Summer funnies in London

As most comedians bugger off to Edinburgh, Ben Williams rounds-up the laughs left in London

London: the greatest city in the world for live comedy. A bold claim, you might think, but read us bang on and on about it here, and you’ll be convinced. However, we promised you hundreds of gigs per week and an epic variety to choose from… but, erm, the thing is, right, our ‘vast’ comedy empire is about to shrink, somewhat, for the entire month of August. Sorry.

This is the time of year when most of the comedy industry heads up to Scotland for the Edinburgh Fringe: the world’s largest arts (and comedy) festival. But it’s not all doom and gloom here in Olympicstown. Our good city’s most respected chuckle clubs are still open for business, laying on quality stand-up all summer long, and August is a terrific time to let some top circuit talent hit you with their finest 20 minutes of gag-slinging in some of the capital’s legendary venues. We suggest you get out there and absorb the amusement at these long-established clubs.

Our comedy map of London

Comedy in central London

Soho Theatre Soho Theatre - © David Tett

The West End is the comedy capital within the capital. Central London is home to dozens of monthly, weekly and nightly gigs and there are oodles of giggles on offer in August. The big papa of all comedy clubs, The Comedy Store [1] (1a Oxendon St, SW1Y 4EE), is a winner any night this month, with consistently stunning stand-up shows plus improv and topical gigs. Just a few hundred metres away, the 99 Club Leicester Square [2] (Storm, 28a Leicester Square, WC2H 7LE) is running Tuesday to Sunday, with top-notch bills. Up on Dean Street the venue to catch solo shows, the Soho Theatre [3] (21 Dean St, W1D 3NE), has an excellent programme, with award-winning Australians Ronny Chieng and Matt Okine flying over. Head down towards the river to the arches of Charing Cross to catch, among others, East End legend Lee Hurst and charming storyteller Tom Wrigglesworth at the Covent Garden Comedy Club [4] (Heaven, off Villiers St, WC2N 6NG). Stroll further still, and when you hit the riverbank step aboard The Boat Show [5] (Tattershall Castle, Kings Reach, Victoria Embankment, SW1A 2HR) – a floating venue where heaps of masterful mirth-makers are taking to the bobbing stage this month.

Comedy in north London

Downstairs at the King's Head Downstairs at the King's Head

The distinguished (ie la-di-da) neighbourhood of Crouch End is home to one of the oldest comedy clubs in the country, Downstairs at the King’s Head [6] (2 Crouch End Hill, N8 8AA). This intimate basement room started in 1981 and is still a much-loved north London haunt, hosting a new-act night on Thursdays, solid stand-up bills on Saturdays and variety nights on Sundays. We particularly approve of their August 11 gig, when shambolic anti-comic Edward Aczel will be shuffling about the stage. A little more central, in grungy Chalk Farm, is Monkey Business [7] (the Sir Richard Steele pub, 97 Haverstock Hill, NW3 4RL). Eccentric promoter Martin Besserman also hosts the impressive bills here, where dark character comic Colin Hoult will unleash his creations on August 4 and animated posho Spencer Brown performs on August 25.

Comedy in east London

Comedy Cafe Theatre Comedy Cafe Theatre

Over in trendy Shoreditch, another core club, The Comedy Café [8] (66 Rivington St, EC2A 3AY), has long been in residence. These days, the word ‘Theatre’ suffixes the name to add a touch of class and put off the boisterous weekend drunkards, and the comedy has moved from a large downstairs room to a smaller, more relaxed bar upstairs. You’ll find circuit regulars and the odd international act here. Scandinavian comics seem to be a current favourite of the promoters, with Swedes Tobias Persson (August 3-4) and Fredrik Andersson (August 10-11) both doing spots.

Comedy in south London

Banana Cabaret Banana Cabaret

This summer, you have two main choices south of the river: Balham’s Banana Cabaret [9] (The Bedford pub, 77 Bedford Hill, SW12 9HD) and Up the Creek [10] in Greenwich (302 Creek Rd, SE10 9SW). Although less of a bear pit than it used to be (for better or worse), Up the Creek still has a notoriously rowdy atmosphere. Ideal for a boozed-up Saturday night out. Down in SW12, the venue for the 27-year-old Banana Cabaret, seated almost in the round, is perfect for comedy: cosy and unpretentious. The line-ups here are consistently strong, and remain so during August, with sharp topical comic Ian Stone appearing on August 17 and 18, and erudite former doctor Paul Sinha on August 3 and 4.

Comedy in west London

Headliners Headliners

It’s business as usual this month at Headliners [11] (George IV, 185 Chiswick High Rd, W4 2DR), west London’s only purpose-built comedy club. Twenty years ago, £250,000 was spent converting an old warehouse behind the George IV pub into a 200-seat comedy club, and it was money ruddy well spent. There’s an especially cracking line-up the weekend of August 24-25 featuring acerbic American wit Scott Capurro, uplifting Londoner Kerry Godliman and the truly unpredictable (and occasionally terrifying) Ian Cognito. No need for a return ticket to Edinburgh, comedy fans – an Oyster card will do.