Live comedy may be off the cards for the moment, but we have good news! There are still ways to get your comedy fix without crowding into a darkened room above a dingy pub, or a dingy room below a darkened pub. Here’s our rundown of 10 of the best - you can find these listings and many more in Daily Info’s Virtual Events columns.
Part One: Full-length shows
Founded in 2016, NextUp positions itself as “the Netflix of UK comedy”, presenting subscribers with a dauntingly huge library of full-length shows. In production terms, it sits somewhere between the slick and glossy production of the BBC’s Live at the Apollo, and the shaky, poorly-lit camera footage you might expect to find on Youtube. It offers a surprisingly comprehensive cross-section of the UK comedy scene, with stand-up, sketch, and character acts all represented in spades. Expect Edinburgh Award nominees (including Jo Morpurgo, The Delightful Sausage, and last year’s winner Jordan Brookes), alongside household names (such as Ed Byrne, Richard Herring, and Mark Steel) and some of the more experimental acts on the circuit today including Joz Norris:
2. Soho Theatre On Demand
The Soho Theatre represents a certain rite of passage in the modern comedy career; you hone your skills, have a decent Edinburgh run, get an agent, have a better Edinburgh run, have a brilliant Edinburgh run, and then, with a bit of luck, you get a transfer to the Soho Theatre. Accordingly, a run at the Soho is seen as a stamp of quality – a CE mark for comedy, cabaret, and theatre. Their online service, Soho Theatre On Demand, allows you to access a selection of the full-length shows performed at the venue – and it doesn’t require a subscription!
3. Go Faster Stripe
Go Faster Stripe (an independent production and distribution company) began when the founder, comedy fan Chris Evans, wanted to buy a DVD of Stewart Lee’s touring show, and discovered that there were no plans to produce one. Accordingly, he offered to organise a recording himself. Fast-forward to 2020 and Go Faster Stripe now has a sizeable catalogue of comedy recordings, available as both physical copies and reasonably-priced downloads. While the earlier recordings are centred around the Cluub Zarathustra set (including Stewart Lee, Richard Herring, Simon Munnery, and Kevin Eldon), the collection has since expanded, and you can treat yourself to quality acts along the lines of Adam Buxton, John-Luke Roberts, Thom Tuck, Rachel Fairburn, and many, many more.
Part Two: Mixed Bills
4. Live from the BBC
We’ve all heard of Live at the Apollo – but have you heard of Live from the BBC? Filmed in a more intimate setting (the BBC’s very own 500-seater radio theatre, beneath Broadcasting House), these specials showcase some of the best emerging talents on the UK circuit. Including the eloquent nihilism of Liam Williams, the prop-heavy silliness of Spencer Jones, and the intricate storytelling of Josie Long, there are currently 18 episodes to view on iPlayer, for free.
5. Channel 4: The Paddock
Channel 4 has a reputation as a broadcaster that takes risks with short-form content – from the late night artsy films of Random Acts to their mini-pilot Comedy Blaps. Their latest foray into the world of comedy (in collaboration with Blink Industries) is a tasting menu of 24 different acts - bringing to mind the ‘cool’ feeling of The Invisible Dot, 2Northdown, or something you might at the Alternative Comedy Memorial Society. The Paddock is available to watch as either pic-n-mix clips, or a ninety minute compilation, so why not dive in?
6. Harry Hill’s Clubnite
Another entry from Channel 4, Harry Hill’s Clubnite presents a mixed-bill of alternative comedy (reminiscent of Friday Night Live), with the anarchic glee and aggressive surrealism that audiences of TV Burp have come to know and love. Showcasing A-grade alternative stand-ups like Bridget Christie, Jessica Fostekew, and Suzi Ruffell, alongside character performers such as Colin Hoult and Jamie Demetriou, there are six episodes available to stream for free on All4.
Part Three: And Now for Something Completely Virtual
7. Jericho Comedy
Local institution Jericho Comedy have developed a number of different shows to provide people with entertainment from home. First up, in a stunning experiment with form, you can sign up to ‘Comedy by Email’ – a choose-your-own-adventure story played out over two weeks: the current one is space themed and you can get involved for £5. Also on the books is the Play At Home Gameshow, featuring an evening of fun and creative challenges and scavenger hunt activities played from the comfort of your own home, on a Saturday night, and Musical Mondays, where you can join Christian Adore, drag king and freestyle rapper, for an improvised musical comedy from 8pm.
8. Criminal Casebook
Oxford has a brilliant improv scene, with many troupes calling the city home. If you’re missing evenings spent above the Wheatsheaf or the Jericho Tavern, the good news is that you can recreate the atmosphere at home with the help of the improvised murder-mystery comedy night Criminal. Since it launched in 2018, Criminal has featured star-studded casts of improvisers (including Rachel Parris, John Finnemore, Deborah Frances-White, David Reed, and Marcus Brigstocke) getting together to untangle the web of lies surrounding an untimely death. There are currently twelve episodes of Criminal Casebook to catch up on!
9. John Robertson’s The Dark Room
John Robertson’s The Dark Room began life as an interactive videogame on Youtube – an affectionate parody of impossible text-based puzzle games, taking users through a sprawling, frustrating, and hilarious journey through hyperlinked videos as they tried to find their way out of the titular Dark Room. Over the years it’s made the transition to both a cult live show (featuring the trademark mix of fun, fear, and disappointing prizes) and an actual video game (currently available in early access). As live dates are off the cards for the immediate future, the game has moved back online – with the streaming schedule available here.
10. Livestreamed Gigs
Many of the ‘big’ venues have moved to an online model – offering online shows on a Friday or Saturday night. For example, The Gilded Balloon are currently operating a Friday night variety show Sofa Setlist, comedy institution The Stand running a regular 'Saturday Night at the Stand', while Comedy at the Covid Arms offers an alternative mixed bill, similar to the offerings of NextUp Now.