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What’s On London Comedy Awards 2017

| Comedy, Music, Theatre | 02/01/2018

Ian Cater, Chief Features Writer

Now the New Year bells have finished chiming, it’s time to announce our Comedy Awards for the year just gone and news of where you can catch these fantastic acts in the months ahead.

There’s no shortage of talent around, so whittling down the vast forest of performers to a handful for each category has been tricky and some excellent comics have had to be overlooked.  On the plus side, that competition for bums on seats is driving artists onto new heights, constantly pushing boundaries of subject matter, delivery style and occasionally taste.

This is superb news for Londoners because, despite underlying political and economic uncertainty, its comedy scene is thriving.  While leading lights like Soho Theatre, Leicester Square Theatre and The Comedy Store will always drawn top acts and expectant audiences, it’s been fantastic to see less established venues such as 2Northdown and The Bill Murray host some of the biggest names in comedy this year, while monthly events like Suspiciously Cheap Comedy, Knock2bag and Rye Laughs regularly put on the best mixed bills in the country.

So take our advice and fill your 2018 with grins, chuckles and snorts by heading along to those venues or catching our top picks in stand-up, character, storytelling, musical, sketch and improvised comedy for 2017.

daniel-kitsonBest Stand-up Comedy Act: Daniel Kitson, Something Other Than Everything Kitson ambitiously, thoughtfully and hilariously addresses one of the paradoxes of modern life that we’re both always, and never, alone.  See our review.

Kitson’s Something Other Than Everything at Camden’s Roundhouse was the most ambitious and accomplished show of the year, encapsulating the best of his stand-up and theatrical talents in a compelling two-hour narrative.

Although some criticised early teething troubles, in the shows we saw Kitson’s delivery was masterful, fusing cerebral analysis with West Yorkshire mannerisms and ironic self-regard.  In this form, Kitson is simply unmissable.  The best way to find out his (as yet) unannounced plans for 2018 is to subscribe to the mailing list via his official website.

A number of talented comedians also moved from the ‘promising’ to ‘proven’ performer category in 2017.  John Robins is the best example, adding often unsettling vulnerability to his already excellent blend of everyman erudition in The Darkness of Robins.  Catch this superb show – which addresses his breakup with Sara Pascoe and rightly co-won Best Comedy Act at the Edinburgh Fringe – at Leicester Square Theatre between 14th and 17th March or at the Apollo on 26th April.  Read our interview, get tickets here and follow him on Twitter @nomadicrevery for further details.

Robins’ co-winner at the Fringe, Hannah Gadsby, also laid bare her soul in the searingly honest and angry Nanette.  Although lighter on laughs, it’s a crying shame we’ll no longer hear Gadsby’s insights on prejudice in comedy theatres after her upcoming retirement, so be sure to catch her final Soho Theatre run between 5th February and 3rd March.  Get tickets here and follow her @Hannahgadsby.

At the less heavy end of the spectrum, Mat Ewins impressed in the hugely innovative Adventureman 7 – The Return of Adventureman, a joyous show that fused Ewins’ natural ebullience with wonderfully daft plotlines, graphics and audience interaction.  For details of upcoming shows, see Ewins’ surreal official website.

Honourable mentions to: Russell Howard, Round The World (see our review); Sara Pascoe, LadsLadsLads; Ricky Gervais, Humanity.

Jon_P_340Best Character Comedy Act: Jon Pointing, Act Natural – Pointing’s debut solo show is a delicately crafted, wonderfully acted and excruciating masterpiece of character comedy.  See our interview and review.

Comic actor Pointing is a worthy winner for his incredible debut playing heavily flawed drama coach Cayden Hunter.  Perfectly parodying an ego-maniac brimming with vulnerable self-importance, Pointing showed a rare talent for eking humour out of almost every action during this mocked-up acting workshop.

Following strong performances in Pls Like and Sky’s Comedy Shorts, it’ll be fascinating to see what else Pointing can do with Hunter or other characters up his sleeves.  The best way to find out is to catch Pointing’s work-in-progress at Vault Festival on 9th and 10th March.  Get tickets here and follow him @JonPointing or @CaydenHunter69 to see where Act Natural will tour in 2018.

Elsewhere, Spencer Jones served up another splendidly silly helping of alter ego The Herbert in The Audition, treating audiences to a feast of visual gags in his own endearing style.  Although a deeper show than usual, revealing his self-doubts and discomfort with success, you’re more likely to remembering crying with laughter at one of Jones’ many acts of first-class clowning.  Catch this joyous lunacy at Soho Theatre before its run ends on 6th January.  See our interview and review, and then get tickets here.  Follow him @spendals.

Last year also saw the welcome return of John Kearns, whose act is – he maintains – not strictly character comedy, but whose monk’s wig, false teeth and high-pitched whine surely qualify for this category.  Kearns’ honest and vulnerable performance in Don’t Worry They’re Here documents his unease with modernity, and demonstrates his amazing ability to build and demolish humour and tension.  Read our interview and get tickets to see the show at Battersea Arts Centre between 21st and 26th May here.  Follow him @johnsfurcoat.

Honourable mentions to: Kat Bond, Loo Roll; Lucy Pearman, Maid of Cabbage; Colin Hoult as Anna Mann, How We Stop The Fascists (see our interview); Tom Walker, Jonathan Pie: Live (see our review).

482ba8fc-6e41-4c7e-97ef-0840e0647759Best Storytelling Comedy Act: Wil Greenway, These Trees the Autumn Leaves Alone – Greenway takes his audience on another visceral journey with his latest lyrical tale of courage and memory.  See our review.

Wonderful wordsmith Greenway could have claimed this award either for Edinburgh show These Trees the Autumn Leaves Alone or The Way The City Ate The Stars, which he performed with distinction at Soho Theatre back in July (see our review).  In both, Greenway weaved a beautiful, dreamlike story of emotion and laughter, whisking audiences far from their cold climate to the warm glow of the Australian sun.

With Will Galloway and Kathryn Langshaw providing musical interludes, it’s folksy but – above all – uplifting fare, communicating a love of language, hope and humour even in his sadder stories.  While he’s currently back gigging Down Under, keep your eyes peeled for Greenway’s next trip to these shores by following him @wilgreenway.

Mark Thomas comes a close second with The Red Shed having ended its stellar UK run in October (see our interview and review).  Although Thomas stopped short of endorsing this homage to the North as his best ever work, his moving, dramatic monologue perfectly blends his talents as a comedian, actor and journalist.  You can catch The Red Shed – together with previous shows Bravo Figaro! and Cuckooed – by buying Thomas’ new live trilogy DVD here.  New work Showtime from the Frontline comes to London in April, so follow him @markthomasinfo for more details.

Someone else who knows a thing or two about storytelling trios is Sarah Kendall, whose Australian Trilogy was one of Radio 4’s hits of the year while her new show, One-Seventeen, was another great example of how to knit together a set of vivid, entertaining but unsentimental childhood stories.  Get tickets here to see it for yourself at Soho Theatre between 15th and 19th May, and follow her @Sarah_Kendall for information on future projects.

Honourable mentions to: Richard Gadd, Monkey See Monkey Do; Scott Gibson, Like Father Like Son (see our review); Chris Gethard, Career Suicide (see our interview and review).

Flo_Joan-1026x508Best Musical Comedy Act: Flo & Joan, The Kindness of Stranglers – Flo & Joan have the world of musical comedy at their feet after this faultlessly entertaining show.  See our review.

In the year Flight of the Conchords return to the UK, it’s apt for heirs Nicola and Rosie Dempsey to produce such tightly written, catchy and verbally dexterous songs as well as finely balanced onstage chemistry.

Despite sitting diminutively behind their instruments throughout, the British sisters convey their comedic personalities perfectly – one warm and friendly, the other colder and cutting.  These extremes play well in certain songs, but for the rest of the time the pair work as one, making it hard to detect who’s claiming the higher notes and punchlines – of which there are many.  Get tickets here to see their excellent show at Soho Theatre between 12th and 14th February or catch their monthly residency at Brasserie Zedel from 31st January (get tickets here).  Follow them @FloandJoan.

Jonny & The Baptists are unlucky to finish runners up for the second successive year.  The hard-working Jonny Donahoe and Paddy Gervers brought their superb Eat The Poor to Soho in early 2017 and more foot-stomping tunes packed with humour, heart and politics last month in Donahoe’s excellent Thirty Christmases (see our interview and review).  They play a ‘Best of’ set at The Phoenix on 11th February before linking up with Josie Long and Grace Petrie for another Lefty Scum show at Hackney’s The Yard Theatre on 28th February.  Get tickets to both here and follow them at @Jonny_Baptists for details of future gigs.

Their Thirty Christmases co-star, Rachel Parris, had another great year with more memorable songs in Keynote (see our review) squeezed in alongside her ever-expanding stand-up, acting and improv commitments.  Upcoming highlights include cabaret show Standards at Brasserie Zedel on 25th January and a work-in-progress at The Pleasance on 24th February, before the Keynote tour begins.  Get tickets here and follow her @rachelparris.

Honourable mentions to: Jenny Bede, Eggtime; Harriet Braine, Total Eclipse of the Art; Amusical at Bethnal Green’s Backyard Comedy Club.

GeinCrop_2997252bBest Sketch Comedy Act: Gein’s Family Giftshop, Volume 3 Gein’s continue to push boundaries with a hilarious set of darkly puerile perfection.  See our review.

In the absence of last year’s winners, Birthday Girls, and runners up, Lazy Susan, Gein’s have firmly established themselves as the sketch group to watch right now, with their brilliant, self-billed brand of “jizzy, blood heavy (separate) comedy” grossing out and creasing up audiences across the country.

Despite Jim Meehan leaving shortly before the Fringe, Kath Hughes, Ed Easton and mastermind Kiri Pritchard-McLean managed to craft a show that ideally captures their chaotic, dark and daft humour.  The League of Gentlemen are an inspiration and obvious comparison, but Gein’s have an edge of innocence that arguably makes them more accessible and unarguably helps make them a ‘must see’ act.  Take your chance by booking tickets here to see them at Soho Theatre between 5th and 10th February and follow them @GeinsFamilyGift. 

Cardinal Burns continue to set themselves apart as the most energetic and flamboyant sketch duo, although that tag grossly understates the excellent characterisation, accent mastery and well-observed mannerisms on display at the Underbelly Festival.  Despite heavy TV and radio schedules, Seb Cardinal and Dustin Demri-Burns regularly contribute to memorable Knock2bag events at The Moth Club, so follow them @CardinalBurns for further details.

In contrast, Croft & Pearce brought a lower octane but refreshing approach to more suburban situations in Croft & Pearce Are Not Alone (see our review).  Eschewing traditional, rapid-fire sketch comedy, Hannah Croft and Fiona Pearce favour more considered character development and excellent acting.  Now their well-coordinated maternity leaves have ended, you can get tickets here to catch them at Balham’s The Bedford on 31st January and follow them @CroftAndPearce for details of other gigs.

Honourable mentions to: Giants, For an Hour; Goodbear, Goodbear; Goose, Amphetawaltz.

sfth-dec-2017_1_origBest Improvised Comedy Act: Shoot From The Hip – This tight-knit, likeable group can always be relied on for some of the most accessible and entertaining improv nights around.  

While the Free Association continue to hoover up much of the best improv talent into their ever-expanding portfolio, it’s refreshing to see a group of close friends perform such relaxed and consistently funny material.

Although they recently enrolled Luke Manning, the core bond is that between stand-up Sam Russell, comedy writer Thomas Mayo and actor Alexander Jeremy.  Each are impressive improvisers in their own right – capable of thriving in various roles – but their friendship and love for their craft are the most constant, visible undercurrents.  You can and should catch them most Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Sundays at Angel Comedy, The Prince of Wales, Up the Creek and The Bill Murray respectively.  Head here for timings and follow them @ShootImpro for information on other upcoming performances.

Austentatious also continue to impress after taking their hugely entertaining shows – improvised around Jane Austen titles suggested by audience members – to the West End.  The fact the format hasn’t grown at all tired speaks volumes for the talent, timing and interaction of rotating cast members Charlotte Gittins, Andrew Hunter Murray, Amy Cooke-Hodgson, Joseph Morpurgo, Cariad Lloyd, Graham Dickson, Rachel Parris and Daniel Nils Roberts.  Get tickets here for shows at Piccadilly Theatre on 23rd January and 13th February, and follow them @AustenImpro for more information.  Fans of Lloyd and Parris can also see them in the 50-hour ‘Improvathon’, Strictly Not Dancing, between 9th and 11th February at the Stockwell Playhouse (get tickets here).

Finally, it’s been another good year for Abandoman, the Irish improv hip-hoppers led by Rob Broderick, whose solo show – The Musical In My Mind – went down well at the Fringe.  Broderick will be wowing London audiences with his rhyming dexterity over the coming months, including on a great bill alongside John Robins, Ed Gamble and Andrew Maxwell at Bush Hall on 19th January.  Get tickets here and follow them @Abandoman for details of other shows.

Honourable mentions to: The Free Association; The Comedy Store Players; Baby Wants Candy.

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