Opinion: Comedy Goes Posh

We all know about posh comedians. There are probably more privately educated stand-ups around at the moment than there were boarding school alumni at the BAFTAS. I don’t need to list the names. But what struck me this week is that venues look like they are going upmarket too.

On Tuesday night I went to a comedy gig at Joe Allen. Theatre fans will know the restaurant as a famous post-show hang-out for critics, actors, star-spotters, tourists and those with a few quid in the bank. The gig is in the private 40-seat dining room at the back and for £40 you got Sara Pascoe, John Robins, Mike Gunn, compere Maureen Younger, a burger and chips and a glass of champagne – cannily the food was served before or after the gig, so it didn’t disrupt the flow.

Not a bad deal. The food and the comedy were both good, but the audience was not, how can I put this, your typical stand-up crowd. I don’t know the difference between Merlot and liquidised Meerkat. These people probably had wine cellars. I suspect they had mostly heard about the gig through the Joe Allen mailing list and a show of hands certainly indicated that they weren’t Invisible Dot regulars. On the plus side they had impeccable manners and laughed in all the right places.

I thought this choice of venue was a one-off but then I was looking at Friday’s options and comedy fans were certainly spoilt if they live in Kensington (do people in Kensington have a sense of humour?). There was David Morgan, Jonny Pelham and Matt Richardson at the Royal Albert Hall as part of their comedy season in the small but perfectly formed Elgar Room – don’t ask me what Sir Edward Elgar would have said about David Morgan’s quiff, but he’d probably think all the acts could do with a few years of national service.

And then just down the road there was also a Scoundrels comedy night at Kensington’s Roof Gardens, which has been a fashionable haunt for years. I think I went to a party there about 20 years ago and stood next to Boy George in the lift. The Roof Gardens was famous for its flamingos. I don't know if the flamingos are still around, but James Acaster was certainly gigging there. More info here.

But boutique gigs in posh places are clearly here to stay. I guess, for better or worse, this is in keeping with London cleaning up its act and old spit and sawdust boozers turning into grow-your-own-sushi bars. Amused Moose used to be based in some of the more, shall we say, earthy drinking holes. These days its flagship venue is the Sanctum Hotel in Soho where “upmarket special comedy nights” take place “in the intimate ‘Variety Viewing Room’." As the press release puts it, “delight not only in the entertainment by also in quality food and drinks in this rock'n'roll, boutique hotel which feels like a private members club.”

The Sanctum is only a few minutes stagger from the location of the Comic Strip club, where Rik Mayall, Ade Edmondson and co cut there teeth. Their pioneering venue got its name from the fact that it was based above one of Paul Raymond’s strip clubs. Close in terms of footsteps, but somehow it feels light years away too.

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