Review: The Secret Comedians at PaperDress Hackney

Shhh! I've got a funny little secret Pic: Samir Koudoua

The Secret Comedians perform on the last Wednesday of every month.
Pic: Samir Koudoua


It’s the first anniversary of Hackney-based comedy club, The Secret Comedians, and PaperDress Vintage is beginning its transformation from quirky second-hand clothes shop to intimate performance venue.

Located just off Shoreditch High Street, the space attracts the fashion-hungry, art enthusiasts of east London, plus the occasional passer-by drawn in by the laughter of those enjoying a quick tipple.

The acts wait by the bar beforehand, and the hot topic of discussion is money. They all seem to be on the same page here – if there is no entry fee for comedy events, if the audience do not pay a small price for a good evening’s entertainment, then we will become even more used to not paying for art. If we do not pay a fair price for art, there will be no funding for shows such as this. In short, without entrance fees, comedy could not survive.

It may be true that London is saturated with stand-up, musical gigs and improv, but the £5 entry fee requested by The Secret Comedians not only supports the cause, but stands as a confident reminder that this night is worth it.

Upon entering, attendees do not melt into a generic audience content with cheap, beer-fuelled laughs – they become part of enthusiastic compere, Elf Lyons’ (albeit temporary) “comedy family”. Lyons is the 22-year-old behind Secret Comedians, and on top of organising these events has been busy competing as a semi-finalist in this year’s Chortle Student Comedy Awards.

She brings the night off to a cosy start by asking – and remembering – audience members’ names and stories. It only takes seconds to get everyone on-side, partly by the amusing discovery that one Tinder-born couple on the front row are on their first date. This nugget of comedy gold returns to haunt them through ongoing jokes from several acts, yet there is a good-natured feeling about it, and one which will almost certainly bring the two back for a second date.

First to the floor is Thomas Ward, an artist recognisable almost as much for his eccentric haircut as for his comedy – something he cleverly plays on, along with his excellent “carpet salesman” voice.

The second act is Jennie Collier, who greets the audience by saying: “I have heard this venue gets some streakers” – a joke for regulars, one imagines, which gets a big laugh. A Welsh native escaping to “the big smoke”, her style is dryly innocent, drawing on tales of her Welsh family and with the plural door-steppers known as “Jehovah’s Witni”.

Alexis Wieroniey follows with a full-blown confessional-style set about life as an American coping with the British way of life. It’s a theme which has been done before, but somehow feels as fresh as the corner of sunshine she once felt on her leg and mistook for a tramp’s piss.

Gerry Howell, whose previous gigs include performances at The Comedy Store and at the Edinburgh Fringe, performs a dizzy set which may either have been a confusing mish-mash of broken stories or genius comedy resembling that of Dylan Moran. Either way, he will be remembered.

A comedian-cum-actor with several TV roles under his belt, Richard Sandling has the room captivated with a slightly unexpected poetry recital. A dramatic change in style from the rest of the night so far, Sandling’s politically driven poems are delivered with deadpan eyes, creating much laughter whilst leaving a slightly sober atmosphere as the crowd considers whether such topics really are a joke or not.

As it is such an intimate venue, PaperDress does provide a suitable atmosphere for big acts such as Sandling to try-out new material. A pilot-run or not, Sandling’s set is received well and will likely be seen again in his upcoming gigs this summer.

As the night draws neatly towards close, final act Dane Baptiste comes to the stage. A Hither-Green resident, Baptiste is effortlessly smooth, delivering jokes which seem to resonate personally with everyone in the room.

It seems fitting that in Baptiste’s main line of fire are the couples, would-be couples and secret-couples in attendance, returning the topic of conversation back to the very beginning of the night. Jokes so dry and cutting are only hilarious to those who are not the subject, but even if you’re the target, it is impossible not to forgive this undeniably talented performer. But only after making use of that bar.

The Secret Comedians club comes to PaperDress Vintage on Curtain Road, Hackney, on the last Wednesday of every month. They also run a sister event, Bow Bells Comedy, every other Thursday at the Bow Bells pub on Bow Road.

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