1. There’s a lot of comedy going on right now
Okay, there is currently no question of packing them at The O2, but outside of the huge venues, there are now regular gigs all over London. Comedy gets less attention than theater, but it is probably the performing art form that is currently thriving in the capital.
2. That’s because it’s pretty easy to stage a socially distant comedy gig
Theaters and concert venues * may * reopen at the moment. Have a handful. The problem, however, is that plays and concerts require a lot of people on stage and behind the scenes. It’s very complicated and expensive to socially distance them, and a distant audience doesn’t bring in nearly enough money to cover the cost. However, a comedian has essentially no overheads. Even with drastically reduced capacity, stand-up nights can make enough money to be financially viable.
3. You can see big names
Not everyone giggles again. But many household names, from Sara Pascoe to Al Murray, are back in action: being famous doesn’t mean they have extra overheads, and most of them want to get back on the track after the dark of the lockdown.
4. The gigs feel surprisingly intimate
Go to a theater now and the audience distancing is almost aggressive for sure, if comforting. The comedy nights I attended clearly follow the rules of social distancing – you won’t be sitting next to a stranger – but they certainly push them a bit more. It keeps things cozy. But nervous souls might find it a bit much.
5. Audiences do not appear to be required to wear masks during sets
I can’t speak for every comedy night in London. But those I visited allowed the audience to take off their masks during sets, if not in between. This is legal as long as people are static and far enough apart. But it’s certainly more relaxed than in theaters. However, it also reflects a prosaic reality that a) the comics find it difficult when they can’t see faces, b) the audience tends to drink through shows anyway.
6. The audience is young
Is it just the usual demographics for stand-up nights? Or do younger viewers feel a little braver at the moment? Be that as it may, the vibe is very youthful on the nights I attended.
7. There are also a few bigger gigs
If you want a full, theater-quality social distancing experience with bigger names, it’s out there, albeit sparse: die-hard Jimmy Carr runs at the Palace Theater November 16-21; Daniel Sloss and Russell Brand will be guests at the Palladium (October 30th and November 15th). and the spacious Clapham Grand has a busy cast.
8. It’s just nice to laugh again
While every act I’ve seen has at least alluded to lockdown, etc., it’s remarkable how normal everything feels again during the sets. Sure, you strap on your mask as soon as you leave your seat and order drinks via the app. But when the comedians are up, it’s easy to forget the horrors of 2020 and just laugh, if only for a short while.
London comedy clubs are now open
This brand new venue from the owners of 2Northdown opened in August and has got off to a great start. It attracts big headliners – Sara Pascoe already has a regular night there – two or three nights a week.
Banana Cabaret Comedy Club
Always lively Balham Pub Bedford has live performances most nights of the week. The excellent banana cabaret is presented on Fridays and Saturdays.
Backyard Comedy Club
The Bethnal Green Establishment is back Thursday through Saturday.
Camden Comedy Club
Laughs regularly, often with two shows a night on Friday and Saturday, up at Camden Head.
The Clapham Grand
Okay, so it expands the definition of “club,” but this Grade II listed former theater acts as the stage for bigger-name comics: Jimmy Carr warmed up here for his upcoming West End run, and Russell Howard has a regular night.
Country Mile Comedy Club
Cozy – if far away – tucked away in the basement of Kings Cross’ Star of Kings Pub, this bi-monthly charity fundraiser has a great vibe and a fun mix of established and emerging talent.
This night in Chiswick takes place at the George IV Pub on Fridays and Saturdays and is back taking care of your West London comedy needs.
Phoenix Arts Club
Theatreland’s most popular bar (pictured) has few actors right now, but that is made up for by a delicious fall season of comedy, some musical, some not.
Top secret comedy club
This secret comedy club (on Drury Lane, okay) is mind-boggling: there are two bills most nights of the week and three most Saturdays and Sundays.
Up the stream
This popular Greenwich comedy club is back making a lavish deal open three or four nights a week and busy as always.
What it’s like to visit a socially distant theater.
London art venues light up in support of the live events industry.