THERE are many advantages for a comedian that come with having a talking monkey on your arm - just ask ventriloquist Nina Conti.

For starters, you can blame him for all your bad jokes and, best of all, you can use him to insult any of the dreaded hecklers who interrupt your stand-up slot.

If fact, this comedian's pet monkey could well come in handy off-stage too. Say you meet someone you don't like, have an urge to swear, or even want to flirt with a man you just met, you can just blame the ape.

This, of course, is the premise to Ninai's act, though sadly she does restrict the monkey business to the stage - or at least if she does try it elsewhere she's not letting on.

For more than six years, Nina and Monk, her naughty simian sidekick, have been trekking around the comedy circuit.

Conti pretends butter wouldn't melt in her mouth while Monk is rude about everything in sight. It's not quite what you would have expected from someone with a degree in philosophy.

So how, we wonder, was the obscure monkey born?

"It started by accident really," said Nina. "A friend bought me a teach yourself to b e a ventriloquist' set and I didn't like it and wanted to return it. I just ended up having a go one day and realised it was pretty funny. I always thought ventriloquist dolls were a bit creepy and just not very funny. But I've been converted. I video myself to see what works. I am really just having a conversation with myself but I have to pretend he's real."

It's no surprise that Conti became a performer as she is from an acting background - her dad is Tom Conti and her mother Kara Wilson.

Nina and her sidekick Monkey won the New Comedy Awards in 2002 and since then have performed to packed audiences across the UK.

As well as performing on the stand-up circuit, Nina has also been appearing on numerous TV programmes, from Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway to Comic Relie'.

She is also a regular on Radio 4's Claire In The Community and has just appeared in her first feature film, directed by Christopher White.

Following her critically-acclaimed season at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2007, the award-winning stand-up will be touring the UK for the first time with her long-awaited debut full-length show. After a recent stint in Hollywood, where they appeared in Christopher Guest's movie For Your Consideration, Nina and Monkey have hit the road, heading for Burnley on Saturday.

The show is a hotch potch of jokes, sketches and variety all of which rely heavily on the use of ventriloquism. Monkey acts as ringmaster, putting Nina through her paces with a host of different puppets and a host of different puppeteers, all played by Nina. Characters range from her own grandad, who uses ventriloquism to talk to his dead wife, to a one-armed South African voodoo expert.

But after spending two years with the Royal Shakespeare Company, it is about as far removed from her previous work as she could have fallen.

Nina added: "My acting work was so serious and, while I would never have dreamed of doing stand up on my own before the puppets, I couldn't have carried on as I was. I never dreamed of becoming a stand-up the every thought terrified me. But now I love it."

  • See Nina Conti live at Burnley Mechanics on May 3, 8pm. Call the box office for tickets on 01282 66 44 00.