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The London comedy festivals to see this summer: who needs Edinburgh?


his is the time of year when I would usually be writing my annual Edinburgh Fringe comedy preview. But nothing is usual in 2021. While the Edinburgh Fringe is at least going ahead this year, it will be smaller than in recent years with fewer star attractions.

So why not avoid travel, dubious Airbnbs and random weather and celebrate London’s Fringe instead? One of the few pandemic positives is the amount of comedy in the capital this summer. Below we cherry pick the best of the bunch as the comedy world makes up for lost time.

Wonderground/Underbelly Festivals

The purple cow is heading west this year, to Earl’s Court

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The Wonderground and The Underbelly festivals used to brighten up the South Bank but this year the Underbelly’s famous inflatable purple cow venue has headed west to Earls Court, while there is a new Underbelly venue in Cavendish Square off Oxford Street.

Both events mix comedy with circus, cabaret and variety. At The Wonderground, comic livewire Mawaan Rizwan (Sept 11) hosts a night celebrating Pride, while New York newcomer Janine Harouni (Sept 23) rubs shoulders with musical comedian Jess Robinson (Sept 26).

Back at Cavendish Square there is a live podcast outing for high energy sketch combo Birthday Girls (Aug 21), spoof gallic grump Marcel Lucont (Sept 23) and ex-podium dancer – strange but true – Marcus Brigstocke (Sept 23).

Stag Theatre – Not The Edinburgh Fringe

This new Vauxhall cabaret lounge is staging its own mini-alt Edinburgh, ranging from theatre and cabaret to improvised shows – just when you think every improv variant has been tried here’s the Dragprov duo (Aug 13, 14), putting an LGBTQ spin on the audience suggestion format. And watch Sooz Kempner singing musical comedy penned by Jerry Springer The Opera composer Richard Thomas in Wrong Songs (Aug 27 – 29).

Ealing Comedy Festival

Russell Kane and Julian Clary (so there is camping after all) and supporting cast includes Reginald D Hunter, The Chase’s Sinnerman Paul Sinha and Mock The Week stand-up Angela Barnes.

Pleasance Festival

Rob Beckett (August 8 & 9), last sighted on Instagram devouring fast food in an alleyway after the England v Germany game, is back in more familiar surroundings warming up for his tour. Edinburgh favourite Jayde Adams (August 12-14) will also be trying out new material. And for all killer no filler one liners, go no further than Milton Jones (Aug 26 & 27).

Camden Fringe

The Camden Fringe is the closest thing we have to a London Comedy Festival. It has been running since 2006 and growing exponentially, adding venues and expanding well beyond NW1. And then Covid 19 stopped it at a stroke.

“We had to cancel and refund everyone for the 2020 Fringe which meant we didn’t get paid for the work we’d done,” says co-founder Zena Barrie. “We were not eligible for the furlough scheme, or any other grants because we don’t have premises.”

Barrie hesitated about returning this year but as restrictions started to ease more shows and venues were added. “The programme is currently 266 shows and growing, around 1,000 performances in all. The various groups taking part are all so eager to get back to doing what they love.”

Highlights include Edinburgh Comedy Award Best Newcomer nominee Sara Barron road-testing her new show, Suffer, Fools! (2Northdown, August 4-6). I’ll always have a soft spot for this hard-boiled London-based American, having seen her perform in March 2020, just before lockdown.

Also lined up is former Inbetweeners/Fresh Meat star Joe Thomas, going solo with the autobiographical Trying Not To Panic (Bill Murray, August 22-26). And look out for Norris and Parker (Hen Chickens, Aug 23-26), a double act with an unpredictable, oddball sensibility.

The Blue Tick Festival

Shaparak (Shappi) Khorsandi is playing one of the venue’s courtyard gigs

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Shaparak (Shappi) Khorsandi is playing one of the venue’s courtyard gigs

/ Heathcliff O’Malley

With the greatest respect to Edinburgh, London does have a more temperate climate, which means al fresco gigs can continue down south long after the mackintoshes have been brought out up north. Battersea Arts Centre’s comedy season runs until the start of October with outdoor and indoor gigs. Live at the Apollo stars Shaparak – formerly Shappi – Khorsandi (Oct 3) and Fern Brady (Sept 25) are among the acts performing in the venue’s courtyard.

But if you prefer not to run the risk of being caught in a deluge there are also some choice indoor gigs. Outspoken Britain’s Got Talent breakthrough act Nabil Adbdulrashid (Sept 1) opens proceedings. As he never stops mentioning, Jordan Brookes (Sept 6) is still the reigning Edinburgh Comedy Award champion as he won in 2019 and the prize has not been handed out since. And Malaysian comic Nigel Ng (Sept 12), best known as his internet alter ego Uncle Roger, returns to his slick stand-up roots.

Battersea Arts Centre, Sept 1 to Oct 3:

The Greenwich Comedy Festival

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