Did you hear about the Lithuanian man who came to Manchester to become a comedian and won a prize for being the best stand-up?
It’s not a joke. It actually happened.
Evaldas Karosas, 25, came to Manchester 18 months ago to pursue a career in stand-up comedy. He had started to do it in his native Lithuania but the comedy scene there isn’t very big.
So he moved to Norway where he performed in English and realised that he could, therefore, perform in this country, too. So he decided to move to Manchester, where he had a friend, and started doing stand-up at open mic nights.
Not many people can make people laugh in their own language let alone in a foreign language. But it wasn’t the language that caused Evaldas problems at first. It was the accents.
“When I came here, every time I was at an open mic listening to other comedians, I’d only understand 20% of what they were saying,” he told me. “Six months later, I thought I’d got it. Then I met someone from Liverpool and for the first 30 seconds I just assumed it was a different language.”
He’s not the only one.
He started to perform at Beat The Frog nights at Manchester’s famous Frog & Bucket comedy club. These are open mic nights when stand-ups have to try to stay on stage long enough to deliver the full five minutes of their material. Three audience members are issued with cards which they hold up when they’ve had enough – the equivalent of a thumbs-down.
When all three cards are in the air, the act is ‘croaked’ off the stage.
The first time he performed there, he forgot his material and only lasted two-and-a-half minutes. So he tried again and again and got better and better until he lasted the full five minutes.
After doing a total of nine spots, he managed to reach the final of this year’s Beat The Frog World Series competition, when the best new stand-ups of the year compete against each other for the top prize. In the final, there is no gong and the audience decides the winner.
He was up against eight other acts, including a doctor of education, a vegan goth, an opera singer, and graduates from the Salford University comedy course, and beat off a strong challenge from Kuan-wen Huang, a gloriously silly accountant from Taiwan, and was declared the winner.
He won £250, a plaque and, most important, the prestige of being crowned the 16th annual Beat The Frog World Series winner, which is going to look rather good on his CV.
Despite the problem he used to have with accents, Evaldas reckons that being from overseas can actually be an advantage for a stand-up comedian. That’s because when you’re a stranger in a foreign country, you notice things that locals take for granted.
He’s noticed, for example, that we jaywalk when we cross the road and that we greet each other in a rather odd way.
“The first few months, every time someone asked me ‘How are you?’ or ‘Are you okay?’ I thought something was wrong with me,” he says. “I’m just so used to a simple ‘Hello’. It took months to get used to.”
If there’s a difference between the Lithuanian and British sense of humour, it hasn’t been a problem for him. He thinks that if something is funny, it’s funny everywhere. But he says that he has to be more careful over here than he is at home when he chooses his material in case he offends anyone in the audience.
According to Evaldas, the comedy scene in Manchester is thriving. Lots of aspiring comics move here from London because there are more opportunities for them to perform and because it’s cheaper to live. He has a part-time job in a hotel which enables him to do his comedy four or five times a week – something he reckons he couldn’t do in London.
He’s too polite to say what he doesn’t like about Manchester, but here’s a clue. Earlier this year, he and his Lithuanian friend bought a £50 dinghy, a £20 licence to allow them on the water and some bin bags and cleaned up the Rochdale Canal in Castlefield. He says modestly it was his friend’s idea and he just helped, but that will do for us.
When I asked him to tell me one of his best jokes, he made a polite excuse and refused because he thought it might not sound funny out of context, which is fair enough. If he’s good enough to be the reigning Frog & Bucket World Series champion, he must good. I’ll just have to go and see him perform. And so will you.