TRCH Priscilla

12 Famous Comedians Who Played Nottingham

30 September 19 words: Ashley Carter
illustrations: Agnes Papp

Our city has hosted some world-famous acts over the years...

Tommy Cooper
The Empire Theatre, which was demolished in 1969, hosted countless famous names during its heyday. One such legend was Tommy Cooper, the lumbering, bumbling magician who became one of the most well-loved comedians of the 1960s and 70s. His first appearance there came on 26 October 1953, where he performed as part of a week-long variety show.

Joan Rivers
Arguably the greatest female comedian of all time, Rivers always divided opinion. Some saw her as a trailblazer, while others thought her material was too close to the bone - like the infamous 9/11 set she did just after the Twin Towers fell. Even at the age of 79, she presented a faultless set at the Royal Concert Hall in October 2014. 

Benny Hill
Before he was chasing heavy-chested girls around to goofy music, Benny Hill toured his variety show all over the UK, stopping in Nottingham several times in the 1950s. He shared the stage with the Waldron Sisters in 1955, performed Light Up The Town at the Empire Theatre in 1957 and was even photographed writing new material in Nottingham Park in 1954. 

Ricky Gervais 
Whether you love him or hate him, few can argue that Gervais, along with his former writing partner Stephen Merchant, created one of the greatest British sitcoms of all time in The Office. After a decade-long hiatus from the city, he returned to Nottingham in 2017, performing his stand-up show Humanity in front of almost 10,000 people. 

Laurel and Hardy
Legendary film duo Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy undertook a busy four-week residency at the Empire Theatre over Christmas 1953. The venue hosted the pair for a string of sold-out shows, including a special Christmas performance during their otherwise tumultuous UK tour, which was recently the subject of biopic Stan & Ollie. The pair even found time to visit Laurel’s sister Olga at The Bull Inn, her pub in Bottesford, where they pulled pints and made jokes with the locals. 

Chris Rock
“I went to St Ann’s earlier, that was a mistake,” Rock said after taking the stage at the Motorpoint Arena in January 2018. “Did they film The Wire there?” While taking shots at local areas is a well-worn trope from touring comedians, it still seems surreal that Rock, one of the most successful comedians in recent history, actually went there. 

Norman Wisdom
Described in the Radio Times as “one of the greatest British comics of all time,” Sir Norman Wisdom visited Notts frequently after turning professional in 1946. The quintessential slapstick comedian’s appearances included a turn in the touring Walking Happy in 1966, a performance during his 1990 resurgence tour of the UK and even a visit to Broadway Cinema in the 2000s. 

Tony Hancock
Described by JB Priestly as “a man in a leaky lifeboat, throwing away one pair of oars after another,” Hancock was as troubled in private as he was hilarious in public. July 1963 saw the iconic comedian bring The Hancock Show to the Theatre Royal for a week of performances, five years before he took his own life in Australia. 

Morecambe and Wise 
Years before they become one of the most beloved double-acts in British comedy history, Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise shared the stage of the Empire Theatre as young members of Jack Hylton’s Youth Takes a Bow production in 1939. The two teenagers didn’t get off on the best foot, with Eric complaining that Ernie, who was six months his elder, referred to him as ‘Sonny’. Fortunately, the pair soon became inseparable, after Ernie bought his new friend a chocolate bar. 

Doug Stanhope
Despite being one of the most influential comedians of his generation, it’s fair to say that Doug Stanhope might not be a household name to those who don’t follow comedy - mostly due to his own desire to stay as anonymous as possible. Fortunately, he tours the UK fairly frequently and always visits Notts, last playing Just the Tonic in June 2018. 

Billy Connolly 
The legendary Scottish comedian, who Channel 4 twice voted as Britain’s Greatest Stand-Up, is no stranger to Nottingham. Amid an eclectic career that included acting in Hollywood blockbusters, presenting travel shows, playing music and painting, The Big Yin did stand-up here on several occasions since the 1970s, last performing to a sold-out Nottingham Theatre Royal in 2016. 

Charlie Chaplin 
A young Charlie Chaplin made his debut on the Nottingham stages at the tender age of ten with a troupe of bugle-blowing boys called the ‘Eight Lancashire Lads’ on 10 July 1899. As part of Fred Karno’s travelling comedy group, he visited Notts fairly frequently over the next decade, spending several weeks recuperating from an illness at a house on Hucknall Road. Bizarrely, there’s also a record of him receiving £25 for winning a twenty-mile walking race around Nottingham.