The alternative comedy boom of the late 1980s led to a demand for stand-up that the existing circuit of working men’s clubs (with limited space for comedians on their cabaret variety bills) simply couldn’t contain. With a canny sense of a gap in the market, dedicated comedy clubs began to spring up, leading in particular to a network of venues in the nation’s capital of which we can rightly be proud. Here at NextUp, we believe that the spirit of stand-up burns brightest on the live scene (check out our subscriber’s newsletter, The Inside Joke, for exclusive offers that well help you get out and see it for yourself). Join us as we hail a black cab and head out on a journey showcasing some of the more legendary London venues.
The Comedy Store
One of the first, and still one of the best. The Comedy Store didn’t so much ride the wave of alternative comedy as help open the floodgates to create it in the first place. Opened in 1990, The Store focussed on offering stage time to amateur comics, who ran the risk of a compere bringing their sets to an end with a gong, according with the will of the crowd. Since the new breed of younger, hipper, more politically-aware audiences tended to give the old-guard’s repertoire of mother-in-law jokes and casual racism short shrift, they helped usher in a whole new generation of forward-thinking funny folk. Comics who got their start at the store in such a fashion include Rik Mayall, Adrian Edmonson, Dawn French, Clive Anderson, and Jennifer Saunders to name but a few.
1985 saw the birth of The Comedy Store Players, the improvisational comedy group that later gave rise to the TV comedy gold of Whose Line Is It Anyway? and made household names of stars like Paul Merton and Josie Lawrence. You can still catch the players on Wednesday and Sunday nights, and the club continues to play host to eclectic bills featuring both established comedians and up-and-comers on every other night of the week.
Up The Creek
Arguably no one did more to promote live comedy in London than the late, great, Malcolm Hardee. As well as being a damn fine stand-up in his own right, the man described by Rob Newman as the “millennial Falstaff” was also a compere, promoter, talent spotter, and all-round comedy guru. After the closure of his first comedy club venture, the notoriously heckler-friendly Tunnel Club, Hardee moved on to Greenwich and Up The Creek, where his expert guidance helped shape the careers of such household names as Frank Skinner, Vic Reeves, and the two Harrys, Enfield and Hill.
As well as continuing the fine tradition of first rate stand-up, Up The Creek has become a TV star of late, hosting BBC’s panel show No Such Thing As The News (fronted by QI’s intrepid band of researcher ‘elves’). This month, the club is also welcoming The Chortle Comedy Awards, where NextUp will be battling it out against stiff opposition in the form of Adam Buxton, The Parapod, and The Guilty Feminist in the battle for the coveted ‘Internet Award’.
Angel Comedy Club
At the modern bleeding-edge of London’s comedy scene lies a club that has become a veritable institution in a relatively short space of time. Established by comedian Barry Ferns in 2010, The Angel Comedy Club works tirelessly to further the cause of comedy in the capital from not one, but two venues separated by a short stretch of bustling Islington tarmac. Seven nights a week, the club offers free comedy from its residence upstairs at the Camden Head, and – by way of an innovative crowdfunding campaign that raised £40k – has recently launched its very own venue in a pub named after everyone’s favourite enigmatic comedy genius: The Bill Murray.
If you can’t make it along to feast on the comedy banquet at Angel in person, fear not - you can catch a plethora of sets from the Angel on NextUp. Check out Lou Sanders, Ben Target, and Twins for starters.
By Stuart Boyland