Why it matters: Pushing comedy boundaries – by Harry Deansway


He’s been up in Edinburgh all August – but this Thursday the local comedian returns for the autumn season of his seminal Shambles night at Aces & Eights in Tufnell Park



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Harry Deansway: ‘The nights take risks that don’t always pay off – but when it works it’s the best comedy night in London.’

One of the phrases you often hear bandied around in the media is comedy boom in reference to what appears to be the UK’s insatiable appetite for stand-up. Certain acts’ and their managers’ coffers may be booming but the boom feels more financial than creative. As far as I can see, playing arenas not theatres seems to be the extent of the innovation.

The last great comedy movement in the UK was in the 80’s with so called “alternative comedy”, when Alexis Sayle, Ben Elton, Rick Mayall and Adrian Edmondson spearheaded a revolution in a strip club at the newly formed Comedy Store. Although I wasn’t born at the time, I imagine what made the Store so powerful in its early days was its raucous late night atmosphere and raft of acts performing innovative material.

Neon: the bar at Aces.
Neon: the bar at Aces.
The comedy boom has trickled down to the London circuit with a well-attended well-run comedy night on any day of the week but at most consistency is prized over innovation. The nights feature acts doing their “best ten minutes” with a view to transferring it to TV. There are literally hundreds of acts out there who have a good ten minutes, so go to any night and you will probably be entertained; but will you have seen something that got you genuinely excited? I doubt it.

To the untrained eye it very well might feel like nothing has changed since the 80s renaissance. However venture down into the dimly-lit basement of Tufnell Park’s Aces And Eights on the first and third Thursday of any month and you will discover there is something very exciting happening.

And here I express a self interest. Shambles is the night I produce, host and promote, and it has two objectives: one to make people laugh, and two to take risks. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn’t. But it’s always memorable, a combination of talented acts and the amazing local audience we get who keep coming back. Here’s a little sketch we did recently:

In comedy I’ve always taken risks, first as publisher of The Fix comedy magazine and secondly as a live promoter and its paid dividends. If you’ve ambled down to one of my nights over the years you could have seen anyone of the following acts before they made it: Cardinal Burns (Channel Four Sketch Show), Tim Key (Alan Partridge Sidekick), Angelos Epithemious (Shooting Stars), Adam Riches (Fosters Award winner). There are plenty of acts who have appeared after they made it too, including Stephen Merchant, Stewart Lee, David Cross, Kevin Eldon, Rich Fulcher and Bill Bailey to name a few.

So why does Shambles matter? Because, as I keep saying, we support the best new acts years before anyone else (resident act John Kearns just won the Fosters best newcomer award in Edinburgh and fellow resident Aisling Bea was nominated too), the nights take risks that don’t always pay off – but when it works it’s the best comedy night in London. We need strong voices who are pushing comedy boundaries not at the expense of being funny but to the gain of being funnier. As the late great visionary folk guitarist Davey Graham once said: “only the mediocre are consistent.” Shambles is not always consistent – but it’s never mediocre.

Missed our round-up of Top 5 comedy venues last week? Head here.

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Shambles takes place every 1st and 3rd Thursday of the month at 730pm.

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