The best free comedy in London
Ride out the recession with free laughs at the capital's top comedy clubs
With comedians charging top dollar to watch them from a mile away at the O2, we here at Time Out offer you a guide to the financially viable alternatives – London’s best free comedy gigs.
In general, the quality at free clubs can be a little hit and miss, but we highly recommend these ten comedy nights, and there’s no doubting that these free things to do in London offer excellent value for money.
A minor warning: although they say ‘free’, many clubs invite donations at the end of the night. Don’t fret if you can’t make a contribution, but if you’ve enjoyed the show, why not pay what you think it was worth?
Want more free comedy shows? See our free comedy listings
The best free comedy nights in London
It’s no fluke that Angel Comedy is constantly one of the most popular free clubs (if not one of the most popular clubs) in London: it’s consistently pretty frickin’ excellent. Running seven nights a week at N1’s Camden Head pub, the club mixes carefully selected new comics from the open-mic circuit alongside proper professional acts, especially on Friday and Saturday nights. Household name stand-ups, including Eddie Izzard and Russell Howard, have dropped by in the past to test new material, and AC regulars include Canadian loon Tony Law, ‘Mock the Week’ star Holly Walsh and Foster’s Best Newcomer award-winner Norwegian comic Daniel Simonsen. Get there early, though – the room’s likely to become packed and it’s first come, first served. Good luck.
- Camden Head, N1
Adam Larter’s intrepid troupe of boundary-pushing comedians, the Weirdos, have become a cult hit in recent years. ‘Experimental’ is the buzzword at their highly conceptual gigs, with the emphasis on ‘mental’. The more mainstream clubs wouldn’t dream of booking some of the Weirdos acts, who perform avant garde sets and try out ideas to an open-minded audience. If that all sounds a bit wanky, never fear: it’s basically just a big bowl of silliness. The Weirdos have now branched out into paid gigs too, but they still host regular free shows at the Lion in Stoke Newington.
- The Lion, N16
Brooklyn-born honorary Brit Lewis Schaffer has been performing his free, twice-weekly stand-up show in Soho for yonks. Well, we say ‘show’, actually the looser-than-loose structure and erratic audience interaction make it more of a strange group therapy session, where only one person is allowed to talk. Schaffer’s dry, acerbic style is exhilarating to watch. On most nights, his obtrusive, irony-heavy material soars. Occasionally it doesn’t, and the 56-year-old stand-up thrives on the awkwardness (if you’re like us, you’ll find that even funnier). Either way, it’s a bloody good laugh and unlike anything else on the comedy circuit. Go see Lewis Schaffer.
- The Source Below, W1F
There’s not even a plea for donations at the Foundry Tickler – it’s totally free – and offers unbelievably good line-ups. Every week, TV names and circuit regulars test out new jokes, and newbie comics perform their slickest sets. What better way to beat the Monday blues? Plenty of laffs without spending a penny.
- The Forge Arts Venue, NW1
If the word ‘Hootananny!’ just makes you picture Jools Holland and cringe, best get down to Brixton to get the word redefined in your mind. It’s a Hoot takes over one of Hootananny’s bars for an hour-and-a-bit every Friday, before the bands kick in. A quick (and most importantly, free) dose of stand-up from circuit favourites to kick start your Friday night.See listings for It's a Hoot
- Hootananny, SW2
Once a month (usually on the last Tuesday), the Comedy Grotto gang put together cracking line-ups to raise money for a charity or cause, most recently Peter Buckley Hill’s Free Fringe festival in Edinburgh. ‘Raise money!?’ we hear you cry, ‘I thought these gigs were meant to be free?’ Well, strictly speaking, this is a pay-what-you-like gig, but if you really can’t spare a pound you won’t be looked down upon. Previous acts include Foster’s Edinburgh Comedy Award nominees Aisling Bea, Liam Williams, Ben Target and more.See listings for The Comedy Grotto
- Star of Kings, N1
Get your sharp suit dry-cleaned and your trilby hat, err, polished(?). Classy stand-up show The Rat Pack has a loose, slightly unusual format: all the comics are sat on stage throughout the gig, standing up to perform their, err, stand-up, backed by swing music. It’s all very laidback, and often features top circuit comics. Nice!See listings for The Rat Pack Stand-Up Comedy
- Hysteria, E8
Stratford’s Theatre Royal comedy gig is no 2012 legacy project, it’s one of the longest-running free nights in the capital. They still don’t charge an entry fee on Monday nights, and the line-ups feature handpicked open-mic comics performing short sets plus, usually, a more established act testing new jokes.
- Theatre Royal Stratford East, E15
On most Thursday nights in Kentish Town you can catch a huge line-up of open-mic comics, plus often a professional act, all in a super friendly atmosphere. Ahh, how sweet!
- The Torriano, NW5
This young improv troupe have been performing since 2011, and their weekly free residency at the Top Secret Comedy Club is very popular. With a rotating cast – including Paul G Raymond, Luke Manning, Tom Mayo, Sam Russell and Josh Mills – plus the odd guest performer, the group perform well-known improv games, making up scenes via audience suggestions. They’re a good fun introduction to improv, and for a bargain price of £0, are well worth a shot (pun intended).
- Café Mode, WC2B
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