Live at the Apollo is back: The young comedians you should be watching now

·7-min read
 (ES)
(ES)

At the end of the summer, as lockdown lifted and venues re-opened, the Eventim Apollo in Hammersmith filmed the cream of the comedy circuit over one busy week. After a year’s hiatus, Live at the Apollo returns to BBC Two later this year for its 16th season. It is fair to say it has changed the face of contemporary comedy, creating stars and giving a deserved boost to the business as fans of the show buy tickets to see their favourites in the flesh.

For ambitious acts hoping to make their mark the prestigious long running showcase is stand-up’s Mount Olympus. Over the years it has made superstar names out of club comics – Michael McIntyre landed his own vehicle after appearing on it, as did Sarah Millican. Micky Flanagan went from unsung hero to arena filler. So who will be the stars of this run? We profile some of the names to watch below.

Live at the Apollo returns on Wednesday, 10 November, BBC Two, 10pm

Maisie Adam

Maisie Adam (Andy Holingworth)
Maisie Adam (Andy Holingworth)

Even if you are unfamiliar with the name television viewers should already be well-acquainted with the haircut. Yorkshire-born Adam relieved the tedium during lockdown in her Brighton flat by shaving the back of her head. She is not completely foolhardy though – she kept the fringe at the front so that she looked normal during Zoom gigs. And she liked the Neo-mod look so much that she has retained the style for her prestigious Apollo debut in their forthcoming Christmas special, filmed in balmy September.

There is plenty of style in Adam’s stand-up too as she talks about her punk rock-loving mum, her passion for football and sharing baths with her boyfriend and brother (not at the same time). Adam, still only 27, has become a television regular during her enforced break from performing in front of a real audience, but she is at her best in full flow onstage. She has a gimlet eye for the minutiae of life that would give Alan Bennett and Victoria Wood a run for their money. Her routine about having a cervical smear exam – do you keep your socks on or take them off? – is destined to become a modern classic.

Maisie Adam headlines Dulwich Hamlet Comedy Club on November 7 (hamletcomedy.co.uk)

Larry Dean

Larry Dean (handout)
Larry Dean (handout)

I first encountered Larry Dean in a comedy competition in a small upstairs room in a pub in Piccadilly Circus and it was immediately clear that he had something special. It was apt too that I saw him in a pub. The impish comic has the kind of whipsmart, chatty charm of someone holding court at the bar, the wittiest guy in the gang. He says the main reason he got into comedy was because his dad said he wasn’t funny. He is right, his dad was wrong.

Dean comes from Glasgow, a city famous for producing charismatic chatterboxes and he is all set to pick up the banter baton from Billy Connolly and Kevin Bridges. He has the skillset to make the Apollo feel like an intimate room and once he speaks you cannot really imagine him doing anything else except stand-up, He might look like an off-the-peg lad, but Dean is full of surprises. You’ll have to see him for yourself to find out exactly what they are. As well as his Apollo appearance he is filming a live stand-up special later this year.

Larry Dean is at the Bloomsbury Theatre on June 18 (sohotheatre.com)

Ria Lina

Ria Lina (handout)
Ria Lina (handout)

Ria Lina used to be known as that comedian who plays bawdy songs on the ukelele. Covid changed that. The Filipino stand-up has a PhD in Virology so is better placed to discuss the pandemic than most comedians. And most politicians too. She recently made her debut on Have I Got News For You where she revealed her sharp, satirical side and now makes her Live at the Apollo debut.

It helps when you have a good back story and Lina, who was born in the UK but previously lived in America and The Netherlands, has back story in abundance. Her German father was a painter, her Filipino mother trained as a physicist. Before comedy Lina worked as an IT Forensic Investigator for the Serious Fraud Office.

Lina is managed by the high-powered Up The Creek agency who also guide superstar Mo Gilligan’s career from the Peckham HQ, so they clearly know talent when they see it. Lina works hard at whatever she does, whether showbiz or academia, and has always been ridiculously gifted. Now everyone will have the chance to see that she is at her best being funny.

Ria Lina plays the Backyard Comedy Club on November 19 (backyardcomedyclub.co.uk)

Sarah Keyworth

Sarah Keyworth (handout/matt crockett)
Sarah Keyworth (handout/matt crockett)

Never tempt fate by launching a podcast about relationships. During lockdown award-winner Sarah Keyworth recorded You’ll Do for BBC Sounds, with her partner, fellow comedian Catherine Bohart. Since recording it Keyworth and Bohart have split, but at least Keyworth retained custody of a good anecdote: "My girlfriend is Catholic and my family are Jewish. When she first told her mum that I was Jewish her response was ‘well you know, Jesus was a Jew’ and I thought, f*ck, she’s set the bar high."

The 28-year-old grew up in Nottingham and has quickly made her mark in stand-up, nominated for Best Newcomer at the 2018 Edinburgh Comedy Awards. Keyworth’s observational anecdotes often home in on self-deprecating embarrassing experiences. She once wanted to buy a suit for a wedding and the only place she could find one the right size was in a children’s clothing department. She can be seriously thoughtful too. Her 2020 Radio 4 series, Are You A Boy Or A Girl? explored gender fluidity, blending humour with thoughts about one of the hottest topics of modern times. If you enjoy her debut on Live at the Apollo, her acclaimed 2018 show, Dark Horse, is released by Amazon Prime in November.

Sarah Keyworth plays the Comedy Store on November 10 (thecomedystore.co.uk)

Scott Bennett

Scott Bennett (handout)
Scott Bennett (handout)

Scott Bennett is, without question, live comedy’s best kept secret. The Midlands-based former production designer rarely gigs in London so Live at the Apollo may be the first time many stand-up fans see him. If you like straight-for-the-funny-bone humour, he is destined to be your go-to comic. He has previously written for Chris Ramsey and Bennett has a similar everyman appeal, with gags about his long-suffering wife and mischievous children.

He is not arch or ironic, he simply has a phenomenal punchline hit rate. When lockdown happened he was an online pioneer, immediately doing weekly gigs from his shed. "One man’s pandemic is another man’s career break,” he quipped, while joking about freezer eat-downs and cooking the pasta stuck to his children’s art class pictures.

Bennett claims that he failed his Live at the Apollo audition a few years ago. If that is true thank goodness they have made amends and booked him this time. Things are definitely heading in the right direction at last. Earlier this year he was signed up to the agency that also manages Micky Flanagan. If you like the Out Out star you’ll quickly embrace Bennett.

Scott Bennett plays the Outside the Box comedy night at the Vaudeville Theatre on November 29 (nimaxtheatres.com)

Esther Manito

Esther Manito (handout)
Esther Manito (handout)

If you are looking for an Anglo-Lebanese comedian who sounds as if she has just stepped off the EastEnders set look no further. Esther Manito has been making waves since she was a finalist in the So You Think You’re Funny? competition at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2017. In the intervening years she has established herself as a formidable outspoken voice drawing on both her family history and her marriage to an Englishman for comic inspiration. There are not many acts out there who joke about both the school run and ISIS.

Manito has certainly not been idle during the pandemic. She performed her latest show at the Leicester Comedy Festival in February where it picked up the prize for Best Show. In #notallmen she compares her experiences of English and Middle Eastern males when she was growing up in the 1990s, a world of lad mags and landlines. Manito is a forceful presence onstage, whether making jokes about smutty graffitti or the lack of diversity in TV advertising. 2021 looks set to be her breakout year.

Esther Manito is at Dulwich Hamlet Comedy Club on November 7 (hamletcomedy.co.uk)

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