London has something for every comedy fan, whether you’re into big-name stand-ups, sketch troupes or the most left-field acts on the alternative scene. We challenge you to keep a straight face at our picks of the British capital’s top comedy venues.
London’s best-known comedy venue opened in 1979 and effectively launched the careers of many of the UK’s favorite comedians, from duo Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders to Simon Pegg. Anyone who’s anyone has performed here throughout the years, making it something of a barometer for British comedy talent. The venue’s regular shows include The Best in Stand Up, featuring four experienced acts and a compère, Thursday through Saturday nights; improvised sketch comedy from long-running The Comedy Store Players on Wednesday and Sunday; and topical comedy from The Cutting Edge on Tuesdays. Expect the likes of Paul Merton, who’s been performing regularly at the venue since the 1980s, Phill Jupitus and Jo Brand.
This central London venue has three spaces to choose from, with established names performing in the Soho Theatre, emerging talent appearing in the
Soho Upstairs, and a mix of the two in the newest space, the Soho Downstairs. Programming includes a new writing theater and cabaret acts alongside comedy; Soho has a particular penchant for work that blurs the boundaries between these genres. So, expect high profile stand-ups such as Marcus Brigstocke, musical comedy acts such as The Horne Section and theater-style performers such as Bryony Kimmings to all be on the 2014 bill. With up to three shows a night in each space — not to mention an always-buzzy bar — the venue has a fantastic festival vibe. Hang around after a performance and you might actually find yourself chatting it up with one of the acts.
There are at least three mixed-bill comedy nights a week at this intimate Shoreditch venue’s upstairs sister stage, the lively Bedroom Bar. Check out up-and-coming talent at the free New Act Night on Wednesdays or book a seat to see a big-name comic such as Tony Law on the weekends. DJs take over when the stand-up is done, so why not make a night of it? The theater also hosts dinner and show combo deals, courtesy of excellent Korean-style chicken canteen Jubo (located in the bar downstairs), and curiosities such as the UK’s only regular French-language comedy night (Marcel Lucont and others).
Down a non-descript side street in King’s Cross lies the first purpose-built comedy venue to open in London in decades. The Invisible Dot launched in 2012, but it’s still very much an industry secret, a place where you’ll find some of the UK’s most innovative comedy performers working on new material and pushing the boundaries of their craft. Stand-ups such as Claudia O’Doherty and Josie Long perform alongside off-kilter character ensembles such as Sheeps and Triceratops in a program that is kept deliberately hard to define. Prices are low (around $17 US) to encourage audiences to attend regularly and try new things. A management company before it was a venue, The Invisible Dot also runs events on other stages, such as the atmospheric Union Chapel in Islington. A short West End season is in the works for the establishment this spring.
Photo Courtesy of Jonny Birch