Balham Comedy Festival will bring big names to the legendary Banana Cabaret Club at the newly-refurbished Bedford pub next month as acts prepare for the summer season.
Omid Djalili, Angela Barnes, Al Murray and Shappi Khorsandi are just a few of the household names who will grace the stage of the revered venue between July 5 and 13.
Many comedians will showcase fresh material and works-in-progress ahead of the arts and culture maelstrom of the Edinburgh fringe in August, so audiences can expect raw comedy in its germinal stages.
Festival co-founder and host of the Best of Banana Cabaret John Moloney said: “We make it clear if its a work in progress because the audience are then part of the organic process of watching a joke turn into a piece of fine art.
“The audiences like that; they feel as if they’re complicit in watching something work or sometimes not work.
“It’s also to do with the intimacy of it, because the biggest room only takes about 220 people, so even with a big star the audience are right on them and sometimes that’s the nearest these guys have been to an audience in years.”
Now in its eighth year, the festival has hosted some of the biggest names in UK comedy from Harry Hill to Sean Locke.
John (pictured above), who is currently working on the fourth series of his John Moloney Show on Radio Four, added: “What surprises us every year is whether we can match the standard of the previous year.
“We seem to have the most fantastic feedback and response from comics.
“It’s without hesitation; they always come back again because they felt the vibe of it.”
Mock the Week regular Milton Jones, who plays on July 9, described his show as a ‘potpourri of comedy material which, hopefully, won’t stink’.
The stand-up, famous for puns, wordplay and one-liners, was also quick to espouse the benefits of audience participation at the venue.
He said: “I’ve done Balham a few times; quite often if I’m working on a show, I use it as an educated audience who will tell me the truth.
“They tend to get a crowd that has been to comedy before and it’s a nice room and it’s well run.
“I’ve done gigs there for years and years and years – they were one of the first clubs to book me.”
Though he will be taking his immersive show, Milton Impossible, to Edinburgh’s Assembly Hall this year, the comedian says the technicality of it means it wouldn’t work for Balham.
Panel show mainstay Angela Barnes is also performing on July 9 in a show featuring the best of her old and new material, and also complimented the venue and organisers, describing it as one of the best in the country.
She said: “The Banana Cabaret in Balham is obviously a legendary venue.
“Since before I started stand up I would go there as punter, so when I first started to play the Banana it was such a big deal for me, who grew up as a comedy nerd in the 90s.
“I’ve got a real special place in my heart for the Banana and the people that run it.
“They run it with absolute love and just really care about comedy over making loads of money; it’s such a beautiful place.”
Despite its plethora of big names like Ed Byrne, Paul Sinha and Stephen K. Amos, the Balham Comedy Festival looks set to continue in the tradition that cemented Banana Cabaret’s legendary status as a platform to hone one’s craft, regardless of prestige or pedigree.