Don’t get me wrong, I love Edinburgh, with its Hogwartsy cobbles and granite grandeur, seeped in history and united by culture, heritage and a too-often-racist hatred of the English. But when it comes to the Edinburgh Festival, the significant advantage of Edinburgh, that it’s nowhere near London, becomes its major drawback for all of us keen to see some of the country’s best comedy.
Of course London gets to enjoy the best comedy scene in the world for 11 months a year, but if you’re already sobbing that we’re losing a month’s allowance of comedic talent in a scary cross-border jokes brain drain then fear not. Before all the funny people head on their holiday, Londoners once again can get ahead of the game by enjoying Edinburgh previews, where comedians try out their Edinburgh material on paying guinea pigs. The only rule.. please laugh.
The pleasant surroundings of The Pleasance play host to some of the bigish names in British comedy as they warm up for their northern adventures. Like Nick Helm, vaguely anarchic star of BBC’s Uncle who once described meas ‘fucking cool, except for the cardigan’. Another comedian to catch there is Ivo Graham (who may be so far the opposite of Helm that they both spontaneously combust were they to meet), the genuinely hilarious comic forever trying to figure out how to simultaneously trade on and shake off his Old Etonian baggage.
Among the long list of other acts taking over the Pleasance highlights include Jonny & The Baptists, who I can’t recommend enough and whose sublime comedy songs interweave with lefty politics (Brexiteers need not apply. Unless they’re Jeremy Corbyn), and Phil Wang, a comedian who’s got so much more to offer than a smile-inducing surname.
Catch some cutting sark at the Cutty Sark (see what I did there?) in the run-up to Edinburgh as big names head to the landlocked boat that once shuttled tea faster than anyone else could shuttle tea. A sort of wooden Space X of its time, the museum piece is now a place to go and see comedians you already know, like Mock The Week regular and star of the humbly self titled sitcom Josh, Josh Widdicombe, as well as those you might not have enjoyed yet, like political impressionist and Apprentice candidate lookalikie, Matt Forde as Edinburgh bound comedians buddy up in a series of double bills.
The worthiest building in South West London, Battersea Arts Centre is another hub for Edinburgh wannabes. Taking my lead from any panel show worth its salt, I seem to have neglected to include any women so far in this round-up. Apologies, flock to Lavender Hill and check out Lucy Porter getting to grips with life post-Brownies, the News Quiz and The Now Show favourite is inherently funny, as is Anna Drezen who as well as being American, a writer on Saturday Night Live and edits a satirical women’s magazine. Also, back on the men, Tom Rosenthal is nearly as excellent at stand up as he is at acting in sitcoms Plebs and Friday Night Dinner, check him out before he heads on tour.
Of course the big names don’t mess about with little artsy venues; well, they do, but they also get invited to try out material at places like the Soho Theatre, where Fleabag was first shown. Cranking up for Edinburgh you’ll the sweetly funny Milton Jones, or the uncrowned king of comedy that is Stewart Lee, previewing Snowflake/Tornado. Another big name hitting Soho Theatre is ventriloquist Nina Conti, bringing this rather undervalued skill beyond ‘gread and gutter’ and into the modern age.
As well as housing precious artefacts like Albert Steptoe’s teddy bear and a few Danny La Rue programmes, the Museum of Comedy serves a useful purpose, not least in the run-up to Edinburgh. After all, where else can you see Romesh Ranganathan prepping his work in progress? Or Bridget Christie, hot off her Netflix special and well worth skipping Steptoe’s teddy for.
For a more eclectic selection of comedians plying their funny, head to Clapham’s Omnibus Theatre. Edinburgh previews include Algorithms, already nominated for awards and following Sadie Clark‘s character billed as a bisexual Bridget Jones for the digital age. There’s also The Red, from Marcus Brigstocke, all about addiction and Originally commissioned for BBC Radio 4. And, of course, plenty more.