Review: Jason Manford leaves the lion's den in Belfast without being eaten alive
The sides of the Falls Park marquee almost split last night as seemingly every comedy fan in west Belfast crammed in to see TV favourite Jason Manford.
But before the cuddly Mancunian took the stage, local favourite Paddy McDonnell warmed up the audience.
As ever, the personable cabbie got a solid response with his accessible, good-natured banter.
References to Divis Flats, Paddy Barnes's accent and Boyzone's Féile gig all elicited knowing laughs.
Main support act Willa White struggled somewhat. The Dubliner went for broke with confessional tales of his rough-and-ready life in Ballymun, but the material wasn't quite up to scratch.
And so to Manford, an act who takes safe comedy to new levels. Not for him a scathing analysis of the Middle East situation or edgy remarks about Operation Yewtree. Nor does he dwell on his infamous Twitter scandal of a few years ago, when he was caught sending sexy messages to a female fan.
And yet, the everyman comic dug himself into a few holes worthy of the most confrontational comedian. First, he related a joke about the IRA bombing of Manchester city centre, which he had previously told at a Belfast club gig.
It had a quality punchline, but the crowd didn't quite know how to take it and a tense silence ensued. Moving swiftly on, Manford tried to work out what would and wouldn't be booed in west Belfast.
The England football team was a given, George Best a little more surprising, and the stand-up star seemed genuinely taken aback that Camp Bastion – where Manford had recently performed for the British troops – should be jeered.
"I can't believe you hate us so much you're thinking of siding with the Taliban," he cackled.
The bar remained open, and as more beer was sunk the heckling increased, though Manford proved an expert at putting the disrupters down.
The noise did seem to be getting to him at points, but he pressed on with his show.
The second half was turned over to material from Manford's recent First World Problems tour, and if none of it was particularly memorable, the string of well-constructed wisecracks ensured Falls Park was alive with laughter well into the night.