Forget the pub—stand-up comedians are an overlooked option for a rollicking night out. Here are the best comedy venues Britain has to offer.
Manford’s Comedy Club
Comedian Matt Kirshenn takes the stage as part of Manford’s Comedy Club
“I’ve been wondering for a while now why local stand-up comedy isn’t high up on the list of what people think about doing when looking for a great night out?” says Jason Manford.
The comedian has set out to change this, establishing a number of clubs across the country. Jason, of course, has connections, so the big names do pop up. But he’s also keen to showcase those a few rungs down on the fame ladder.
“There’s a circuit of brilliant comics who haven’t been on telly for a number of reasons,” he says. “I’m going to select some of my favourite comedians from the circuit and send them to a town near you.”
Outside the Box Comedy Club
Founder Maff Brown still performs at the Outside the Box Comedy Club
Founded by comedian Maff Brown in 2005, the first Kingston club has gradually spread to the rest of the south-west, with venues in Windsor, Basildon and New Malden among several others.
The draw of these clubs, other than their self-professed “warm, friendly and fun vibe”, is that star comedians often use them to test out brand-new material. Even more excitingly, they’re not always advertised on the bill—partly because these comedians are showcasing work-in-progress, but also because, according to Maff, “It’s nice to have a surprise to boast about the next day in the office!”
Comedy nights run several times a month across all the venues.
Frog and Bucket
This great institution celebrated its 21st birthday this year. The venue may have moved since its opening (to a former bank on Oldham Street), but the ethos has stayed the same.
“The club has always prided itself of supporting northern acts,” says founder David Perkin. “Comperes are invariably northerners and the club employs northern comedians alongside guest acts.”
Both Peter Kay and Johnny Vegas frequented the club in their early years, and it’s also the site of John Bishop’s first gig. “Without the Frog and Bucket, I wouldn’t be a comedian today,” he points out.
Mondays are the popular “Beat the Frog” night, where newcomers attempt to remain on stage for five minutes without being “croaked off”.
Red Card Comedy Club
Milton Jones performs at Red Card
Running for more than a decade, Red Card puts on monthly events at the Norwich City Football Club, Carrow Road. Red Card’s core comedy belief, says director Derek Roberston, is that “traditions should be upheld… we run our club in the proper way.”
This means that there are three solid acts, plus a comic compere, with the crucial break for a trip to the loo and/or bar between each.
Red Card has developed enough clout over the years to attract some star performers, with Michael McIntyre, Micky Flanagan and Terry Alderton all having graced the stage.
Cotswold Comedy Club
The chocolate-box streets of the Cotswolds aren’t the first thing you associate with riotous comedy, but friends Dave Arnold and Ken Normal set out to change this in 2011.
The sporadic nights, which run mainly at The Theatre in Chipping Norton or The Rye Hill Golf Club in Milcombe feature established and newer comics, with an open mic for amateurs. Beware: the cheeky crowds have been known to “Baaaaa” at comedians in place of heckling.
There are three branches of this club (Edinburgh, Glasgow and Newcastle), but our favourite is the one in the Scottish capital. The unassuming entrance on York Place leads to a basement space that’s always buzzing—the sound of belly laughs is often detectable in the streets above.
Comedy runs here seven nights a week and regularly plays host to the stars of the circuit—Ross Noble, Frankie Boyle and Sarah Millican have all appeared.
The food is an unexpected bonus too: a hearty burger, macaroni cheese or sausage and mash can be enjoyed for not much more than a tenner.
The Boat Show Comedy Club
There are lots of places to see comedy in London, but only one place to see it on a boat. The Tattershall Castle, moored on the Embankment, is a refurbished paddle steamer that now sports theatre-style seating and four well-stocked bars.
Shows run on the weekends and Monday nights, and it’s possible to buy a standing ticket for a mere £10. Each night brings together four acts, and if you don’t want the fun to stop, the venue turns into a nightclub
after the show ends—all included in your ticket price.
If it’s your birthday, they’ll even treat you to a drink on the house.