Londoners are spoilt for choice when it comes to comedy venues. On every night of the week there will be somewhere you can go to catch a rising comedy star or an established act, often at very reasonable prices. What follows only scratches the surface of the capital’s expansive comedy scene.
Formed in 1969, the Soho Theatre has visited various locations in and around central London before taking up residence in its current home on Dean Street in 2000. Today, the neon-lit venue hosts theatre, cabaret and comedy over three floors, with an emphasis on hour-long solo sessions rather than multi-act bills. Both fringe acts and international stand-up comedians can be enjoyed, often for as little as £10, while at £25, a theatre members’ card is worth serious consideration.
Hampstead Comedy Club
Ivor Dembina resides over an eclectic mix of talent at Camden’s Hampstead Comedy Club, now starting its third decade of operation. The club’s renowned Saturday night shows are carefully planned to give the audience a combination of up-and-coming comedians, old circuit pros and big draw names, with tickets costing £10 (and sometimes donation-only). The club is currently situated at the Camden Head pub, a well-established and intimate venue with a capacity of 70.
Another Soho-based club, the Amused Moose puts on new acts, established stage stalwarts and the occasional big name. For those who think they’ve got what it takes to raise a laugh of their own (and are booked to perform at the Edinburgh Fringe), the Amused Moose Laughter and LaughOff awards offer cash prizes, dvd deals and valuable exposure to talent scouts. The Comedy Courses are also popular, and recommended by the likes of Rhod Morgan.
Boat Show Comedy Club
With views of the London Eye, the floating Boat Show Comedy Club is a fitted out paddle steamer, the Tattershall Castle, which often plays host to top comedians, including the odd established pro on a last London gig before a big tour. The format is viewer-friendly with four acts and plenty of intervals. On Friday and Saturday nights, a free nightclub follows the show which itself is usually reasonably priced around the £15 to £25 mark.
Soho Comedy Club
The Soho Comedy Club is mainly centred on two venues: the Casino at the Empire in Leicester Square (Saturday) and the Prince of Wales pub, Drury Lane, Covent Garden (Friday and Saturday). A friendly club known for its consistently quality line-ups, the Soho Comedy Club offers good value for money for comedy fans. For just £5 you can also pop in to the Monday evening Round Table sessions at St Martin’s Court where comedians get together to work on new material.
Live at the Chapel
Every month, Islington’s Union Chapel hosts a high quality, often irreverent comedy club, one of the newest clubs on the scene having only emerged in 2007. Even in its short history, the Chapel has seen the likes of Reginald D Hunter, Noel Fielding, Frankie Boyle, Kathy Ryan and Josie Long grace the stage. Tickets are usually around the £15 mark and there is also a tea kiosk and the odd live band.
The Comedy Store
One of the most highly acclaimed comedy clubs in London, the Comedy Store, based on Oxenden Street, Westminster, promises “colourful characters every night.” Over 3500 people pass through the Store’s doors each week, and there is usually something on every night. King Gong is the club’s monthly open mic gig, performed on the last Monday of every month. Ticket prices vary, but tend to stay within the £10 to £25 range.
We Love Comedy
For expats on a stretched budget, We Love Comedy are charging absolutely nothing for either their East London (Pipeline, Middlesex Street) or West London (Balham Bowls Club) shows, with the option to purchase a ticket for £5 in advance if you want to guarantee a spot. If you enjoy the night, you are invited to ‘PWYW’ (Pay What You Want). The show is at Pipeline every Tuesday night and monthly on a Friday. Balham is the venue on the last Thursday night of the month.
Knock2Bag Comedy’s popular East and West London shows are packed with a variety of acts, with tickets costing as little as £8. Shoreditch’s Rich Mix and Bar FM, Shepherd’s Bush (just down the road from BBC Television Centre) are the two venues, with acts from Reginald D Hunter and John Richardson to Josie Long and Miriam Elia previously on the bill alongside fresh comedic talent. Sets are restricted to 15 minutes to keep the content fresh.
Leicester Square Theatre
Anyone who saw John Bishop’s sketch about his Leicester Square gig will already know that there is a small lounge with a capacity of 70 underneath the main Leicester Square Theatre which showcases up-and-coming comedians. Established acts get to fill out the main 400 seat theatre, and these have included Bill Bailey, Micky Flanagan and Michael McIntyre. Director Martin Witts has also launched the Museum of Comedy which contains comedy-related artefacts, props and artwork.
City of London Festival
The City of London Festival is a three week annual summer event which includes everything from concerts and ballet to lectures and, of course, comedy. This year’s comedy events take place within a pop-up 435 square metre ‘Top Hat’ on Patenaster Square which seats 210. There is nightly entertainment during the festival which will include improvisation, sketches, songs, skits and satire.
Now in its sixth year, the Udderbelly at the Southbank Centre now extends for a whopping three months and features a giant upside-down purple cow with a seating capacity of 410. Situated in Jubilee Gardens, just off Belvedere Road in South East London, the Udderbelly puts on an eclectic mix of comedy acts, including a children’s comedy club. Prices range from £10 to £30.
London Lifestyle Awards’ Best Festival of 2012, the Udderbelly now includes the spectacular London Wonderground festival, a riotous mix of circus, cabaret, comedy and family entertainment underneath the impressive Spiegeltent.