IF there’s one thing ventriloquist Nina Conti couldn’t imagine life without, it would be her beloved puppet sidekick, Monkey.

Taking time out from rehearsals for her latest show, Evolution, the talented daughter of actors Tom Conti and Kara Wilson meets me near her north London home, an over-sized bag slung over her shoulder containing the angelic-looking fluffy chimp (though as Nina’s fans will know, Monkey is anything but innocent).

Love him or hate him, Nina quips that her show without Monkey “would be the most unstageworthy act known to man.”

The 35-year-old entertainer, who is currently performing her new show in the West End and arrives in Stratford on Friday with Variety Lives!, adds with a laugh: “I can function perfectly well in life without him, but in comedy that’s my schtik. It’s not that he’s my safety blanket, but really more of a weapon when I’m up on stage.”

Her latest show is full of the usual witty one-liners and original comedy, as well as bizarrely, a human-sized monkey suit.

Nina, who lives with husband and fellow comedian Stan Stanley and their young son, Arthur, explains: “You see, in one part Monkey actually takes over my body and I become him, while my puppet turns into a miniature Nina!

“But you wouldn’t believe just how heavy this suit really is,” she giggles, while shaking her head in mock disbelief.

Monkey has actually been at Nina’s side, or rather at the end of her hand, since 2002. She originally began her career as an actress with the Royal Shakespeare Company, but then director Ken Campbell presented her with a teach-yourself-ventriloquism kit.

Although she initially laughed at the idea, she soon found she was “actually quite good at this” and started scouting around for a suitable puppet. Many were deemed “too sinister-looking” for her light-hearted comedy, but then she stumbled across a room in the cottage she then shared, which was heaped with junk.

“I found Monkey in there and knew straight away that he was the one,” enthuses Nina. “He even fitted into my handbag quite nicely.”

And what about that all-knowing, deadpan voice that Monkey has?

Nina laughs: “Well, I just looked at his face and thought his voice would be low and abrupt – it really all grew just from looking at him.

“He also has the speech patterns of my grandfather, Drummond, who was a very funny man and had this great timing. He used to just cut everything dead – that’s Monkey exactly.”

Since launching onto the comedy circuit seven years ago, Nina and Monkey have picked up a string of awards, including the BBC New Comedy Award, as well as the Barry Award at last year’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival.

And there are now even plans in the pipeline for a feature film next year starring Nina and her trusty, fluffy sidekick.

Nina Conti performs at Variety Lives! on Friday, June 5, 8pm, at Stratford Circus, Theatre Square. Details: 0844 357 2625. She is also performing Evolution at Soho Theatre, Dean Street, London until Saturday, June 6, Details: www.sohotheatre.com