The Greatest Live Comedy

Our writers list their favourite ever comedy gigs.

Latest Update: William North’s favourite shows:

Bill Bailey – un-named tour in support of Is It Bill Bailey?, Bristol Bierkeller 1998. Bill’s penultimate tour of smaller venues and comedy clubs before he started doing theatres, I saw three shows on this tour which varied in both length and content wildly. At this time Bill was still doing a lot of improv and he was still a massive dope head. Pick of those three was the Bierkeller one. Nearly 3 hours long, 40 minutes of which was genuine encores. Probably the single best live comedy I’ve ever experienced.

Bill Bailey Qualmpeddler – Bristol Colston Hall, 2014. Although not in the same league as the show above, I had to mention this one as, of all of his live shows, it’s been the closest to a live episode of Is It Bill Bailey? Even the now legendary Part Troll show didn’t manage that feat. Plus the owl video was an amazing finisher.

Big Night Out Live – Bristol Colston Hall, 1991. Everything us Big Night Out fans could hope for and more, including a bonus 25 minute intermission set by Simon Day as Tommy Cockles (which most people used as their going-to-the-bar time. Pricks.)

Fist of Fun Live – Bristol Hippodrome, 1995. Moved from the originally booked Colston Hall to the smaller Hippodrome due to disappointing ticket sales, and even then with only two thirds of the tickets being sold, and on the night only about half of those sold tickets equated to bums on seats. It was so empty Rich and Stew got everyone in the cheap seats to move down to the stalls where there were fewer people. The only time I saw them together live. About half an hour of material mined from the Hippodrome’s very slightly sloping stage.

John Shuttleworth Europigeon Tour – Bristol Bierkeller, 1997/98. The zenith of Shuttleworth’s career where absolutely everything was perfect. I also saw the later three-fer tour mentioned by Wet Blanket which, whilst very good in its own right, was no contender to Europigeon.

Jasper Carrot and Phil Cool – Bristol Colston Hall, 1992. Solo stand-up sets of around an hour each, finished off with a half hour unscripted talk and Q&A session at the end. I was a massive fan of both at the time, and it was quite amazing to see Cool live.

Dominic Holland – Jesters Comedy Club Bristol, mid 90s. Probably the finest observational stand-up this country has ever produced, this was his first head-lining show (I’d seen him previously at both Jesters and The Hen and Chicken as part of a roster several times before), and also his last show in Bristol before he took the writing and corporate gig route. He absolutely killed that night, and it was the only time I saw a standing ovation at Jesters. He’s now more famous for being the dad of the current Spiderman, of course.

Johnny Vegas – Windows Arts Centre Bath, early to mid 00s. To date the only proper UK tour he’s done, seemingly done off the back of his appearances in Attention Scum as the 24 Hour News reporter. I’ve not seen anything like it before or since, an absolutely unique experience. Apparently he just improvised every single night of that tour.

Lee Evans, various appearances at Bristol comedy clubs in the 90s. I know he’s not as well liked these days, and his larger shows have been little more than parodies of himself (and not in a good way), but by christ when he was still doing small clubs he was something quite special. An amazing dynamo of energy that only Kevin Eldon has equalled (see further below) with a comedy mind that’s incredibly hard to put into words. The Lee Evans most of us know now, heavy sweat aside, may as well be a completely different comedian.

Ken Campbell’s Wol Wantok – forgotten venue, Bath early 00s. Not strictly speaking stand-up or straight comedy, with subjects covering school cross country runs, blowing up pigeons, glossolalia, ventriloquism, how an actor cries and an underground cave system on the other side of the world decorated like a temple. More than enough mirth to be included.

Kevin Eldon and Simon Munnery – Lantern Theatre Bristol, within the last couple of years. Both as part of a three-fer with Josie Long, who bored me to tears. Eldon’s 25 minute set was, I think, the single most energetic live comedy performance I’ve ever seen, and as above I saw Lee Evans a LOT in the early days. Absolutely bonkers genius. It was also the first time I’d ever seen Munnery performing as himself, having seen Alan Parker and LAT several times over the years. Came on in near darkness wearing a cloak made of cheap lager cans swinging a fake bird around his head whilst a cacophony of noise played behind him, before the lights came up and he said “alright?”. Excellent piece about a middle class couple on a skiing holiday.

Dara O’Briain This Is The Show – Bristol Colston Hall, 2010. Audience interaction is hackey, but that’s the best I’ve ever seen it done – the flights of fancy he came up with were quite astounding and much better than what he got on the show released on DVD. A very memorable show.

Harry Hill (whichever tour that had the Jesus Goes to the Moon video) – Bristol Colston Hall, mid to late 90s. To be honest, I get the material of this one and the next or preceding tour (with The Boy With the Big Face video) mixed up as both were so good, so close to each other and so long ago. So let’s just say both.

Alex Finch:

1) Joseph Morpurgo – Soothing Sounds For Baby – Just absolutely loved this. A ridiculously funny mix of so many different ideas and styles, all of which were shockingly hilarious and it’s easily the most I’ve ever laughed at a gig. When it finished the friend I was with went to a nearby pub and we both agreed it was the most innovative and astonishing comedy show we’d ever witnessed.

2) Stewart Lee – 90’s Comedian – It might not be his best work but it was the first time I saw him do an hour long show, and the first time I’d seen a show which had a theme running throughout a lot of it, which changed the way I saw stand up comedy. Plus it’s amazingly funny, containing the infamous material about Lee vomiting in to the gaping anus of Jesus Christ, which needs to be seen to be believed.

3) Kim Noble – Kim Noble Must Die – Which left me almost speechless, a mix of extreme perversity, sillyness, touching honest and all round idiocy. I genuinely found this to be breathtaking stuff, and his follow up show a few years later was almost as good, and whilst he performs rarely I regularly check out his website in the hope that he’ll announce a new show.

4) Maria Bamford – A gig at the Leicester Square Theatre earlier this year which I’m not sure if it had a name or not. I love the Bamford an enormous amount (with The Special Special Special being my favourite of hers, though sadly I didn’t see it live!) and she was joyously brilliant on the night, and seeing her live highlights what an amazing physical performer she is too.

5) Daniel Kitson – It’s Always Right Now, Until it’s Later – My introduction to Kitson though I’ve shamefully only seen him one other time since due to the way tickets sell out. Anyhow, it was masterful stuff, emotional and deeply funny, and the only time I’ve called a stranger a “soulless c**t” as on the way out they said they didn’t enjoy it at all, and the words emerged from my mouth before I even realised it. Which is no way to behave, admittedly, and I’d never normally do such a thing, but it was a reaction I couldn’t help.

6) Doctor Brown – The American one rather than the british fella, this was in 2011 and saw him doing his clowning thing in all but silence, and it was an astonishing feat which I really loved. Uncomfortable, gloriously funny and strangely alluring, I hope he returns to the UK to perform again soon and if you’re in the US I’d recommend catching him asap.

7) Pajama Men – Soho Theatre, 2011 – I’ve seen them since and they disappointed a little but for one glorious night they were on incredible form.

8) The Penny Dreadfuls – The Never Man – A sixty minute sort of play about a group of competition winners who wake up on Beef Island, a truly unusual theme park. Incredibly funny from start to finish and it makes me wish they performed live still, instead of doing the odd play for Radio 4.

9) Sean Hughes – Sadly now deceased and enormously missed, I was lucky enough to see him circa 1994-ish, I don’t remember the title but I do remember laughing really hard, and desperately needing to urinate during the second half but not doing so as I didn’t want to miss a single second of it.

10) Michael Brunstrom The Great Fire of London – Which I only saw last week which might be why it rates so highly as it’s fresh in my memory, but it was incredibly silly, surreal and daft stuff that made me laugh a great deal, and when I wasn’t laughing I was grinning like a loon.

Lists from other contributors will be added soon.

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