At the peak of Edinburgh Festival madness everywhere in the city is considered a comedy or theatre venue.
From Persian rug shops to police boxes, pretty much every spare inch of room in Edinburgh becomes a performance space during the manic month of August.
But what about the other 11 months of the year, when the delirious dust has settled and you’re no longer rather surreally elbowing Jack Whitehall and Jimmy Carr out of your way at the bar? Is hysterical laughter and theatrical entertainment allowed in Edinburgh when the Festival and Fringe aren’t in town?
If you’d rather not be miserable until August rolls around, here are ten brilliant Edinburgh comedy and theatre venues that are active all year long to put a smile back on your face.
Speaking of keeping the Festival alive all year round – that’s exactly the reason the Traverse Theatre was originally founded in 1963. Known as Scotland’s new writing theatre, the Traverse commissions and develops new plays or adaptations as well as putting on productions by visiting theatre companies. Their regular ‘A Play, A Pie and A Pint’ events are a fantastic idea and do exactly what they say on the tin. Head along to tuck into a delicious pie, sup a cold pint of beer (or a soft drink, if you’d prefer) and watch a brand new play unfold before your eyes. Beats stale popcorn and a rubbish blockbuster, doesn’t it?
10 Cambridge Street, EH1 2ED – more info
If you’re a local you probably can’t think of live comedy in Edinburgh without The Stand springing to mind. Opened in 1995 (reportedly with an audience of just seven people in attendance at the first show) this temple of laughter has gone from strength to strength, even spawning two more Stand venues in Glasgow and Newcastle over the years.
The Stand hosts live comedy seven nights a week and you can see everyone from nervous newbies to self-confident celebrities perform stand-up on their stage. Well-known comedians like Dylan Moran and Frankie Boyle are known to make regular appearances there, sometimes unannounced so they can try out new jokes on a smaller audience. You’ll need to get in early to guarantee yourself a seat on busy nights, but now and again opting to stand at The Stand is definitely worth it.
5 York Place, EH1 3EB – more info
Believe it or not, there has actually been a theatre where the Edinburgh Festival Theatre now stands since 1830. Officially opened in 1994 with a new name and rejuvenated programme, the Festival Theatre puts everything from distinguished dramas to modern musicals on its stage, as well as regular stand-up comedy. You can also catch both Scottish opera and ballet here, making it the city’s most diverse theatre.
As you may have already guessed, the Festival Theatre plays a big part in hosting the annual Edinburgh International Festival but it remains an arts hub throughout the year – long after many other Festival venues have gone back into hibernation until August.
13-29 Nicolson Street, EH8 9FT – more info
Royal Lyceum Theatre
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Built in 1883, the Royal Lyceum Theatre has remained largely unchanged since then, with only four minor refurbishments in the last 130 years. Some famous operas – including Madam Butterfly and Die Meistersinger – had their first Scottish performances here. Primarily known for its dramatic plays, the Lyceum (like many) has branched out in recent years and now regularly dips its toe into live comedy, opera and dance, as well as the odd Q&A with well-known authors.
Grindlay Street, EH3 9AX – more info
Pleasance Cabaret Bar
Another popular Fringe venue that doesn’t barricade its doors once summer is over is the Pleasance Cabaret Bar. Located in Fringe central, this Edinburgh University run establishment is the perfect destination for anyone in search of some fresh-faced comedy talent.
The university’s resident comedy society and sketch group The Edinburgh Revue also perform frequently at the Cabaret Bar and you’re guaranteed to be blown away by the passion the students involved put into their shows. Similarly, the venue’s regular ‘Grassroots Comedy’ night is an ideal platform for other up-and-coming stand-ups and sketch groups to test and improve their material, and you might just discover the funniest Fringe performer months before anyone else.
60 Pleasance, EH8 9TJ – more info
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Once Edinburgh University’s Royal School of Veterinary Studies, Summerhall is now a bustling arts hub, with exhibitions, live performances and cultural events going on left, right and centre. You’ll find heaps of comedy and spoken word nights on the bill here, with some serial offenders like regular creative collaboration-celebration Neu! Reekie! often selling out in advance.
Summerhall Place, EH9 1PL – more info
Modelled on the famous Roxy Cinema in New York, Edinburgh’s Playhouse is the UK’s largest working theatre and can seat over 3,000 audience members. Known for a wide variety of monthly-rotating musical shows, the Playhouse also welcomes regular stand-up comedians and the odd musical performance from well-known artists such as Nick Cave. There are rumours that the Playhouse is haunted by a man in grey known as Albert who hangs around on the sixth floor of the theatre, but don’t let him scare you away.
18-22 Greenside Place, EH1 3AA – more info
The Banshee Labyrinth
Hidden away off the Royal Mile and a bit of a nightmare to navigate your way round once you finally get inside for the first time, the appropriately named Banshee Labyrinth is nonetheless an excellent low-key spot for live comedy in Edinburgh. Amongst their online listings for regular music gigs and open mic nights, this venue is always holding a cheeky, low-cost comedy night close to its chest – generally featuring performances from seasoned Fringe comedians who aren’t afraid of a good heckle.
29-35 Niddry Street, EH1 1LG – more info
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Probably best known for putting on their annual pantomimes over the Christmas and New Year period, the family-friendly King’s Theatre does have a few more serious shows up its sleeve. At over a hundred years old, the King’s knows a thing or two about theatre, and their programme tends to mix musicals (both old and new) with regular dramas and the occasional burst of comedy for good measure.
2 Leven Street, EH3 9LQ – more info
There are plenty of fascinating talking points surrounding Bedlam Theatre, from its stunning neo-gothic architecture to its student-only staff. Originally a church, Bedlam was given to Edinburgh University in the 1930s and it consequently became Britain’s longest-standing student-run theatre. As well as being a regular Fringe Festival venue, the theatre stages varied weekly shows – from musical comedy to spoken word performances – all showcasing the talents of uni students. In-house improv comedy troupe The Improverts have called Bedlam home for almost three decades and perform there religiously every Friday night.
11 Bristo Place, EH1 1EZ – more info
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