The Invisible Dot: How has one of the country's smallest comedy venues become an industry powerhouse?

It might be tiny but it attracts big stars and manages to discover major talents. Alice Jones investigates

Down a side street in King's Cross, in an old welding workshop behind a hefty sliding door, some of the country's finest comedy minds are hard at work. Call in on any night and you might find Stewart Lee trying out his latest routine, Simon Amstell warming up for a new American tour or Adam Buxton doing his thing – all for a small, discerning crowd who have paid less than £10.

This is The Invisible Dot, the first custom-built comedy venue to open in London for 20 years, and home to the production company of the same name. It moved in nine months ago, but aside from a spare white neon sign down the brickwork, you wouldn't know it was there. You would, though, know many of the acts the company has hosted since its inaugural show in 2009. That February night at Proud Gallery in Camden featured an astonishing bill – Tim Minchin, Daniel Kitson, Kevin Eldon, Simon Munnery, Arthur Smith, Pippa Evans, Tim Key and Tom Basden – riffing on the theme of Love, God and Evolution.

Since then it has quietly become one of the most exciting comedy powerhouses in the country – a place to see big names up close but more importantly a production line and proving ground for new talent. Long before they became Inbetweeners, Simon Bird and Joe Thomas starred in its boardroom spoof, The Meeting. Alan Partridge's sidekick Tim Key, who won the Edinburgh Comedy Award with the Dot-produced Slutcracker in 2009, won't stage his shows with anyone else. Edinburgh Comedy Award winner Adam Riches, Best Newcomers Tom Basden and Jonny Sweet and 2012 nominee Claudia O'Doherty are all on the books. In other words, if you were looking for this decade's Day Today gang – the Iannuccis, Coogans and Marbers of the future – this unassuming little warehouse would be a good place to start.

Opening straight off the street, it has whitewashed brick walls, a few rows of wooden chairs – maximum capacity is 75 – and a tiny, barely raised stage, flanked by the toilets. There is a bar at the front. In the summer, a barbecue on the pavement provides free interval burgers and hot dogs. After the shows, acts might hang around for an impromptu Q&A session. It is very much not the O2. And yet (or perhaps for that very reason) comedians love it.

"The Invisible Dot understands how comedy works, and how best to serve the best interests of both performer and punter," says Stewart Lee, who is currently doing a series of work-in-progress shows, priced £8, there. "When I approached other similar-sized venues to do the same thing they actually tried to double their normal prices because I was on."

While comedy is its mainstay, theatre is a growing strand. Political satire Party transferred from the Fringe to the West End, from where it was picked up for three series on Radio 4. Last year it paired Jaime Winstone with Russell Tovey in Sex with a Stranger, marking the West End debut of Stefan Golaszewski (creator of Him & Her). In August it will take two new plays up to the Edinburgh Fringe – a bodyswap comedy by DC Jackson and Holes, a plane crash drama by Tom Basden, with Daniel Rigby (Bafta-winning star of Eric and Ernie) and Mathew Baynton.

There are Invisible Dot books and LPs, too. Each show, event or product is catalogued with its own "ID" number, Factory Records-style. "I'd been reading about Factory Records, Bill Drummond and the KLF – those sort of pranksters," agrees Simon Pearce, 31, self-effacing boss of the Dot, and a Goldsmiths graduate. "I quite like that collision of business and creativity. There's something deeply charming about the stories of those companies who behave quite naughtily." In Edinburgh, its happenings have become a Fringe highlight. They have shipped audiences to the seaside for a gig headlined by Lee, with Kitson as surprise MC, staged three-sided football matches and dumped fake phone boxes around the city: when you picked up the receiver, Will Self, DBC Pierre or another writer would be on the other end, reading stories down a crackling line.

It all began in 2006 with a poem by Russell Brand, or, more accurately, a book of poetry by stand-ups, published by Pearce. Brand (who submitted a piece of blank verse about his sex life), Harry Hill, Tim Vine and Isy Suttie were all enthusiastic contributors, as was Arthur Smith, who paid the costs to get it into print.

After a few years of occasional shows at London's Union Chapel and the Edinburgh Fringe, The Invisible Dot Ltd was established in 2009. Its first home was an impossible-to-find space, no bigger than a classroom, in Camden Stables. By day it functioned as office, studio and rehearsal room; by night, the computers were pushed back to make room for comedy. That summer, it took several shows to the Edinburgh Fringe – Key's Slutcracker, Party and The Hotel, a fake guesthouse staffed by 20 stand-ups – and swept the board for awards.

A permanent home was the logical next step. With the help of their hit shows and a grant from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation's Breakthrough Fund, it moved into Northdown Street last September. Acts have carte blanche to drop in during the day, leading to cross-pollination between established stars and up-and-comers.

New comedy talent is taken very seriously. The self-consciously titled New Wave night is a regular fixture and rising stars are encouraged to host their own events. Claudia O'Doherty, whose Dot-produced show was nominated for the Edinburgh Comedy Award last year, recently staged a series of Friday night variety shows. "It's a place to try stuff where you're not completely terrified it will go wrong," she says.

Audiences too are encouraged to take a risk, and sign up to the programme wholesale. A "natural magnetism" between acts means that it is more than likely that if they like Thursday night's show, they'll enjoy Friday's, too. And with tickets capped at £8 or £10 no matter who tops the bill, it's worth taking a chance. "The through line has always been intelligent comedy writers and performers," says Pearce. "We just thought we'd do stuff that we thought was really good. If something's good it will always find an audience or an audience will always find it."

Meanwhile, the new building is inspiring new ways of presenting comedy, from storytelling nights to movies, short films, director Q&As – Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish are slated to appear – and comedy homages to cinema classics. Ambitions include developing more new writing for the West End and a Hotel-style installation for London. And with its habit of punching well above its size, Invisible Dot Films and Television wouldn't come as too much of a surprise in future.

The Invisible Dot, London N1 (020 7424 8918; theinvisibledot.com)

News

literature

News
Dermot O'Leary attends the X Factor Wembley Arena auditions at Wembley on August 1, 2014 in London, England.

television

News
news
Arts and Entertainment
At this year's SXSW festival in Austin, Texas

Music Why this music festival is still the place to spot the next big thing

Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished
tvReview: The latest episode was a smidgen less depressing... but it’s hardly a bonza beach party
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig as James Bond in Skyfall

Mexican government reportedly paying Bond producers for positive portrayal in new filmfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Disney’s flying baby elephant is set to return in live-action format
filmWith sequels, prequels and spin-offs, Disney plays it safe... and makes a pachyderm
Arts and Entertainment
Nazrin with Syf, Camden
photography
News
The QI Elves photographed at the Soho Theatre. They are part of a team of researchers who find facts for the television programme 'QI'.
people
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv0-star review: Sean O'Grady gives it his best shot anyway
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss