MICHAEL McIntyre is as big a star in the comedy firmament as you get at the moment. Back in 2009, half a million people saw his UK tour, which included six nights at Wembley Arena and four at the O2.

Three years later, his follow-up tour was even bigger – 700,000 fans, ten nights at the O2 and according to one survey, the biggest selling comedian of the year.

This year, he is embarking on an even bigger venture – his Big World Tour, which is taking in 83 dates (and rising) in 15 countries around the world.

How do you get ready for such a huge tour, playing to tens of thousands each night? The answer is that you do a warm up show or two at smaller venues, in order to practice and hone your material.

Next Monday and Tuesday, McIntyre’s tour of Warm Up Shows comes to Salisbury Playhouse.

If you haven’t got a ticket yet, I’m afraid you’re too late: they sold out in just over an hour when they went on sale back in September.

It says something of the nature of how comedy has changed in the UK that even warm up shows have become big business.

Once upon a time, comedy was the behest of small venues and comedy clubs: this started to change in the 1980s, as the arrival of Channel 4 gave rising comics a television platform.

Slowly, over the years, what was then called alternative comedy took over from more old-fashioned light-entertainment. The alternative stars eventually became the mainstream.

At the same time, as the popularity of comedy grew, so did the size of the gigs. In 1990, Andrew Rice Clay became the first comedian to sell out New York’s Madison Square Garden for two nights.

In 1993, comedy duo Newman and Baddiel sold out Wembley Arena – the first such sized gig in this country. Comedy, as the saying went, was the new rock and roll. And while the gig did for Newman and Baddiel – they split up afterwards – it was the foundation stone for today’s comedy tours.

Today, the likes of McIntyre, Russell Howard, Mickey Flanagan or John Bishop selling out arenas is commonplace.

Has comedy changed as venues have got bigger? Most probably but what works in a room in front of 50 people is going to get lost in front of 15,000.

The humour has to be bigger and broader – when you’ve got a huge stage to fill, it’s not enough just to stand behind a microphone.

McIntyre has his critics – usually among less successful comedians – but there’s no doubt he is the best at what he does. As those lucky enough to get Salisbury tickets will experience this week.