the urbanist: london

My Favorite End: A Comedian’s Guide to South London

A window cleaner at work in Thornton Heath, a suburb of commuter-town Croydon in South London.

With a population just shy of 9 million people, “living like a local” in the capital of the United Kingdom really depends on which local and where. Because Londoners take such pride in their respective pockets of the city, we asked four residents to go to bat for their favorite “end.” Last but not least: Nish Kumar, a stand-up comedian and presenter of the BBC’s satirical news show, The Mash Report. He begins his U.K. tour this August.

I grew up in the South London outer areas of Bromley and Croydon. Bromley and Croydon are interchangeable punch lines to any joke somebody wants to make about a shit part of England. If you’re reaching for a local reference to drop for a place that is typical of everything wrong with Britain, you would switch between Croydon or Bromley. There is a lot of deprivation there, but it’s not one of the poorest parts of the country. It’s not a place that requires a serious op-ed piece in The Guardian. It’s just a bit shit.

I would recommend visiting the Richmal Crompton [formerly Lloyds] in Bromley if you’re looking to have a nonglamorous, very British time, like if you’re looking to re-create that episode of the British Office where they go to a club called Chasers.

The Spread Eagle. Photo: Courtesy of the Spread Eagle

That said, the Croydon I grew up in is unrecognizable. There’s a Boxpark there now [a pop-up retail space made from storage containers that first arrived in East London’s hip Shoreditch] and there are some pretty cool places to eat. I go to a South Indian place called Karnavar, which collides Keralan flavors with fine-dining methods, and for a drink in the Spread Eagle, a pleasant, traditional English boozer.

Effra Hall Tavern. Photo: Courtesy of Effra Hall

When I left my family home and had finished university, I stayed in South London but moved closer to London’s center, to Brixton and Herne Hill. Herne Hill is a tiny place that is ridiculously overstocked with lovely pubs. The Florence and the Commercial Hotel are fantastic. In Brixton, there’s a pub called the Effra Hall Tavern, which is wonderful. It just appears out of a residential street. It reminds me of that house in Harry Potter that appears out of nowhere. It’s Sirius Black’s house, basically, in pub form.

Brixton Village. Photo: Courtesy of Brixton Village

As for food, Brixton Village indoor market is just cram full of critically acclaimed restaurants, including the original Franco Manca. Even though there are a few around London now, Manca’s is still a great place to get a proper Italian pizza.

I learnt how to do stand-up in a club in Balham, but a lot of those gigs are gone now. But South London is home to one of the consistently best comedy gigs, a night called Always Be Comedy in Kennington. They’re amazing gigs, the sort comedians want to perform in. Probably seats about 60, 70 people maybe, and there is every chance that if you go there, it will be four really good comics and then someone absolutely massive will just show up and do ten minutes in the middle.

Bill Murray. Photo: Courtesy of Angel Comedy

I don’t want to shit on South London, but I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention two other venues, the Soho Theatre, which is the spiritual home of long-form comedy in London, and the Bill Murray pub in North London. It was bought a few years ago by a group of comedians who’d been running comedy nights. They clubbed together, did a crowdfunder, and now it’s a comedy pub where you can see great mixed-bill shows. It’s got three huge murals of Richard Pryor, Victoria Wood, and Robin Williams on the outside. It’s an undiscovered gem.

My Favorite End: A Comedian’s Guide to South London