There are few things more exhilarating than seeing a comedian killing it on stage. Then again, there are few things more awkward than seeing one bomb. Especially if you’re on a date. But it’s that element of risk that makes live comedy so intoxicating.
Many of us have missed seeing comics perform during the pandemic – and it’s still uncertain when we will next be able to crowd into a stuffy venue with beer-sticky floors and cut-throat comperes.
With comedy clubs so at risk – three-quarters could shut in the next year without financial help – we asked a handful of the best British comedians to tell us their fondest memories of performing at their favourite venues.
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Bafta-winning creator and star of ‘Stath Lets Flats’, available now on All 4
“Moth Club in east London is my favourite venue to perform comedy in. I have been known to arrive there three hours before the show starts, just to bring an end to me s****ing myself with nerves in my flat all day. I s*** myself thinking about the packed crowd – a hot billowing curtain of punters, all willing themselves to find something funny at some point.
“I s*** myself worrying Cardinal Burns (the hosts) will have forgotten whatever stupid character name (Bagboy, Seeds, Kebab Shop Peter) I’ve asked them to intro me as, knowing they’ll likely say, ‘Introducing… Jamie!’, blowing the facade that nobody cares about anyway.
“I s*** myself knowing there will be a world-class headliner whose set I can watch, but I also s*** myself working out how to stop them from watching my set. I s*** myself with excitement thinking about the dancing that takes place after the show once we’ve cleared the chairs, Spotify DJ’d by my (at this point) hammered friend Rupert Majendie, who runs the night.
“Audience, acts, bar staff all twirling together, fourth and fifth walls in absolute tatters, and me s****ing myself with love for this venue in the middle of the dance floor.”
Regularly seen on ‘The Mash Report’, ‘Mock The Week’ and ‘Live at the Apollo’, and co-host of the podcast ‘Ellie and Anna Have Issues’
“Angel Comedy in north London was built by comics for comics. Since I started out in stand-up, Angel has always found space for me at its long-standing residency at The Camden Head, and then in recent years at their own venue that they fought so hard to create, The Bill Murray. It’s run by a collective of stand-ups and comedy lovers, and the passion for our silly art shines through.
“When my baby was three months old, I had to start working up a new tour show and Angel gave me as many early evening slots as I wanted. This generosity meant I could drive to the pub, do my show, zip home and get my boobs back to my child before she’d even noticed I – or they – had gone.
“I’m gutted to read that this week Angel have had to lay off some key, brilliant staff members. I truly hope this special venue makes it through the pandemic because without it, the London and UK comedy scene will have lost a bloody gem.”
As seen on ‘The Last Leg’ and ‘8 Out of 10 Cats’, and co-host of the podcast ‘Daddy Look at Me’
“Have you ever said the C-word in a church? The sound really resonates and it is a thing of beauty. I am not encouraging you to yell expletives in a place of worship, I’m just saying, if the opportunity presents itself to you, take it! This is but one of the many reasons why my favourite comedy venue is the Union Chapel in Islington.
“Still a working church, the Union Chapel transforms itself into a live entertainment venue every weekend. It’s grand, and even for a devout agnostic (I am sure that I am unsure about religion), there’s something spiritual about performing there.
“As a touring comedian, I have to gig in some seriously rancid comedy venues – dark, damp and suspiciously sticky. I’ve been carrying around hand sanitiser long before it became trendy. So it’s a complete joy to perform in a place that is historic, beautiful and slightly enchanted.
“And because the chapel is still consecrated, the audience cannot drink alcohol in there, so there’s no chance of getting a lairy crowd. Just a group of well-behaved tea drinkers… delightful!”
As seen on ‘Taskmaster’ and ‘Would I Lie to You?’, and creator of Radio 4 comedy ‘Wangsplaining’
“There is no phone signal under The Phoenix, which is good. The last thing anyone needs is distraction. Old Rope is the gig here – London’s legendary new material night. Comics huddle in the back and at the bar, scribbling last-minute inspirations into notebooks; onto hands. Those up soon sit at the booth table by the stage.
“An open dressing room as visible to the audience as the noose that hangs by the microphone. An eject cord when an act finds themselves in need of an old routine. In the moments before your turn, the air is crispy and clear. This is the only time these jokes will be as new to you as they are to them. If they fail, they’re gone. If they ignite, you will never enjoy them as much again. The low ceiling and red neon focus the eyes. There is nothing else like it.”
Charly Clive and Ellen Robertson
Members of sketch duo Britney. Clive also starred in Bafta-nominated ‘Pure’ on Channel 4
“We are proud to be regular performers at The Country Mile Comedy Club, a monthly charity gig in The Star of Kings pub in north London run by Alex Cartlidge and Kathryn Craigmyle. It’s underground to the point of, ‘Is this a cave?’; the women’s bathroom has saloon doors; and the audience of regulars are comfortable enough to give you notes on your set… it’s our happy place.
“We’ve had our Number One Best Gig Ever there, the sort of set that makes you dream of one day being paid for performing! It’s also where we once bombed so hard with a James Bond parody sketch that we forgot our outro, apologised to the audience and tripped off the stage.
“Country Mile was our introduction to the London comedy scene and because of it we’ve got to try out endless sketches (the good, the bad and the ugly) and perform on the same bill as some of our heroes. Yikes, we really miss it.”
Stephen K Amos
As seen on ‘Have I Got News for You’ and ‘Mock the Week’, and Bafta-nominated ‘Batty Man’
“Dear Balham Banana Cabaret,
“As one of the oldest comedy venues in the country in Balham, southwest London, with Dave Vickers at the helm, I need you to how much I appreciate you. Situated at the top of the street of my old childhood home in a grand 1930s Edwardian pub that yesteryear I could only have dreamt of going into. Who knew that years later, I’d actually be performing there doing four shows across a Friday and Saturday night. On my manor, my patch. My local inside knowledge! Exciting.
“One of the few clubs in the country with no traditional host or MC, which would, in turn, strike fear into the opening act, worried that the audience was not ‘warmed up’ enough. Completely in the round, with a balcony full of punters, it all gave me a huge learning curve. You supported me, had faith in me and trusted me to go on in any slot on the night. Every comic and household name has played there, which is a testament to Dave and his team putting on great bills.
“Playing there always feels like I’m coming home and seeing old friends. You even invited me to the inaugural Balham Comedy Festival, which was such a huge honour.
“Balham may be gentrified now, but the club has never lost its edge.
“Thank you, Miriam and all the team for your dedication, your enthusiasm and your love of comedy.
“Balham, the true gateway to the south. I can’t quite walk home from there nowadays but hey… so worth it.