June, is playing host to a staggering 24 comedians on various nights. Sheffield City Hall has nine stand-ups between now and April and there are regular weekly comedy nights in Leeds, York, Sheffield, and other towns and cities across Yorkshire.

That's not all. The Motorpoint Arena in Sheffield – a venue which holds 11,500 – is playing host to seven comedians this year, including Peter Kay for three nights this month and John Bishop in February and in May. If Bishop sells out, and the indications are that he will, that means over two nights in Yorkshire he will perform to 23,000 fans, all paying a high price to sit in a room and listen to a man talk on a stage.

It's a long way for Bishop to have travelled in the space of 10 years. He first took to the stage in an attempt to be funny in 2000 at a Manchester club called the Frog and Bucket. It was not, initially at least, a meteoric rise to comedy fame.

Just a few years ago he was doing a gig, performing similar material to that which will be heard at the Motorpoint arena next month. At the gig there were five people in the audience – he suggested giving them all a refund, until the promoter pointed out to him that only two of those in the "crowd" had paid to see him.

The former bouncer, semi-professional footballer and son of a docker, says his act is simple. "I just want to recreate the feeling of talking to my mates in the pub. I know it sounds odd doing it in front of 16,000 people, but I can," he says.

It was not always the way. In 2002, he was named best newcomer by BBC Radio Merseyside, and in 2004 he won the North West Comedy Award for best stand-up, but that meant little to Bishop as he trudged up to Edinburgh year in, year out, hoping to crack the big time but never quite making it.

Last year he returned to Edinburgh a major star, following a phenomenal turn on Michael McIntyre's Comedy Roadshow which really did bring overnight stardom.

"I wanted to go back to Edinburgh partly to get my money back after losing a fortune every year, and partly because I spent so many nights in small box-sized rooms, I wanted to enjoy myself in a proper theatre and also see some other shows."

Enjoy himself he did and 2010 turned out to be a turning point for Bishop, with 2011 set to be even bigger.

Another comedian who took full advantage of comedy's new status as the country's premiere form of entertainment last year was Jason Manford.

In 2004, I was asked to judge a comedy competition at The Original Oak pub in Headingley. Five comedians played to a room of no more than about 50 and a then 22-year-old Manford was a stand out – he made my job very easy in naming him a clear winner.

Six years later he too appeared on prime time BBC in the Michael McIntyre Comedy Roadshow and this year he will also be playing Sheffield Arena. Despite quitting the One Show amid allegations about his private life, Manford says he's still riding the crest of a wave: "There's a huge appetite for live comedy at the moment. I guess they've seen Michael, liked him and gone, 'who else is on then?'"

One comedian coming to Yorkshire who has not perhaps felt the "McIntyre effect" – a term coined by stand-ups to give thanks for the huge and rapid success they have been achieving – is arguably the most talented and certainly the most original of the bunch. Terry Alderton is a comedian who believes the live experience can't be replicated.

"I've never actually watched my bit from the Roadshow because I've been told by my agent that it just doesn't work," says Alderton, with no bitterness but a matter-of-factness. "The guys that have done well from it – and this isn't a criticism – are more set up, punchline guys, but my act just doesn't work like that." It is difficult to explain exactly how Alderton's act does work, but work it does. "I describe it as a double act – or now a trio I suppose – by one person," he says. Anyone who saw the McIntyre Roadshow performance will know that with Alderton on stage you get the comedian and then the various voices that occupy his head.

It makes for an act that is the most performance-led stand- up around. In the late Nineties Alderton was a more regular comedian and even presented the National Lottery show but had a nagging feeling that he "was being a bit naff". He felt this was confirmed at a gig in Manchester in 2005.

"There were two girls in the front row and they were mocking me, laughing at me – not with me, at me. It led to a bit of a breakdown when I looked at what I was doing and what I wanted to do. I realised that I didn't want to do that kind of comedy any more. I was on stage a little while later and the voices just came out."

The voices became characters who get to have a say on stage through Alderton and as we chat he really does refer to them as "the voices" as though they were another entity.

"It's great what the Roadshow has done for comedy, but for me if you're in the room with a group of people, that's where the beauty of comedy is, and that's where it turns into something magic," he said.

Fortunately for Yorkshire audiences, with a huge number of opportunities to see live comedy, there is a lot of magic to be enjoyed over the next few months.

The acts not to miss

Terry Alderton: Hyena Lounge, York, February 6. Hi Fi Club, Leeds, February 7.

Milton Jones: Silly, surreal, Perrier winner. York Grand Opera House, February 2, Lawrence Batley Theatre, March 12.

Dylan Moran: Lyrical, poetic with an acerbic tongue. York Grand Opera House, May 26.

Jimmy Carr: Consummate performer, nicest guy on the circuit. Leeds Town Hall, February 25, 27. Sheffield City Hall, March 27. Harrogate International Centre, March 13. York Grand Opera House, June 15.

Tim Minchin: Performing with an orchestra, his songs are moving and hilarious. Motorpoint Arena, Sheffield, May 10.