This is a static blog for the book "The Rough Guide to British Cult Comedy" still available at all good bookshops and online stores. For my more recent comedy musings please check my

Thursday, December 07, 2006

The Rough Guide to British Cult Comedy’s Top 50
Icons: The Faces of Comedy

The Rough Guide focuses here on comedians who have achieved success largely through their live performances. Strictly alphabetically. . .

Keith Allen
Bill Bailey
Adam Bloom
Arnold Brown
Brendon Burns
Ed Byrne
Alan Carr
Julian Clary
Ian Cognito
Omid Djalili
Jenny Eclair
Ben Elton
Harry Enfield
Lee Evans
Graham Fellows
Rhod Gilbert
Dave Gorman
Boothby Graffoe
Malcolm Hardee
Hattie Hayridge
John Hegley
Harry Hill
Sean Hughes
Reginald D. Hunter
Lee Hurst
Eddie Izzard
Milton Jones
Phil Kay
Daniel Kitson
Mark Lamarr
Gary Le Strange
Stewart Lee
Andrew Maxwell
Paul Merton
The Mighty Boosh
Dylan Moran
Simon Munnery
Al Murray
Robert Newman
Ross Noble
Hovis Presley
Reeves and Mortimer
Jerry Sadowitz
Alexei Sayle
Arthur Smith
Jim Tavare
Johnny Vegas
Tim Vine
Mark Watson
Nick Wilty

Alan Carr looking shocked at one of his own jokes.

Photo by Geraint Lewis

And out of these, the Rough Guide’s all-time Top 10 live acts?

The Rough Guide nails its colours firmly to the mast on page 69, calling Eddie Izzard "Without question the showman of comedy, with lavish stage and stadium sets that don’t distract from his inspired moments".

#1. Eddie Izzard
#2. Daniel Kitson
#3. Andrew Maxwell
#4. Alan Carr
#5. Robert Newman
#6. Ross Noble
#7. Mark Watson
#8. Jerry Sadowitz
#9. Brendon Burns
#10. Tim Vine

Comedians Laughing at Themselves

Among the great anecdotes in the book is this fine specimen from stand-up Mike Gunn, who used to have an act as an undertaker character but now appears as himself:

“I was doing a corporate gig about six years ago for accountants at a hotel near the Barbican. Corporates pay well but the odds are stacked against you from the beginning – there’s no PA, no mic, the room is gigantic and there’s a big space in front of the stage.

“I was doing my act in character as a funeral director. I arrived as they were having dinner. I could see that there were about 200 people in the room all over 60, far too close to death to enjoy my act. After 18 minutes of the 30 I was supposed to do, I couldn’t take the
silence any longer and decided to cut and run.

“I’d noticed a door at the side and slipped through that. I found myself in the kitchen and ran into an old guy. I saw some padlocked doors and asked him if there was any other way out. He said no. Then I saw a dumb waiter with doors about three feet high. The old guy said it led to the ballroom downstairs. I just didn’t want to go through the main room again so I got him to agree to lower me down. When I arrived at the floor below, I pushed the doors open to find myself in the ballroom – along with all the people who I’d just died in front of, dancing the night away.”

I want to include a number of things on the blog that we couldn't pack into the book, so I am going to start with a slot about who the favourite comedians of your favourite comedians are.

The first example I am posting is Stewart Lee on Eighties absurdist Ted Chippington, (topical at the time of writing because Chipping was the subject of a number of press articles and a sold-out tribute gig called Tedstock that Stewart Lee organised):

"Ted Chippington was the person that made me want to be a stand-up. I saw him supporting The Fall in Birmingahm in 1984 when I was 15 or 16. Back then you were either Bernard Manning or Ben Elton, or an ex-folk-singer. Ted was totally his own thing. His uncompromising, incomprehensible set was, and remains, themost punk rock thing I ever saw. "

Dave Gorman:

"Of all time it's Morecambe & Wise. It’s just the perfect chemistry and the content is great. There isn’t the desperate anything-so-long-as-it’s-funny feel to it that some other stuff from that era has, it was always funny and it always had Morecambe & Wise DNA in it as well.
Of comedians working today...Stewart Lee is back to top form and doing his own thing remarkably well. Harry Hill is one of the most remarkable live performers there is. John Hegley is still the man I most enjoy watching. He was probably the man most responsible for inspiring me to go into comedy and he remains an incredible comic voice. The best comedy isn’t about pandering to the audience’s sense of humour, it’s about persuading them to your sense of humour – I want to watch a comedian doing material that no one else could do, not some interchangeable jokes that anyone on the bill could have swapped around - and all of these comics do it superbly in their own ways."

More favourite's favourites to follow...


The company Go Faster Stripe is releasing DVDs for comedians that might not usually get commercial releases including Stewart Lee and in May and June 2007, Simon Munnery and Richard Herring respectively. Check out for more details.