There has been no slogging round the club circuit for Jonathan Pie. This spoof news reporter sold out the Apollo twice this weekend thanks to his rapid-response online rants that regularly go viral. Whether it’s the weather or Brexit he delivers vitriol by the bucketload.
His latest live outing purports to be a pilot for a potential political TV series. The perma-angry Pie, persona created by actor Tom Walker, fancies himself as the new Robert Peston but with more manageable hair. Things soon look shaky. He immediately hates the childlike graphics that introduce his opening section.
But maybe childlike is apt, as there is nothing mature about his initial low-hanging fruit routines. Margaret Thatcher was so keen to sell everything she was basically Del Boy in a bouffant, he explains. Instead of subtlety there are jokes about Michael Gove’s face and Donald Trump’s spelling errors.
There is more original satirical punch, however, when he takes aim at Generation Snowflake with the aid of his “woke-a-lator”, skewering the current obsession with being offended. This builds neatly to Pie finding his career plans scuppered by a Twitter storm.
It is a smart, slightly Alan Partridge-esque idea, giving the show, co-written with stand-up Andrew Doyle, a strong finish as the media monster goes into youth-bashing mega-meltdown. While the humour is uneven in places, Walker’s performance is eminently watchable. What Pie lacks in nuance he definitely makes up for in volume.
London’s best comedy clubs and nights
1/15 The Soho Theatre
Sara Pascoe’s favourite comedy venue, and with good reason: the Soho Theatre is arguably London’s finest place to see both up-and-coming and established acts. Being a theatre, rather than a comedy club per se, expect to see full sets from individuals rather than bills with a few comics. Its three rooms host all sorts of things, from the latest Edinburgh winners to big names road-testing their latest bits. The standard is reliably excellent: even if you’ve never heard of a comedian, chances are, if they’re playing here, they’ll be worth watching.
2/15 The Comedy Store
Another old favourite, the Comedy Store benefits from being built for purpose: no other venue in London suits stand-up quite so well (and the beer isn’t too ridiculously priced, either). After starting out above a strip club in Soho, this place made its name throughout the eighties by breaking the pioneers in alternative comedy. It’s happy to host mainstream stars these days, and never struggles to draw top acts, but if you can only make one thing, try The Comedy Store Players, old pros whose improvised shows on Wednesdays and Sundays all but guarantee hilarity. Tuesday’s The Cutting Edge is best for those who like topical humour.
3/15 Old Rope at The Phoenix
Old Rope is popular with circuit veterans and newbies alike, so the weekly show usually has a mix of big names, comedy veterans and ones-to-watch. Host Tiff Stevenson leads an evening of new material – yes, lots of jokes given their test run – and it’s given its name for the noose that hangs over the stage. Ironically, this noose is a bit of a life-saver: if the new act is going badly, comics can grab the rope and fall back on old material.
Always top value, the Knock2bag nights offer the chance to indulge in the odder end of the comedy spectrum: expect serious helpings of whimsy, eccentricity and surrealism. If you’re looking for something different, this is your place to go.
5/15 Monkey Business Comedy Club
A first-rate comedy club and well worth travelling for. We’d pick the Thursday night over Saturday, but you’ll get a decent show on either day. There’s a mix of big names and up-and-comers, and host Martin Besserman is a pro who’ll keep you laughing in between acts. Of which, there’s often as many as twelve a night, so you’ll get your money’s worth. If one isn’t to your taste, another promises a laugh.
6/15 Banana Cabaret Club
The Banana Cabaret Club hosts a lot of top drawer comics, and is well loved in comedy circles – in part, because they’ve been going a good thirty years and in part because of the man running things, David Vickers, whose had everyone from Eddie Izzard to Stephen K Amos performing. Stars pop-in, and comedy circuit regulars play often, but it’s also on the finest spots to see new talent . No wonder Marcus Brigstocke name-checked it as his favourite London comedy club. Besides, once the two-hour show is done (typically wrapping up around 11pm), DJs strike up and everyone dances till 2am. Splendid.
7/15 Piccadilly Comedy Club
Hats off to the Piccadilly for keeping comedy cheap: their shows cost £10 at the most, and they do a ‘meal deal’, where you can eat at Tiger Tiger and see the show for £20 all-in. A bargain. Expect a mix of well-known TV regulars alongside the best newcomers on the scene. Line-ups are particularly well thought out here: they don’t just sling together anyone, so the nights tend to be uniformly excellent.
8/15 Leicester Square Theatre
The Leicester Square Theatre draws the big names, so expect to see top flight acts: Richard Herring hosts a weekly podcast here on Wednesdays, and the likes of Bridget Christie, Micky Flanagan and Frankie Boyle all make it a stopping point on their tours. That said, check the website for what’s upcoming – there are chance to see some under-the-radar sets too.
9/15 Live at Zédel
The excellent Brasserie Zédel – whose Bar Americain is one of the finest drinking spots in the capital – relaunched Crazy Coqs as Live At Zédel last year and following a successful first run, are launching their second season. Besides comedy – the standard is usually very decent – they also host musical theatre and drag acts. The cocktails are terrific and there’s at-table service. Eat in the restaurant beforehand (or after), too: we swung by recently and the food is as good as its ever been. Cheap, too.
10/15 Happy Mondays
This fortnightly show boasts the best new up-and-coming acts in the capital, combined with big name hosts – expect the likes of Miles Jupp, Sara Pascoe and Holly Walsh – who keep the standard up to scratch. Definitely up to par, somewhere to find your new favourite comedian.
11/15 Angel Comedy
Just how a comedy club should be: small, crowded and above a pub. Best of all, it’s free, and each night offers something different, from open-mic nights to well-known names giving their latest sets an airing. Check the website for details, but you won’t be let down – just get down early, as it fills up quickly.
12/15 Ginglik Comedy Club
Following a decade of success in Shepherd’s Bush, this comedy club has found a new home at the ever-popular Roof Gardens. Known as ‘Jimmy Carr’s favourite comedy club’, the Ginglik has had everyone from Al Murray to Robin Williams play, and is set for more success.
13/15 Laugh Out London
The likes of Stewart Lee, Reginald D Hunter and Tony Law play these nights, which gives an idea of just how decent they are. Laugh Out London always do a good job of bringing the highlights from Edinburgh festival to town, so take the chance to see who everyone’s been tweeting about.
14/15 The 99 Club
This Leicester Square club is much, much better than you might expect for a place that continually flyers. A big favourite with the Chortle Awards, it always attracts big names – it runs a little like ‘Live At The Apollo’ but on a smaller scale. There are three acts a night, and shows are fairly priced: some are as cheap as a fiver, though most will cost around £10 – £15. They’ve also got venues in Soho and Covent Garden.
15/15 Live At The Chapel
Bit of a shame that shows here are so few and far between – usually about once a month – but there’s no place more beautiful than the Union Chapel to see comedy in London. The upside is that, with so few performances, they always get the big names headlining, with unfailingly impressive support. Plus there’s usually a live band, who are fab. The atmosphere is everything.
Anthony Devlin/PA Wire