A year ago, it seemed incredible that Chris Rock could sell out a comedy show in the O2, but we're already getting to the point where the erstwhile Millennium Dome is just another port of call for an A-list stand-up: witness The Pub Landlord's Beautiful British Tour ( www.thepubland-lord.com), which begins on 22 February at the Liverpool Empire (0844 847 2525) and takes in a further 50 dates, including two at the O2 (0844 856 0202) in May.
Viewers of Al Murray's Happy Hour will already know that he can interact with a crowd the way a conductor leads a symphony orchestra. Except that the music's all in his head. And he's making it up as he goes along. The question now is whether he can banter with 20,000 punters at once. But if anyone can do it, Murray can.
A comedian who's well on his way to O2-sized venues is Russell Brand ( www.russellbrand.tv), who kicks off his winter tour at the Reading Hexagon (0118-960 6060) on 18 January. It's probably about time we were reminded that, whatever the animus of a Daily Mail-led campaign to undermine the licence fee, Brand is one of Britain's most distinctive and dazzling new comedians. No prizes for guessing what half his material will be about.
If you prefer a more respectable, cardigany sort of comic, see Alex Horne (alexhorne.com), who makes a point of looking like the last person on earth who would prank-call Andrew Sachs or dress up as a pirate in drag. A professorial young fellow, mildly harassed by his own thought processes and by the multimedia technology he uses, Horne is still as quick-witted and engaging as they come. He's touring his 2007 Edinburgh show, Birdwatching, from February through to April, beginning at the Derby Assembly Rooms (01332 255800), on 1 February.
Other fine comics who are already on tour are Rhod Gilbert and Russell Kane, both of whom were shortlisted for 2008's if.comedy award; Arthur Smith, one of our leading Grumpy Old Men; and Dylan Moran, a grumpy middle-aged man who's added several February dates to his tour, starting with Portsmouth Guildhall (023- 9282 4355) on 6 February. You can also see some of the country's best live acts under one roof, more or less, at the Leicester Comedy Festival (various venues, 6-15 February, www.comedy-festival.co.uk). The line-up features Rhod Gilbert, Andy Parsons, Jimmy Carr, Ed Byrne, Mark Watson and Josie Long.