A perceived left-wing bias and a reliance on lazy gags means that political comedy doesn’t always enjoy the best reputation at The Spectator. But there are some excellent and unashamedly Westminster-focused acts currently gigging in the UK. Here are six of the best:
Relative newcomer Kieran Hodgson’s latest stand-up show covers an unexpected topic: a historical deep-dive into the UK’s 1975 referendum on EU membership. If that sounds anorakish, it’s because, well, it is – and it’s also bloody brilliant. Clever jokes, spot-on impressions, a riposte to Brexit snobbery – the highlight is a touching (and funny) monologue delivered in character as a war-time Ted Heath. I had tears in my eyes.
When I saw the show at the Soho Theatre, I left convinced I’d witnessed a star in the making. So much so, in fact, that I pitched this listicle afterwards – that way, when he’s as big as he deserves to be, I can claim to have seen him first. His show, ’75, begins a UK-wide tour in March. Don’t miss it.
Former Spectator Life cover star Ayesha Hazarika has an interesting CV: having dabbled in stand-up during her time in the civil service, she went on to become a special advisor to various Labour bigwigs – namely Gordon Brown, Harriet Harman and Ed Miliband – before making a triumphant return to the comedy circuit after the 2015 election (giving Ed himself a run in the showbiz stakes…)
Her cleverly-crafted stand-up shows have covered her time in Westminster (amongst other things, she wrote Miliband’s jokes for PMQs), her views on feminism, and the state of British politics. She also writes a terrific Corbyn gag.
Ayesha’s latest show, Girl on Girl: the Fight for Feminism, is at Soho Theatre in April.
The Independent’s lead columnist took his first foray into stand-up comedy in 2013 with a show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. His mission was to produce ‘pro-politics’ comedy – to avoid using politicians as cheap punchlines and instead write jokes which took the audience deeper into the world of Westminster.
While it didn’t set the Fringe on fire, the show was a sleeper hit amongst those in the know. Since then Richards’ semi-regular live shows, Rock ‘n’ Roll Politics, have become a much-loved institution for political geeks, regularly selling out London’s Kings Place. One of the highlights is the interactive political dilemmas, where audience members are asked to put themselves in the shoes of Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn.
Steve Richards: Rock ‘n’ Roll Politics returns to Kings Place on 11th and 13th March. If you haven’t already then do watch his Unscripted Reflections lecture series, originally on BBC iPlayer and now on YouTube – they’re fantastic.
Matt Tedford/Jon Brittain
Rarely have I been so unsure about a show than when I was offered free tickets to a glitter-fuelled drag show entitled Margaret Thatcher: Queen of Soho. With a stiff drink in hand, I had no idea what to expect – but it’s safe to say I wasn’t expecting it to be amongst the best shows of the year.
Believe it or not, Margaret Thatcher: Queen of Soho is brilliant. Yes, it’s camp and crass (and there’s some beastly stuff about Churchill) but it’s also as intelligent, funny and moving as anything currently playing in the West End. Matt Tedford’s portrayal of Mrs Thatcher isn’t just eerily accurate, but reassuringly human too.
Unsurprisingly given its subject matter, it’s become a bit of an institution at comedy and cabaret festivals. It’s on at Wilton’s Music Hall in March – put aside your scepticism and treat yourself. You’ll thank me later.
Co-programmed by Spectator Life contributor Andy Shaw, Comedy Unleashed is organised around one particular principle: free speech. Comics here have the right to joke about anything – provided, that is, that it’s actually funny.
Self-styled Tory comedian and Question Time pundit Geoff Norcott is a regular and a big supporter of the club too. While Unleashed might not be as politically-focused as the acts mentioned above, it still merits a mention – not least for its sterling work in fighting back against censorship. The Unleashed crew have been predictably merciless in mocking the depressing new trend for comedy nights to ask performers to sign ‘statements of values’ before taking to the stage. Good on them.
Unleashed is on at the Backyard Comedy Club in Bethnal Green (next gig is 12th March).
Another political insider turned comedian, Matt Forde’s monthly live show, The Political Party, attracts an impressive pedigree of guests: Tony Blair, Nigel Farage, John Bercow, Michael Portillo and Ruth Davidson have all taken their turn on the stage. Luckily Forde isn’t just a funny-man, but a deft interviewer too – even when sitting opposite his centrist heroes.
The Political Party takes place on the last Wednesday month at The Other Palace theatre in Victoria. Previous recordings are available as podcasts from Matt’s website. His stand-up show, Brexit Through the Gift Shop, is currently touring the UK.