The tradition of going to watch funny people be hilarious has been around for at least 2000 years. The Ancient Greeks really went to town on the idea, pioneering political satire, sexual innuendo and scatological humour, amongst other things. These days of course, you don't have to go see anything too bawdy (unless you want to of course).
London itself has a rich comic history, which really picked up in 1881 with the opening of The Royal Comedy Theatre (today still going strong as The Harold Pinter Theatre), which was, as the name suggests, designed purely for theatrical shows that didn't take themselves too seriously.
Today, London's comedy scene is still going strong. And so, as proof, here's 5 comedy clubs in which you may very possibly find mirth and merriment...
The Funny Side… of Covent Garden
'The Funny Side...' (a chain of venues) launched its first club in Covent Garden in April 2006. It calls itself "an upmarket yet friendly alternative to the usual London comedy experience", and that seems about right. Its smaller capacity and cosy surroundings make for more intimate and lighthearted gatherings. It's strategically located too; you can get a pub meal from The George below. 'The Funny Side' boasts a huge variety of established UK and visiting international comedians. Previous acts have included Harry Hill, Robin Williams and Lee Mack. There's also a joke competition with the chance to win a bottle of bubbly. Other things they do are private parties and corporate functions. You can have one there or they'll bring the party to you. Look out for their Improvised ('improv') comedy courses which they run some weekends. Also check out The Funny Side's other venues in Leicester Square, Earlsfield, Clapham Common and The City Of London.
Capacity: About 80
Fridays and Saturdays: Doors 7:00pm, Starts 8:00pm
Sundays (occasionally): Doors 6:30pm, Starts 7:30pm
(All shows last approximately 2 hours)
Nearest station: Covent Garden
Price: usually £12.50
Listings and tickets
Upstairs at The George, 213 The Strand, Covent Garden, London, WC2R 1AP, T: 0844 478 0404
Founded in 1969, and located right in the beating creative heart of London, the Soho Theatre is a well established London comedy institution. It's also quite well known on the theatre scene for its variety of dramatic programming. The great thing about this place(as it is a theatre after all) is that the shows are usually more much more complex and theatrical than the competition.
The Soho Theatre has a lively bar, which, incidentally, is a good place to meet friends before and after a gig. Handily, it also serves food and drink from early 'til late. The food is usually well received and thanks to the prime Soho location, the theatre has a wonderful 'West End' vibe. Seating is big enough for a sizeable group of people but still makes for an intimate crowd.
When not putting on comedy, the Theatre hosts Cabaret, live music, theatre (duh), and workshops for writers, amongst other things. Asides from being a registered charity, it's also supported by the Arts Council, so why not head down one day soon and show some solidarity to the arts community?
Capacity: About 150
Show Times: varied
Nearest station: Tottenham Court Road
Listings and venue information
Soho Theatre, 21 Dean Street, London, W1D 3NE, T: 020 7478 0100
Comedy Store London
Named after the infamous Comedy Store club in Hollywood, USA , and opening its doors for the first time in 1979, Comedy Store London is probably one of the best known comedy communities in the UK, and for good reason. In terms of 'alternative' comedy, it's hard to find better. Look out for Happy Hour (6-7pm) for reduced priced beer and house wine, and also keep your eyes peeled for the frequent famous faces in the audience.
What's the billing like then? Well, there's the ever changing Comedy Store Players, in which six performers with no script whatsoever improvise entire comic dramas and sketches with a little direction from the audience. But Comedy Store is perhaps known best for the anarchistic and hilarious King Gong, which comes on the last Monday of the month. It's where new, brave, (and often untested) comedians are made or broken. Alexi Sayle answered their ad in 1979, and look where he is now!
There's a basic selection of food, but it's of good quality and usually quick to arrive. You may want to cough out a little extra in advance to ensure that you get a seat, as they can sell out pretty quickly and you may end up on your feet for a few hours. Located between Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square, Comedy Store is so easy to get to that there's no excuse not to.
Capacity: About 450
Show times: varied
Nearest station: Piccadilly Circus
Comedy Store, 1A Oxendon Street, London, SW1Y 4EE T: 0844 871 7699
Up The Creek
It's hard to miss Up The Creek. Located conveniently close to Cutty Sark Station in delightful, ineffable Greenwich, its outside is decorated in unmistakable purple. It all hints at a similarly exciting interior, which is certainly the case...
Up The Creek has an electric atmosphere and a prestigious, (dare we say historical?) connection to modern British Comedy. Previous (now household) names who began their careers at Up The Creek include Jo Brand, Al Murray, Jimmy Carr and Harry Hill. Look upstairs for an infamous (and possibly blasphemous) mural parodying Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper, with well known British comics standing in for the apostles.
One thing that you can't accuse Up The Creek of is not being proactive. They've got a full and busy schedule of everything from Comedy Speed Dating, (exactly as it sounds) to The Comedy Variety Show (an open mic for potentially funny newbies), and lots of traditional standup . Those looking for some cheap fun should come down to the 'Sunday Special', where every now and then, you may run into a famous face.
Over the years the venue has earned its reputation for raucousness (especially at closing time), though it seems to have relaxed a little from the days of the legendary Malcolm Hardee's management. All of this adds to the excitable and slightly edgy atmosphere that the club is so beloved for.
Capacity: about 300
Fridays: Doors 8:00pm, Starts 9:00pm
Saturdays: Doors 7:00pm, Starts 8:30pm
Nearest station: Cutty Sark (DLR) / Greenwich
Price: around £6-16
Up The Creek, 302 Creek Road, London, SE10 9SW, T: 0208 858 4581
Located on vibrant Streatham's high street, just a stone's throw from Streatham train station, many already know Hideaway for its excellent live music programming (most especially jazz). But the club has also been building a reputation as a reputable comedy venue for those South of the river for quite some time now. So, asides from sophisticated music, what's on offer?
Well, on Fridays, Hideaway mixes up established UK comedians with a variety of local up and comers and sees what the audience makes of it. There's usually six acts, along with the headliner, and so there's certainly enough variety to cater to varying senses of humour.
Sundays (Shoot From The Hip!) usually means improv craziness, in which a group of comedians take to the stage without a script or a plan, leaving it to you, the audience, to do the directing. This craziness extends to the planning too, with the lineup for this event usually only being finalised the day before! You may very often show up not knowing what to expect, which is all part of the fun. Spontaneity is the word here.
Since (amongst other things) Hideaway is a cafe, you may find that the food is better than average. Look out for the quail eggs on rocket salad (delicious) and an exciting and ever changing menu.
Capacity: around 100
Fridays: Doors 7pm, Starts 8:30pm
Sundays: Doors 7pm, Starts 8:30pm
Nearest station: Streatham
Price: Fridays £10, Sundays £12
Empire Mews, Stanthorpe Road, Streatham, London, SW16 2ED, T: 020 8835 7070
Some pre show tips
- Never take your phone out of your pocket, and keep it off or on silent. If you do during an act, bad things can happen.
- Unless you want to be part of the show, don't sit at the front
- If you are seeing friends, try to arrive at the same time, or you might end up scattered
- Heckling isn't cool.
Words: Jack Oughton
Photo: The Comedy Store London
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