London: greatest city in the world for comedy

Comedy editor Ben Williams explains why London is the world's biggest laughter supplier

The Comedy Store The Comedy Store

We’re terribly sorry. We British are famously repressed: one reason why you, the rest of the world, enjoy laughing at us so much. But that makes it rather agonising, actually, for us to boast about the fact that London is the greatest city in the world for comedy and we, its citizens, are the funniest people on the planet.

So let’s save our blushes and stick to the facts. ‘Monty Python’, ‘Fawlty Towers’, ‘The Office’, ‘The Benny Hill Show’, ‘Shaun of the Dead’. You, world, have lapped up our humurous issue. Admittedly, Russell Brand, now America’s favourite wild child, is so uninhibited that we wonder whether he really is Blighty’s biological son. But we’ll cheerfully admit to Eddie Izzard, who performs to the French in their own language, and Ricky Gervais, who packs out arenas from here to the Antipodes.

Live at the Chapel Live at the Chapel

Popular comedians like Michael McIntyre, who will spend 17 nights at Wembley Arena and The O2 later this year, sell more tickets than rock stars. Peter Kay played to 240,000 people in London alone on his most recent tour. But gargantuan arena shows are only a fraction of the comedy scene. There are more gigs here than any other city: approximately 1,200 every month, in which thousands of comedians perform in clubs, theatres, pubs, bars, churches, offices, basements, tents, boats and anywhere else they can find an audience. With a circuit so large, creativity is key. Acts are driven to be different. There’s a huge audience for the more avant-garde (and sometimes downright bizarre) end of the comedy scale, as comics like Tim Key, Angelos Epithemiou, Josie Long and Noel Fielding have proved.

It’s a great irony (another national characteristic that has you all rolling in the aisles), that we Londoners take comedy very seriously; it’s  an art form as well as entertainment. Our technological wizardry will make you gasp and our heart-rending storytelling will make you cry. And our film-based stand-up nights, science-comedy hybrid shows, puns and wordplay evenings and topical gigs will make you chuckle your face off.

Tim Minchin Tim Minchin - © Laura Pannick

So, world, why not flog your return ticket to a damp and desperate local and stay here? If you’d like to be a comedian you could earn a very decent living as a professional comic, which probably isn’t the case in your home country. Just as every actor dreams of performing on a West End stage, every comedian wants to play London. Rich Hall, Tim Minchin and Flight of the Conchords, to name a few, knew that London was the place to be to make it in comedy, so packed their bags and settled here. We’re embarrassed to admit it, but London is the comedy capital of the world. If you don’t believe us, get out there and see for yourself – with gigs around every corner, you really have no excuse not to.

Want to find out the best comedy London has to offer? See the Time Out Comedy pages.