The French are known for their fine cuisine, the Germans for efficiency. But the nation with the bragging rights to laughter? Funnily enough, it's Britain.
Comedy is where Britons truly shine. Maybe it's the "stiff upper lip" style of living that leads some to become so gloriously off-kilter, or maybe it's just something in the tea. Whatever the reason, we've been appreciating the comedic talents of British stars for decades. From Monty Python to Mr Bean to the original iteration of "The Office," British comedies have become some of the most loved series on TV here.
More often than not, they're the brain children of talented and hardworking comedians. Ricky Gervais, Russell Brand, John Cleese, Eddie Izzard and Rowan Atkinson are just the tip of the much-admired British comedy iceberg. Many of them cut their teeth performing night after night at some of the country's many comedy clubs.
If you're looking to see some of the hottest up-and-comers as well as some of the biggest names in British comedy today, here are your best bets:
Edinburgh Fringe Festival
For what seems like eons, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland's capital city has been a breeding ground of incredible talent. The largest arts festival in the world has no vetting committee, which means any act can perform — resulting in a lucky break for an unknown many times over. Ricky Gervais has performed at Edinburgh Castle as part of the fest.
Since 1981, awards have been given out for best comedic performances at the festival, with this year's "top joke" award going to Canadian comedian Stewart Francis. The 2013 festival will run August 2-26, so you've got plenty of time to plan your trip.
The Comedy Store
Touted by Time Out: London as "the greatest and most influential comedy club on the planet," The Comedy Store opened in 1979 above a strip club and established itself as the place for comedians to test their material and prove their worth. Names as varied as British comedians Lee Evans and Jack Dee, Americans Chris Rock and Jerry Seinfeld, and even Canadian talent Mike Myers have graced the historic venue (it has changed locales since it first opened and now has a location in Manchester).
Whether you're looking to see up-and-comers or hoping to be at a secret set of a mega-star looking to test material on smaller audiences, The Comedy Store is a good bet for a great night of laughter.
The Boat Show and Live at the Chapel
If you're looking for a unique venue to experience along with your laughs, then either of these clubs may be the ticket. Both host fantastic lineups — The Boat Show has hosted popular UK comedians like Andy Zaltzman and Stewart Lee, and Live at the Chapel has boasted big-name talents like Simon Amstell, Noel Fielding of "the Mighty Boosh" fame and Frankie Boyle — and have the larger claim of truly unique performance spaces to go along with them. That's always a bonus when you're coming from out of town.
As the name implies, The Boat Show is a floating comedy venue; it's directly opposite the London Eye on the Thames. Live at the Chapel takes over the lovely Union Chapel once a month to host its comedy nights. Just to give it that extra British touch, there's a tea kiosk set-up as well.
The Soho Theatre is the place to go if you're looking for the grand comedy experience. Forget hit-and-miss multi-act shows. This is where the big names do their proper sets (think HBO-style hour-long specials and you'll be on the right track). Attracting some of the top international talents as well as some of the biggest hits from the Edinburgh Festival, the Soho Theatre is the big leagues. You won't be discovering any talent here, because these talents are already proven.
Amused Moose Soho
Think the exact opposite of the Soho Theatre, and you'll be picturing the Amused Moose Soho in London: Smaller venue, fresh faces and a stack of awards to prove that often the risks are worth the rewards. If you're looking to hear something different and new, this is the place to go. And there's always the chance of a big name talent like Noel Fielding or Simon Amstell just popping in for a set — because even the best of the best know that every set counts.
by Leigh Bryant
Ricky Gervais and Russell Brand cut their teeth in Britain's stand-up comedy clubs. (Photo by Dave Hogan/Getty Images)