As part of our series on how 2021 is definitely going to be absolutely 100 per cent better than last year, we asked Tim Key to get positive about the future of London's live comedy scene
Everything about live comedy is slightly at loggerheads with the dear old virus. Small, intimate rooms; low ceilings, people rammed in, laughter slinging minuscule droplets into the microclimate. And yes, for now that has gone. The trouble is, comedians are a fairly disparate community of disorganised souls. So it’s a wonder, then, that we’ve stayed alive, galvanised.
But we are weirdly resilient, and have no transferrable skills. And as more organised people with a love of comedy have stepped in, there’s definitely cause for optimism. Each time the lockdown gives an inch, comedy takes whatever it can get its hands on. Over the summer, outdoor gigs sprung up at a moment’s notice. People took risks and audiences flocked. I played Brighton open air theatre, The Bussey Building in Peckham, the courtyard at the BAC and all three were, though mad, brilliant and somehow normal gigs. Before that, there were car gigs, again emblematic of people’s will to get something on. Anything. Cars honking in a car park, drivers and passengers pumped to be out of the house, us hoping the honks symbolised laughter. And now the rooms are adapting, desperate to welcome comedy back in.
At Christmas, I performed at The Pleasance, Islington. Another mainstay of live comedy on these shores, they’d transformed their space into a socially-distanced cabaret. The audience came, sat in their bubbles, occasionally glanced at the comedian, mainly gazed, awestruck at the new layout. People came up to me afterwards (2m): ‘how have they done this?’ The venues, God love ‘em, will move heaven and earth to be ready.
And until then – underpinning it all, for now – online gigs. ‘Online gigs’, a grim term when you first heard it in March 2020, now a land of opportunity. Pioneers set them up, comedians climbed onto their Zooms, audiences realised there’s something in it. They’re a decent stop-gap. As we wait.
But the energy and the hope’s still there, and the actual, proper, crammed-in, live gigs will be INSANE. For the first week or so, then it’ll settle down.
Tim Key’s new book 'He Used Thought As A Wife' - a collection of poetry and conversations from the heart of lockdown - is available to buy from February 18 from 'Utter' & Press
Good things are coming! Massive art shows we're chomping at the bit to see in 2021.
More positivity! Unmissable theatre coming this year (hopefully).