Belfast's biggest comedy club comes of age next month, clocking up 18 years since Queen’s student Patrick Kielty donned a comic balaclava and stepped on stage.
Since opening on October 13, 1992, the Empire Laughs Back has been renowned for its innovative, irreverent brand of humour, poking fun at the great and the good with intelligent, acidic wit and plenty of belly laughs.
While Belfast was still in the grip of the Troubles the Empire was a haven of humour – a place where people came to laugh at themselves, their politicians, the paramilitaries and the absurdities of life.
Northern Ireland may have changed beyond recognition since 1992 but there is still plenty of raw material to weave into comedy gold – especially with the antics of the people occupying the big House on the Hill. And visiting comedians add to the mix, with Ardal O’Hanlon, Dylan Moran, Lee Evans and Dara O’Briain given their skewed perspective on life.
Other top comics to grace its stage include Jimmy Carr, Bill Bailey and John Bishop. Only last year, Michael McIntyre chose the Empire to test new material for his nationwide tour and his BBC1 comedy road show.
The stars love playing the Empire, even when they have become famous, because it is an edgy club where the audience is appreciative but doesn’t shirk from letting them know if they are not top of their game.
The Empire’s Joke Competition, where the audience provides the best punch-line to a story has become the stuff of legend.
Jackie Hamilton, organiser of the comedy night, described receiving a phone call one night from the producer of the World Tonight on BBC Radio 4. “He wanted to know what the winning joke was from our Joke Competition so that he could include it in a piece which was being broadcast about another big news story that had developed in Northern Ireland,” said Jackie.
“For me that was just as good as getting a mention in the Lonely Planet Guide.”
The line-up for the new season boasts some of the most exciting and groundbreaking acts on the comedy circuit including Dundalk’s own comic hobbit Colum Mc Donnell, crowd-pleasing English Troubadour Christian Reilly and the outrageous Canadian comic Jason Rouse.
The line up for October includes: Jake O Kane, Eric Lalor, Danny Ward, Colin Murphy, Patrick Monohan, Rory O’ Hanlon, and Gemma Hutton.
The club runs every Tuesday at 9pm and costs £7 with a £6 concession for students. Doors open at 8pm.
For information on shows visit: www.thebelfastempire.com or follow it on Facebook at Empire Comedy Club, Belfast.