Comedy is a great way to get to know a new town, and for students it can make for an easy night out for you and your new mates as you struggle to establish dominance over one another. Free and low-cost shows are a great way to get out while preserving those student loans for
binge-drinki textbooks. Yeah…textbooks.
The universities are keen to market Bristol as a city with a booming arts and music scene, but did you know you just landed in the middle of one of the hottest comedy towns anywhere? Russell Howard, Jon Richardson, John Robins, Jayde Adams and Mark Watson are all local produce, having started out in Bristol. And the next crop of amazing comedy talent is out there every night of the week in small pubs and clubs just waiting for you to find them.
We put together a quick guide to help you plug into the scene, emphasizing low-cost nights happening near you.
Gigs Near University of Bristol
Bristol Uni is sandwiched nicely between both some of the city’s most Instagrammed and popular areas. This is no truer when it comes to comedy in its vicinity. If you take a walk across the main campus, from the SU, encompassing the Triangle and Whiteladies Road and up towards St Michaels’s Hill, you’ll see what we’re on about.
Opposite the SU, in the White Rabbit every Wednesday evening is Oppo: one of the best-value new material nights you’ll ever experience. There’s a big-name headliner every week (past headliners include massive names such as James Acaster, Josh Widdecome and Fern Brady). They’re supported by the cream of Bristol comedy, plus award-winning hosts, and there’s also cracking pizza served up. Not bad for £2.
As you walk up towards uni, take a left at the roundabout down St Paul’s Road, where the Bristol Improv Theatre (the BIT) resides. The only purpose-built improv theatre in the UK, the BIT runs plenty of fabulous shows every month, including Dynamite! Run by Bristol Improv, the University of Bristol’s Improv society, this show happens every other Sunday. Expect a first half of excellent stand-up from the society’s members, and special guests from the wider Bristol comedy scene, then a second half of ‘Whose Line is it Anyway’-style short-form improv. A whole lot of very silly student-y fun, and all for free (with donations on the door) what more could you want? Definitely check out the BIT’s programme too, as there’s usually something great going on.
Carry along past the BIT and you’ll hit the foot of Whiteladies Road, where you’ve got two options. Firstly, you catch the U1 or walk up the hill to come across the Vittoria and then the Kings Arms, where Comedy Stash and Buffoon Comedy are held respectively – both fledgling free entry stand-up nights. These are perfect for Whiteladies residents who want class comedy right on their doorstep.
But say we head down to the Triangle, past Beacon House, Jason Donervans and Lizard Lounge towards the White Harte, already a popular student spot. Every month, the back half of the pub is transformed into Comedy at the White Harte, one of the longest-running nights of the very fluid Bristol scene, this stalwart provides the goods every third Tuesday of the month.
On nearby St. Michael’s Hill, you’ll find Comedy at the Robin Hood, and excellent monthly showcase of curated local acts, which is a warm little night, and best of all, it’s free! (It usually falls on Real Ale night, so you can get a proper pint for just £3).
Naer the top of St. Michael’s Hill is the White Bear pub, home to a little black-box theatre called The Room Above. This cozy venue is in heavy rotation for loads of gigs on The Kettle, including regular stand-up, as well as being the main playground of the Bristol Revunions – the University of Bristol’s Sketch comedy society. This is where they host their sketch ‘scratch’ nights on a Tuesday, as well as Laughbox, their stand-up showcase. Held on a rotating fortnightly basis, at a very reasonable £3 for members, these anarchic showcases feature the best of student comedy. Watch for Up the Antics sketch and improv variety nights as well, which are a great weekend outing, monthly Fridays.
Cutting through High Kingsdown towards Stokes Croft is This Next Act: Comedy NIght at the Kingsdown Vaults. Every Sunday Night, former Bristol Uni Student Alex Kitson (yours truly) brings some of the best acts from across Bristol and the South West to come and try out new material. Always a laugh, always free! ‘TNA’ is also a podcast which you can download and listen to at your leisure.
And finally, in Stokes Croft proper, there’s a fantastic monthly Friday showcase at The People’s Republic of Stokes Croft, People’s Comedy, where comics bring political and social material from all quarters It’s a liberal arts degree in one evening, all for only six quid on the door, which is less than a Che Guevara poster!
Best for UWE Students
UWE, with its multiple campuses and slightly more dispersed student population, is slightly harder to pinpoint gigs within walking distance. However, there are plenty of nights on along the bus routes which lead to Frenchay which are more than worth checking out. Let’s start with Thursday nights at The Lazy Dog pub, in Ashley Down, just off the top of Gloucester Road.
The pub is home to How Lazy is He?, a proper comedy club in a perfect little room where some of the UK’s top headliners (including Kiri Pritchard-McLean, Carl Donnelly and Maisie Adam) come and strut their stuff. With tickets usually only £6, it’s an absolute steal, too. There’s usually a cheeky open-mic afterwards, so even more bang for your buck, and the chance to potentially try your hand at stand-up.
Also on Gloucester Road is Alchemy, which once monthly hosts Funny Women Time of the Month South West, Bristol’s only regular all-female comedy night. It starts with a free workshop for women who want to learn or develop comedy, featuring a visiting speaker. Then it’s showtime: a fantastic comedy night stacked with brilliant female acts. The workshop would only run you five quid to take part, and the showcase is free and open to the public. What’s not to like?
A lot of UWE students are based in Easton, and if you’re new to the area, you need to get set for a fantastic night at the Greenbank Pub, which has seen the likes of Athena Kugblenu, Alasdair Beckett-King, Nish Kumar, Tiernan Douieb and Bec Hill take to the stage. Tickets are £6 in advance or £8 on the door, so plan ahead and save £2 to put towards your bar tab.
Now let’s hop on a bus and head for the city centre. Bristol’s magic bar, Smoke and Mirrors, is just around the corner from the Hippodrome, but it delivers much better value entertainment. Start with A Bunch of Japes, you can see local and national names try out new material every Monday night. You can find huge names off telly doing intimate sets to an always-packed house here.
The Gong Show is a new addition to Smoke and Mirrors, bringing out the ruthless streak in Bristol comedians―and punters. Comics aim to survive five-minute rounds without being gonged off by you. Hosted by the unflappable Liam Pickford, and the winner gets a cash prize, so the stakes are real. This is a monthly show. Tickets for Bunch of Japes and the Gong Show are only £3.50 in advance, and that also gets you a discount on food and drink at the bar, so there’s no excuse not to make a night of it.
From St. Augustine’s Parade and Broad Quay, head down Baldwin Street and cut up into St. Nick’s Market by the steps at The Old Fishmarket. Cross over to All Saints Lane and head into The Trap, the basement area of The Crown pub. This is home to The Cheese Comedy Club, a monthly comedy club (with occasional extra shows) that livens a Sunday evening. Line-ups are packed with big names – think Joe Sutherland, Archie Maddocks, Laura Lexx and Bethany Black – and the intimate underground venue means you get to hunker down and forget there’s another week of lectures and essays ahead.
Warm, welcoming, often mid-week, and with entry often for less than the price of a pint, Bristol’s comedy gigs promise a great evening away from the books or from queuing in the freezing cold to get into a club. You can thank us later.