Two fabulous new venues have cropped up in east and west London that are worthy of your attention. Deansways and Vandella are like the Mitchell brothers – different, yet somehow the same
Connected though they are by the central line, Bethnal Green and Shepherd's Bush are very different places. Out east, Bethnal Green is an area that has been roughly defined by, in chronological order, its slums, gangsters, Bangladeshi community and hipsters. It's arguably the bit of the capital where the collision of old-school London and new-school London is at its most stark. Shepherd's Bush is of course out west, where the money is. If you're heading west from Bethnal Green to the Bush, somewhere around Lancaster Gate the jeans get a bit more upmarket, and the jewellery acquires another zero. The Bush hasn't conformed to the west London stereotype though, being a little bit tasty, to be blunt. Now it's best-known for it Antipodean community and the Westfield behemoth that threatens to gentrify, for better or worse. What links the two areas is they now have new comedy-variety clubs that, touch wood, will be around for a little while. Both are run with a whole lot of love and comedy nous, a spirit of adventure, and both go beyond the traditional four stand-ups and an MC club night. It's basically good news for comedy punters east, west, or anyone who can be bothered to travel.
DeanswaysIf you follow LiF on Twitter, you will have heard me banging on about this place. Deansways is scruffy, no-frills, and would probably get the full house from a healthy and safety officer. It has, for want of a better phrase, the x factor, with an inexplicable naval theme and Opportunity Knocks-esque glitzy touches – it may be done on the cheap but most importantly, it just works. It's the sort of venue where the show starts when you walk in the building. That building is Bethnal Green Working Men's club, and Deansway's is the back room that holds about 50-60 people, or 80+ if you ask new venue boss Harry Deansway, a sort of Delboy/Malcolm McLaren figure for the comedy circuit. He runs the gaff with Hollie Ebdon, and this is what he had to say about the place: "We've kept the room exactly as we found it. We opened up the room, there was a naval theme already there and we just went – let's not fight it. It's like when archaeologists go to the pyramids and pull back a rock and it's been untouched for 1,000 years. It's frozen in time, we've just put a comedy club in there."
"It's gonna have a real identity, where people can create stuff, do things a bit more experimental than you might see at more established venues. I want to build a community of people and acts and an audience who supports them. "The main thing is to have funny people and funny nights, no marketing bullshit, we're not gonna call it 'alternative' or 'new wave', just a load of funny nights basically." "I think the London comedy circuit is the best in the world, and if you speak to internationals acts they'd probably agree with you. 'Comedy boom' is a horrible term and it's yet to grace my wallet, but I think we have a golden crop of great acts doing interesting things, and now I've got a venue supporting that." Damn right. An array of impressive shows have already been finding their feet at Deansway's, including one of the funniest nights on the circuit, talent show Star Search!; vehicles for ace comedians Trevor Lock, Dave Hill and Totally Tom; a run of long-form improv (better than it sounds) and, rather indulgently, a "rock n roll horror musical about the comedy industry". There are also regular variety nights of character, stand-up and sketch comedy (such as the opening night when Dr Brown (top) and Simon Amstell performed – thanks to Ben Meadows for the photos).The venue represents a change of fortune for Deansway, who used to run excellent/defunct comedy magazine Fix, and who has been a maverick figure in the industry who's never quite flown. Now it seems the lad has found his wings.
"Yeah it's been great. There were a lot of lows before [this point], the debts I got from the magazine were awful, it was really depressing as I put so much work and money into it and really created something. To be honest it took me quite a few years to get over [the magazine closing]. I got into a legal difficulty as I did a Faustian pact with a money man and that ended very badly – that cemented the end of it really. "It's made such a difference having my own venue and not relying on someone else. If you're doing it in the back of a pub, the manager doesn't give a shit. Now we can do what we want with it. I run it with Hollie though, it's a partnerhsip; it's my name on the door but she takes care of the business. None of the acts would get paid if I ran it, I'm notorious in the industry ... " And why did Deansway name the room after himself? "It's about time I got some fucking credit to be honest! I've been promoting comedy for eight years and I'm completely broke, so I thought fuck it."