This year marks the 20th anniversary of comedy at the Soho Theatre. It’s a milestone that has been passed quietly, but one that deserves to be applauded because of the venue’s success in getting big name talent to new audiences and, more significantly, allowing newer talent to get to the next level.
The first season of comedy at the Soho Theatre was in 1992, when it was part of The Cockpit Theatre and known as ‘Soho Poly’ (moving there from the original 1969 site set up by Verity Bargate and Fred Proud in New Compton Street). The evening was hosted by Mark Thomas and included Eddie Izzard, Jack Dee, Jo Brand and Arnold Brown.
Both Eddie Izzard and Jack Dee came back later that year to do work in progress shows for their touring shows, and thus was born a tradition of comics using Soho Theatre to try out an hour’s worth of new material, rather than just popping to The Comedy Store to do an extended set (not that there is anything wrong with that of course). The benefit to the punter was the ability to see their heroes live for a significant period of time and for a fairly insignificant entrance fee.
Among the other names that have workshopped at Soho are Ricky Gervais, Michael McIntyre, Russell Brand, Micky Flanagan and, just a few weeks ago, David Baddiel. All of these took place at the current premises on Dean Street which opened in 2000.
the Soho ethos seems to have been to be the capital’s all-year-round Edinburgh Fringe.
The incomparable Jerry Sadowitz was the first comedy gig at the Dean Street site, and at what then became known as ‘Soho Theatre’, the start of an enduring relationship between this unique act and a similarly distinct venue.
In addition to the notable work-in-progress shows, Soho Theatre’s current site has hosted London solo debuts from, among others, Tim Minchin, Ricky Gervais (the first outing of his first solo show in 2002), Louis CK, Catherine Tate, Russell Brand and Flight of the Conchords. However, despite the big name glamour, the Soho ethos seems to have been to be the capital’s all-year-round Edinburgh Fringe. This has been reflected in its adventurous programming and its appetite for producing Edinburgh shows including mime act Doctor Brown, this year’s winner of the Foster’s Edinburgh Comedy Award.
Now with three venues full to the brim (the first show of the cabaret venue downstairs came last year courtesy of another Soho Theatre-backed act, the fabulous Pajama Men) Soho is a heady mix of the established and the avant garde in comedy, with all sorts of delightful one-offs popping up here and there including the staging of Tom ‘Andrew from Buffy’ Lenk’s one man show and Doctor Brown’s recent kid’s show that was just as fun for the parents as it was for their offspring.
Here’s to the next twenty years and hoping that you can top the last!