IT’S a dating show but not as we know it. Nina Conti and her outrageous sidekick Monkey are heading to Manchester in the new year with her new live offering which aims to bring romance to complete strangers.

Nina, who has perfected the art of combining comedy with ventriloquism, has developed a hugely popular part of her previous live tours to create a whole show.

“Often when I’d get audience members on stage and put on their masks, the conversation would turn to romance,” said Nina. “So I thought I’d embrace that and make it the basis for my next show.”

For the uninitiated, Nina has an array of masks - she describes them as ‘cartoon mouths’ - which volunteers don on stage and which Nina operates and provides the voices for.

“Who knew that I was ahead of the curve with masks?” she laughed, given our recent experiences in the wake of Covid.

“But they do give people a new personality. As soon as they put them on they becoming something other than they were.”

That, in the main, is down to Nina whose lightning sharp instincts create moments of comedy genius.

And if it all appears to be spontaneous, that’s because it genuinely is.

“It is very important to me not to think ahead,” said Nina. “It doesn’t really help me when I have notions as I’ve already dropped out of the moment and stopped observing what’s actually happening. I’ve learnt not to think ahead, just narrate, that’s what I’m doing all the time.

“In a way it’s the blind leading the blind.. Neither of us knows where it is going, it’s best to just let it happen. When it is organic like that it is way funnier. If I had a predetermined line it might get a laugh but it leaves me nowhere to go after, you can burn fast and bright with that but this way has more longevity and is far funnier.”

During the course of the new show, Nina may get up to a dozen audience members on stage with her.

“They very quickly start to relax and unfold on stage,” she said. “They do start to enjoy it.”

Although nominally a dating show concept, Nina isn’t expecting to get any wedding invitations on the back of bringing couples together on stage.

“The ‘dates’ are chaotic and really it’s about comedy rather than finding actual matches. Occasionally I’ve had a couple up and though that perhaps they might get on but that’s purely accidental,” she laughed. “Often they are quite mismatched and that is when it can be the funniest particularly if I make one of them say the wrong thing, as long as it’s done with warmth and care.”

Rather than the audience members being the ones left embarrassed, it’s Nina who is laid bare every night on the show.

“It’s incredibly exposing for me as people get to hear any thought that might come into my head and often they are ones you would normally not let out,” she said. “I actually find that quite healthy and I’m grateful to have found this particular art form that suits me quite well.

“If you’re brought up to be polite and a good girl there’s no room for anything more complicated whereas this seems like a safe way of expressing the more outrageous things.”

When it comes to the outrageous Nina can always rely on her comedy sidekick Monkey,

“Monkey is not bound by any kind of social norms,” said Nina. “He doesn’t have accountability, He’s not real, he’s not even a monkey - he’s barely a glove. But he can say the unsayable and doesn’t feel dangerous.

“The embarrassment is on me and always I’m the one there cringing.”

Nina has managed to bring her Dating Game show back to theatres in recent weeks and has found audiences more receptive than ever.

“There does feel like there’s an explosion of well being and community which is really nice,” she said. “By the end of the show it feels like a team.”

After a Christmas break, Nina’s first show back will be at Manchester Opera House before heading round the country and ending the run with a series of dates in London’s West End.

Nina Conti - The Dating Show, Manchester Opera House, Saturday, January 8. Details from