August may seem like a distant memory, but the Edinburgh Fringe is still alive and kicking – in London. This autumn, some of the hottest new comedy acts will be taking their Edinburgh shows down south. After a month polishing their sets at the world's largest comedy festival, these comedians are at their sharpest. Now is the time to catch them.
Spencer Jones is The Herbert in Proper Job
(Soho Theatre, October 21-24 & 28-31)
This is a deeply silly show. Appearing here as his Mr Bean-ish alter ego The Herbert, Spencer Jones ambles about in extremely revealing tights, playing with a treasure-trove of pound shop bric-a-brac. It is an uneven hour which wobbles at the start, but once Proper Job gets going it’s a playful, inventive romp.
With a bit of help from the audience's imagination, Jones transmogrifies ordinary objects into bizarre little puppets, in a series of increasingly unexpected sight-gags; at one point, he creates eight different characters from a single rubber glove. He’s a gifted mimic – each puppet has a different accent to go with its goofy personality, becoming the star of a ten-second sketch. It’s difficult to pin down why these skits work, but Jones pre-empts criticism. Popping two ping-pong balls over his eyes to adopt the voice of his disapproving brother, he announces: “I don’t get it, mate. What’s he wearing tights for?” Jones is not afraid to play with tone, either. The middle segment, in which he takes his newborn “son” to hospital (a doll with a terrifying taxidermy fox-head), lurches between buffoonery and pathos - it's daring, and pays off.
It’s not surprising that Jones was spoken about as a likely contender for a Foster’s comedy award; his gawky, self-aware persona (“This is what I actually do – I’m 38!”) has something in common with last year’s winner, John Kearns. Where Kearns has a wig and buckteeth, Jones opts for a bowlcut and padded hunchback. He’s clearly aware of his comedy lineage; fans of Tommy Cooper and Rowan Atkinson should consider giving The Herbert a look.
Fun fact: Spencer Jones describes Bugsy Malone as one of his main musical influences
Kieran Hodgson: Lance
(Soho Theatre, October 13-17; Invisible Dot, November 2-12)
Back in his boy-scout days, Kieran Hodgson was a keen cyclist, and Lance Armstrong was his hero. A lot has changed since then. In this dizzying one-man show, Hodgeson retells the story of his life, acting out all the characters along the way. It's a breathless race from start to finish. In the words of the The Telegraph's Mark Monahan: "It’s curiously touching in its way, yields big laughs by the ton, and builds to a closing moral of impish, well, amorality. Tour de France? Tour de force, more like."
Fun fact: Kieran Hodgson will soon be starring as Pliny in BBC Radio 4's Letters of Pliny the Younger
Geoff Norcott: The Look of Moron
(Museum of Comedy, October 14 & 21)
Geoff Norcott is a rare beast indeed - a stand-up comic who openly admits to voting Tory. In his words, “It’s a bit like buying a James Blunt album. You know millions of other people must have done it – but you never meet anyone who admits it.” Norcott might not be everyone's cup of tea (one of his one-liners snuck into 2013's "worst jokes of the Fringe" list) but Telegraph critic Dominic Cavendish was very impressed by The Look of Moron. It's only in London for two nights, so grab a ticket while you can.
Fun fact: Geoff Norcott co-starred with top golfer Rory McIlroy in ; Norcott played a talking robot.
Bec Hill: Caught on Tape
(Kings Place, December 9)
Samuel Johnson once wrote that, to Shakespeare, a pun was "what luminous vapours are to the traveller; he follows it at all adventures." Ossie stand-up Bec Hill combines storytelling, observational comedy and "paper-puppetry" in her shows, but she's also one of Australia's finest living punsters. Her groanworthy one-liners have made it onto "best joke of the Fringe" shortlists for two years running.
With her eminently likeable stage presence, and upbeat, whimsical world-view, Hill is perhaps the polar opposite of Liam Williams (see below). Her Edinburgh show, Caught on Tape, is in London for one night only, sharing a double-bill with Chortle award nominee Richard Soames. Leave your cynicism at the door, and take this opportunity to embrace the much-maligned art of punning. If it's good enough for Shakespeare, it's good enough for you.
Fun fact: Bec Hill hosts a bi-monthly 'Pun Run' at The Phoenix, W1
Pajama Men: 2 Man 3 Musketeers
(Soho Theatre, November 23 - December 12)
Wildly energetic, constantly surprising, the anarchic Pajama Men are real stalwarts of the Fringe. The sketch duo's 2012 show was - according to one estimate - the best-reviewed show at that year's festival. With their background in improv, the pair bring a much-needed energy and spontaneity to sketch comedy. As we said in 2011, "if there were any justice, they would be world-famous." This year's outing marks a change of tack for them, with a two-man 'adaptation' of Alexandre Dumas's classic novel.
Fun fact: The Pajama Men are from Albuquerque, New Mexico
Emma Sidi: Character Breakdown
(Pleasance Islington, October 14-17)
A former Cambridge Footlight, Emma Sidi offers a whimsical take on character-comedy, performing interpretative dance between sketches (yes, really). Character Breakdown is her debut solo show, and - largely through word of mouth - became something of an Edinburgh hit. Fame may be a long way off yet, but on the basis of this inventive, memorable hour, Sidi certainly has potential.
Fun fact: Multi-linguist Emma Sidi is fluent in Spanish, French and German.
Liam Williams: Bonfire Night
(Invisible Dot, until October 9; Soho Theatre, October 27 - November 14)
If you haven't yet heard of Liam Williams, you soon will have. The 27-year-old "pilsner socialist" is already being heralded as the comic voice of his generation, and – unlike many of his more whimsical peers – he's not afraid of tackling serious political themes. The Telegraph described his 2014 show as "exceptional… fizzing with wit, intelligence and eloquence", while also labelling Williams "the gloomiest performer on the Fringe". Back then, his self-flagellating pessimism proved too much for some audiences, but this year's offering, Bonfire Night, strikes a more redemptive note. Who knows? One day, he might even crack a smile.
Fun fact: Liam Williams also performs as one third of sketch troupe Sheeps (see below).
Richard Gadd: Waiting for Gaddot
(Soho Theatre, October 27 – November 7; Invisible Dot, November 25 – 28)
The runaway punk hit of this year's Fringe, Waiting for Gaddot was literally an underground success. Audience members queued for hours outside the subterranean Banshee Labyrinth, hoping for a coveted seat at Gadd's free show. It's hard to describe the show without giving too much away, but suffice to say, Telegraph comedy critic Mark Monahan gave it a five-star review. Gadd's boundary-pushing, occasionally terrifying performance is not for the faint of heart.
Fun fact: Waiting for Gaddot features a number of cult comedians in supporting roles, including Best Newcomer nominee Ben Target and Malcom Hardee award-winner Ed Aczel.
Luke McQueen: Double Act
(Invisible Dot, October 19 – 24)
For an up-and-coming name on the circuit, Luke McQueen spends a lot of time moping about his past. The premise of Double Act is that McQueen was once one half of a promising sketch comedy duo. The other half was Jack Whitehall. Cue an hour of scenery-chewing jealousy, and botched plans to reboot his career. It divided the critics, but McQueen – whose brash style owes less to Whitehall than to Nick Helm – is surely a name to watch.
Fun fact:Double Act was one of just three shows to win the prestigious Bobby Award at this year’s Fringe, and the only comedy show to do so.
Nish Kumar: Long Word… Long Word… Blah Blah Blah… I’m So Clever (Soho Theatre, December 1 – 12)
Take that title with a pinch of salt. Kumar is no aloof "comedian's comedian", but one of the most engaging acts on the circuit – a funny and passionate communicator teetering on the brink of mainstream success. Tackling a broad range of material (from Islamic State to the history of Monopoly), he charms and challenges his audience in equal measure. The Telegraph called his new show "an unusually smart, slick and entertaining hour of socio-political scrutiny". After years polishing his chops in tiny venues, Kumar looks set for greater things. See him now before he becomes even more famous.
Fun fact: Nish Kumar is a regular guest on BBC Radio 4’s The Now Show.
Sam Simmons: Spaghetti for Breakfast (Soho Theatre, until October 10)
Since winning the 2015 Foster’s Best Comedy Show award – the holy grail of Edinburgh – Sam Simmons has become one of the most talked-about acts in town. The Telegraph has been enthusing about the Aussie surrealist since 2011, when Mark Monahan described him as "a latter-day Ionesco on speed." Spaghetti for Breakfast is an hour of beautifully-structured madness, beginning with a memorable stunt involving three large cereal-boxes.
Fun fact: Before moving into comedy, Sam Simmons worked as an elephant keeper at Melbourne Zoo.
Beard: The Grin of Love
(Invisible Dot, October 12 – 17)
Although they're still in their early twenties, sketch duo Beard already have a mature and distinctive take on the medium. Endearing and uncomfortable by turns, The Grin of Love was a word-of-mouth hit at this year’s Fringe. The show blends together a bit of everything, from mime to burlesque via multi-sensory horror fiction. Backed by a wonderful ambient soundtrack, it's a beautiful, otherworldly experience.
Fun Fact: After a stint with the Cambridge Footlights, Beard's Rosa Robson and Matilda Wnek trained at top French clown school Ecole Philippe Gaulier.
Bridget Christie: A Book for Her
(Soho Theatre, November 16 – December 2)
On one level, Bridget Christie's new show, A Book for Her, is a platform from which to plug her manifesto-cum-memoir of the same title, but it's far more than that; Christie is a supremely talented performer. Confusingly, the book was itself a spin-off of her 2013 Edinburgh show, A Bic for Her. Fortunately, her memoir is the most entertaining pop-feminist tome since Caitlin Moran's How to be a Woman, while this 2015 show was – in our comedy critic’s words – "one of the funniest things I’ve heard this August".
Fun fact: In her earlier incarnation as a character-comic, Christie would sometimes perform dressed as an ant.
Rob Auton: The Water Show
(Royal Albert Hall, September 26 only)
Rob Auton is a poet. Not an intentionally bad "poet" (a la Tim Key) but a proper wordsmith, and one with a distinctive line in offbeat whimsy. Despite this impediment, Auton found himself the unexpected winner of the 2013 Dave Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, with a groan-worthy one-liner about chocolate bars – but don’t let that put you off. His Fringe shows are a unique experience, blurring the line between his not-quite-stand-up and his not-quite-poems. Auton tackles big themes: his latest offering comes hot on the heels of 2012's The Yellow Show (about yellow), 2013's The Sky Show (about the sky) and 2014's The Face Show (have a guess). Funny, baffling and deeply moving, The Water Show is in London for one night only, splitting the bill with Iain Stirling at the Royal Albert Hall.
Fun fact: Rob Auton co-hosts cult poetry night Bang! Said The Gun.
Stewart Lee: A Room with a Stew
(Leicester Square Theatre, until October 24)
Stewart Lee's bristly, self-aware stage act has always divided the critics. This year's show is a chance to catch Lee's freshest work, as he tests out material for the new season of his BBC 2 series, Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle. Like him or loathe him, Lee remains one of the most influential figures in stand-up today.
Fun Fact: Stewart Lee is married to fellow comedian Bridget Christie (see above).
Buy tickets for Stewart Lee: A Room with a Stew at The Leicester Square Theatre
Joseph Morpurgo: Soothing Sounds for Baby
(Invisible Dot, October 5 – 31)
Joseph Morpurgo is one of several experimental acts to have recently emerged from comedy powerhouse The Invisible Dot (see also: Beard). In this dizzyingly ambitious, deeply odd show, Morpurgo "remixes" Desert Island Discs. With a grab-bag of obscure vinyl records in hand, and the pre-recorded voice of Kirsty Young to argue with, Morpurgo unfolds the story of his life and loves. Trippy and unpredictable, this "extraordinary and often hilarious" hour was nominated for the 2015 Foster’s Best Comedy Show award.
Fun Fact:Joseph Morpurgo acts in Jane Austen-themed improv troupe Austentatious.
Paul Foot: Retrospective
(Bloomsbury Theatre, October 15-17 & 29-31)
Apparently, it's not enough for Paul Foot to take one Edinburgh show to London. He has to take three – and his 2015 show isn’t one of them. This "retrospective" is an odd undertaking: three years’ worth of Foot, in rep with himself. Foot will reprise his 2009 outing By The Yard (Thursdays), his 2011 show Still Life (Fridays) and 2012’s Kenny Larch is Dead (Saturdays).
Fun fact: In 2011, the Guild of Connoisseurs (Paul Foot's fan-club) gathered at Stepney City Farm in an attempt to solve a 32,000 jigsaw puzzle.
Daphne Do Edinburgh
(Invisible Dot, November 30 – December 12)
Possibly the most-hyped new sketch troupe at this year's Fringe, Daphne are three ex-Cambridge Footlights comics: Jason Forbes, George Fouracres and Phil Wang. Their wildly eclectic Edinburgh show was, , "a remarkable and marvellously funny debut".
Fun Fact: Jason Forbes plays Junior in CITV's Horrible Science.
Sheeps Skewer the News
(Invisible Dot, September 26-27; Kings Place, October 15)
Charmingly shambolic, Sheeps are a refreshing alternative to some of the ultra-slick sketch troupes around at the moment. After a series of well-received Edinburgh outings, this Autumn Liam Williams (see above), Daran Johnson and Alastair Roberts will be offering their distinctive take on topical comedy.
Fun Fact: Sheeps' have their own .