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6th November 2023

Student comedy in Manchester: In conversation with the founder of ‘The Giggle Arena’

Looking for a unique way to spend your Sunday nights? Consider trying ‘The Giggle Arena’, a weekly student comedy night in Fallowfield founded by student comedian Alfie Carter
Student comedy in Manchester: In conversation with the founder of ‘The Giggle Arena’
Credit: Alfie Carter and Zakariya Saeed (@zak_sae)

Every Sunday night, Haus in Fallowfield is taken over by ‘The Giggle Arena’, a comedy night run specifically for students. Founded in 2022 by University of Manchester student Alfie Carter, the event aims to bring stand-up directly to the student community and showcase exciting new comedians on the UK circuit.

Each week, four comedians take to the stage on the top floor of Haus for ten minutes each in an attempt to entertain the audience. The student crowd is perhaps a tough gig for some, yet the night is fast-paced and varied – if one comedian isn’t your cup of tea, there are three others who may be. The standup begins at around 8pm and entry is free, although a £3 donation is recommended to support those performing.

As well as organising the event each week, comedian Alfie Carter also introduces the performers, has his own stand-up sections, and puts on a weekly challenge where one audience member can win a free drink. Having started doing standup when he came to university in Manchester in 2021, Alfie began his own comedy club right on the doorstep of his fellow students. Wanting to find out more about ‘The Giggle Arena’, I sat down with Alfie to discuss the event’s origins, aims, and successes.

Event Origins

Beginning with the origins of ‘The Giggle Arena’, I ask Alfie how the event started.

“The reason it came about is because I was doing loads of gigs of my own on the circuit […] And I sort of thought that I very rarely got to play to young adults who didn’t have such fixed views on what comedy should be.” He continues by explaining “it came about as just a fun thing to do on a Sunday, which happens to be stand up comedy, rather than ‘Oh my God, it’s this big thing’ […] It’s have a giggle, sit down, buy a pint!”

Alfie is currently in his third year of studying at the University of Manchester, and admits to me that the relationship between comedy and his degree “is not very balanced.”

It’s clear as we talk that he has an endless passion for comedy, describing how he often does around five gigs a week all over the Northwest and the Midlands: “When I was 19 I wasn’t doing what most people do when they were 19. That’s fun!” Alfie has seen considerable success as a young comedian, having been shortlisted for BBC New Comedian of the Year in 2022, and tells me that comedy is equally “all-consuming,” “absurd,” and “powerful,” and that he “wouldn’t do anything else.”

'The Giggle Arena' comedy club founder Alfie Carter
Credit: Alfie Carter by Zakariya Saeed (@zak_sae)

He certainly has many stories to tell from his time on the standup circuit, such as finding himself in Grimsby with no way back to Manchester, or driving back from a gig in Leeds with a 60-year-old comedian. Such experiences have informed Alfie’s own event, and many of the acts he books are people that he has met whilst performing at standup shows around the country.

He tells me that it “is that exciting thing of discovering the next level of talent,” and that “there’s time to just relax and have fun” in a space designed for bringing a range of exciting comedic talent directly to the student community in Manchester.

Ethos and aims

As well as providing a space for students to experience live comedy on their doorstep, Alfie also hopes to shift perceptions of comedy as it is portrayed in the media. He describes the experience of being a standup comedian as “a very hopeful act… for the comic, it’s like, I’m gonna say this, and I hope they laugh.”

He touches on the ways in which famous comedians such as Ricky Gervais and Dave Chappelle can generate negative headlines, but stresses that “standup is absolutely alive. It’s not a stagnant thing. It’s not opinions. It’s a very dynamic thing where the audience has a lot more power than they think.”

“If you go to a gig, be optimistic, invite people, and tell your friends about the things you like”

The ethos of the event extends further than the comedy itself, as, on the Sunday night I visited Haus, there was a no-phones policy in practice. The advice to put our phones on silent provided a great escape from the rest of the day and made the room feel entirely connected to the live experience. Alfie shares my enthusiasm for the lack of technology, saying “I’m going to make that more of a thing” as “it does lend its hand to really just taking a step away from stresses.”

A welcoming atmosphere is at the heart of ‘The Giggle Arena’, as Alfie makes clear when he reminds me “If you go to a gig, be optimistic, invite people, and tell your friends about the things you like.” When booking comedians to perform, he tries to select a range of performers currently touring the circuit, and is always interested to see “how the students react.”

Comedy for Students

Going to a comedy night is perhaps not a classic Sunday evening for a student. Alfie explains how “A lot of people say it’s better than I expected, which I don’t like as a statement. But I think it does get out the fact that they’re worried about standup, and then it turns out to be a lot more fun than they expected.” ‘The Giggle Arena’ provides a space for audience members to confront their expectations about standup, have “fun” before the start of a new week, and try something new.

The audience of students, who are all probably very new to the world of live comedy, might be an equally different experience for the comedians, and the relationship between audience and performer is one which Alfie describes as “back and forth.”

He tells me “It’s an interesting thing where the tone isn’t inherently different [from other gigs]. But over the course of the performance, you’re adapting – it does show that the students do shape the tone. But also, the comedian has the power to reshape the students to go ‘no, you guys just need to be a bit more open-minded here.'”

The stage at Haus' Comedy Club
Credit: Annabel Benton @ The Mancunion

One of my own preconceptions about the event was that it would be made up of student comedians, however, when I went down to Haus, three of the four performers were probably in their 40s. The event is of course hosted by Alfie, who explains that he would love to book younger acts, but that “not many people manage it so young.” For budding comedians, he recommends open mic nights, where “you’re in a basement on the outskirts of Manchester and no one knows your name” and there is the anonymity for experimenting with your set.

He also suggests other comedy clubs in Manchester for those interested in either having a go at standup or going to watch more live events, including the Laughienda in Deansgate and Frog and Bucket in the Northern Quarter. Alfie makes it clear that “Manchester has got a really exciting scene, in that there’s a lot of younger comics who are really quite exciting. And a lot of the gigs are really open to younger audiences.”

Building an audience

One of the highlights from my own visit to ‘The Giggle Arena’ was the atmosphere on the top floor of Haus: everyone was welcoming, engaged, and up for a night of laughter. There seemed to be an understanding about how the night works within the room, with Alfie clarifying that “about 30% of the audience is recurring, and they probably come three out of four [Sundays] a month.”

He is enthusiastic about bringing his event to new crowds, but is also grateful for the fact that “there are people there where it’s completely part of their week” and who “are really starting to have an opinion of what they like with stand up.”

“It’s a great way to relax and reset before the week ahead, and perfect for anyone who loves to laugh”

It is clear that the event attracts its regulars week after week, some of whom were keen to explain to The Mancunion what it is they enjoy about ‘The Giggle Arena’. Issie, a Third Year Environmental Science student, explains that “Student life can be isolating with mountains of assignments, but ‘The Giggle Arena’ is a reliable pick me up and endorphin activator. It’s a great feeling to be in a room of like-minded peers all laughing together.”

This sentiment is echoed by Joe, a Third Year Film and History student, who says “I’ve been going to Alfie’s comedy night almost every Sunday for over a year now and have seen some hilarious acts. It’s a great way to relax and reset before the week ahead, and perfect for anyone who loves to laugh.” It is clear from both talking to Alfie and hearing from the regulars that ‘The Giggle Arena’ is already making its mark in Manchester, and is opening up comedy to students in an accessible and fun way.

Further Plans

In terms of his future plans, Alfie tells me that he feels he is at a place where he is “really comfortable” having carved out a space in Fallowfield for standup: “I just feel like it’s a really special thing. And it’s only going to grow and grow.”

There are exciting ideas in the works for potential events at the Students’ Union, “more professional line-ups,” and his own “solo shows.” Alfie describes his main aim: “Ultimately, I just want to build a comedy-interested demographic,” and he is certainly doing so, whether that be at his ‘Giggle Arena’ or at other events in the future.

The live stand-up experience is certainly chaotic, and I’d recommend avoiding the front row of benches if you’d rather not be picked on at the expense of the comedians’ jokes. However, there is a really relaxed, welcoming atmosphere amongst audience members, evidenced by the fact that so many students return week after week.

If you’re looking for a unique way to spend a Sunday night out of the house, a trip to ‘The Giggle Arena’ will certainly give you an experience that you’d struggle to find elsewhere in Manchester. Placed in the heart of the student community and with students at the centre of its ethos, this weekly standup event is a great way to get your first experience of live comedy.

You can follow Alfie Carter at @alfiecarterstandup on Instagram, where information about the event and its comedians is available each week.

Annabel Benton

Annabel Benton

Co-Culture Managing Editor at The Mancunion // Twitter: @AnnabelBenton_

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