12 Greatest London Comedy Gigs
For a cliche, ‘laughter is the best medicine’ actually holds a good deal of truth. The best comedians make us see the world completely differently but also force us to reflect on and realise things about ourselves. And whilst doing all this, they make us laugh, really laugh. This laughter is powerful, it unlocks something deep inside, exercises a different muscle, and eventually loosens a tightness that we have never before been able to reach. Now that truly is medicine, a tonic to the trials and tribulations of modern life.
London has played host to many of the world’s greatest comics – from small Soho pubs to huge arenas. The capital witnessed the birth of The Goon Show in the 1950s as well as the genesis of alternative comedy in the 1980s with the Comic Strip. Over the last six decades, there has been an immeasurable amount of laughter absorbed by London’s comedy theatres. We’ve tried our best to round-up the best London comedy gigs ever. Were you there? Did you laugh?
Be warned: the videos below may contain material that some people find offensive.
London’s Best Comedy Gigs
The Goon Show
feat. Spike Milligan, Peter Sellers, Harry Secombe & Michael Bentine
Grafton’s (Now Strutton Arms), Central London
Conceived in a small stage upstairs in the Grafton’s pub, the Goon Show would soon go on to be a huge radio show hit that combined surrealism, weird and wonderful sound effects and act as a vehicle for the madcap genius of Spike Milligan. The Goons changed comedy, and arguably popular culture, forever, influencing a new generation of comedians.
The Establishment, Soho
His staccato delivery, the satirical insight, the ‘obscene’ riffing – Lenny Bruce was as influential as he was controversial. Before getting deported, Bruce took to to the stage at Peter Cook’s Soho comedy club in 1962 and was on typically incendiary form.
Peter Cook and Dudley Moore
One of the all time great comedy duos took to the Palladium stage for the Royal Variety Performance in 1965. It’s all there – the perfect timing, the ad-libbing, the constant battle to not laugh at each other.
Before Holy Grail, before Life of Brian and decades before the awkward reunion tour came this fantastic live performance from the Pythons. Although many of the sketches were from the Flying Circus, there was something about seeing them live on stage that added a new dimension. The Drury Lane show included the now legendary Nudge, nudge sketch and of course the Dead Parrot sketch.
The Comic Strip
feat. Rik Mayall, Ade Edmondson, Jennifer Saunders, Dawn French, Nigel Planer, Peter Richardson, and Alexei Sayle
Comedy Store, Soho
October 1980 – 1981
If you attended any of the Comedy Strip performances in the early 80s, you would have witnessed the birth of alternative British comedy. These performances from Rik Mayall, Ade Edmondson and Jennifer Saunders rewrote the comedy rulebook with an anarchic blend of surrealism and deconstructive humour.
Here are Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson as 20th Century Coyote performing at the Apollo Victoria theatre in the Fundamental Frolics charity show featuring material performed at the Comedy Store.
Billy and Albert
Royal Albert Hall
Billy Connolly went from a welder to a folk musician to a comedian capable of making audiences cry with laughter around the planet in a relatively short space of time. Billy and Albert was recorded during a six night stint at the Royal Albert Hall as part of his first ever world tour. Connolly’s blend of observational comedy and storytelling had mass appeal.
In the same year that Good Morning Vietnam was released, Robin Williams made a cameo at a charity comedy performance in London. In just under ten minutes, Williams set the stage on fire with his trademark energy and brilliant observational humour, proving that he was one of the greatest stand-up comedians of all time.
The late great American comedian performed Revelations at the Dominion Theatre in London in 1992, covering subjects such as drugs, sex and of course politics in typically biting style. Hicks died 2 years later, robbing the world of a huge comic talent.
Live at The Ambassadors in 1993 announced Izzard as a major new comedy talent, with his stream of consciousness style tying together The Goons and Monty Python with something refreshing irreverent and new. It was Definite Article though performed at the Shaftesbury Theatre that saw Izzard at the height of his comic powers. A hilarious, perfectly structured barrage of observational comedy and leftfield genius.
TV Burp may have seen Harry Hill reach new fans but stand-up was were the former doctor’s surreal and finely-crafted humour worked best. With great storytelling, slapstick energy and perfect one liners like “The left side of the brain is responsible for speech, but then it would say that, wouldn’t it?”, Hooves was a crowning achievement for Harry Hill.
41st Best Stand-Up Ever
Stewart Lee, the comedian’s comedian, has the ability to deconstruct his own unique brand of humour whilst simultaneously making audiences collapse with laughter. At times uncomfortable, always intelligent, Lee’s work destabilises audiences by subverting the comedy form. When he was featured in a Channel 4 show as the 41st Best Stand-Up Ever, it inspired one of his finest routines.
It’s Always Right Now, Until It’s Later
Winning the Perrier Award at just 25 years old, Kitson had a major impact on the stand-up scene. However, it was his story shows where he found his voice with an original form of storytelling underpinned by his formidable command of language and comic brilliance. Kitson has pushed comedy in new directions and his It’s Always Right Now, Until It’s Later show was a genuine triumph.
London Comedy Venue For Hire
20 Bedford Way, with its 910 seater single-tier theatre, is a Central London comedy venue that is available to hire at affordable rates. We have recently undergone a £2.4 million refurb with state of the art equipment and ergonomic seating installed so you have all you need to put on a classic comedy show in London. For more information, contact us today on 020 7612 6143.
Read about the recent lecture from Russell Brand at Logan Hall or check out our performance page. If you want to put on your own comedy night then read our guide or for joke-writing tips checkout our rundown of top comedians.