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Phoenix Artist Club, 2020
Photo by Gaby Jerrard PR

8 things you need to know about socially distanced comedy clubs in London

Cheaper, nimbler and easier to distance than other artforms, stand-up is booming again

By
Andrzej Lukowski
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1. There is a lot of comedy on at the moment

Okay, packing them in at The O2 is currently out of the question, but away from the enormo-venues there are now regular gigs springing up the length and breadth of London. Comedy gets less attention than theatre, but it’s probably the performing artform thriving the most in the capital right now.

2. That’s because it’s quite easy to stage a socially distanced comedy gig

Theatres and concert venues *can* reopen at the moment. A handful have. But the problem is that plays and concerts require lots of people on stage and backstage. It is very complicated and expensive to socially distance them, and a distanced audience won’t bring in nearly enough money to cover costs. A comedian, though, has basically no overheads. Even at drastically reduced capacities, stand-up nights can make enough money to be financially viable.

3. You can see big names 

Not everyone is gigging again. But a lot of household names, from Sara Pascoe to Al Murray, are back in action: being famous doesn’t mean they have additional overheads, and most of them are keen to get back out on the circuit again after the gloom of lockdown.

4. The gigs feel surprisingly intimate

Go into a theatre right now, and the audience distancing is almost aggressively safe, albeit reassuringly so. The comedy nights I’ve visited are clearly conforming to social-distancing rules – you’re not going to be sat next to a stranger – but they certainly cram ’em in a bit more. It keeps things cosy. But nervous souls might find it a bit much.

5. Audiences don’t seem to be required to wear masks during the sets

I can’t speak for every comedy night in London. But the ones I visited allowed audiences to have their masks off during the sets, although not in between. This is legal, so long as people are static and far enough away from each other. But it’s certainly more relaxed than at theatres. However, it’s also reflective of a prosaic reality that a) it’s tough for the comics if they can’t see faces b) audiences tend to drink through shows anyway.

6. Audiences are young 

Is it just the usual demographics for stand-up nights? Or is the case that younger audiences are feeling a bit bolder about this sort of thing at the moment? Whatever the case, the vibe is hyper-youthful at the nights I’ve attended.

7. There are a few bigger gigs too

If you want the full-on, theatre-grade social-distancing experience with accompanying bigger names, it is out there, albeit sparsely: the hard-gigging Jimmy Carr is doing a run at the Palace Theatre from November 16 to 21; the Palladium is playing host to Daniel Sloss and Russell Brand (October 30 and November 15); and the capacious Clapham Grand has a busy line-up.

8. It’s just nice to laugh again

Although every act I’ve seen perform has at least alluded to lockdown etc, it’s remarkable how normal everything feels again during the sets. Sure, you’re strapping on your mask the second you leave your seat, and sure, you’re ordering drinks by app. But when the comedians are on, it’s easy to forget the horrors of 2020 and just have a laugh, if only for a little while. 

London comedy clubs open now

21Soho

This brand new venue from the owners of 2Northdown opened in August and has got off to a flying start, attracting biggish headliners – Sara Pascoe has a regular night there already – two or three nights a week.

Banana Cabaret Comedy Club

Perpetually lively Balham pub The Bedford has some form of live performance most nights of the week now, with Fridays and Saturdays given over to the excellent Banana Cabaret.

Backyard Comedy Club

The Bethnal Green establishment is back doing its thing Thursday to Saturday.

Camden Comedy Club

Regular laughs, often with two shows a night on Fridays and Saturdays, upstairs at the Camden Head.

The Clapham Grand

Okay, it’s stretching the definition of ‘club’, but this Grade II-listed former theatre is functioning as a staging ground for bigger name comics: Jimmy Carr warmed up for his imminent West End run here, and Russell Howard has a regular night.

Country Mile Comedy Club

Cosily – albeit distantly – tucked into the basement of Kings Cross’s Star of Kings pub, this exceptionally good value bimonthly charity fundraiser night boasts a great vibe and a fun mix of established and up-and-coming talent.

Headliners

Taking place in the George IV pub on Fridays and Saturdays, this Chiswick night is back and taking care of your west London comedy needs. 

Phoenix Arts Club

Theatreland’s most beloved bar (pictured) is a little short on actors at the moment, but it’s making up for it with a mouthwatering autumn season of comedy, some musical, some not.

Top Secret Comedy Club

This secret-ish (it’s on Drury Lane, okay) comedy club is head-spinningly busy: there are two bills most nights of the week, and three most Saturdays and Sundays.

Up the Creek

This beloved Greenwich comedy club is back and doing a roaring trade, open three or four nights a week and busy as ever.

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