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

Monday, December 11, 2006

"If comedy were a country, this would be its guidebook."


"...if you’ve maybe sampled a bit of stand-up on TV and want pointing in the direction of comedians you might want to try, the Rough Guide is your perfect starting point.

....the inescapable feeling was… damn, why didn’t we think of this?"

Chortle, the UK comedy guide

"It does what it says on the cover, offers a well researched and informative and interesting guide for the more than casual comedy lover. Buy it, read it, then reorganise your DVDs."

Jeremy Austin, The Stage

"If you like stand up comedy this book has to be in your collection. If you haven't got enough room for it, well you've only got your shelf to blame."

Tim Vine


The Daily Telegraph

"...a godsend for punters new to the circuit...Hall clearly knows his stuff."

What's On in London magazine

"lively and informative"

Manchester Evening News

"I've not seen a comedy book like it...highly digestible."

Simon Poole, Oneword Radio

"This book is a great stocking filler for anyone who's remotely interested in comedy. It's split into easy-to-follow sections with the main focus on the true greats of British comedy - from the weird and wonderful Dave Gorman to the big-hitters such as Ben Elton and Paul Merton."

Connect Magazine

Sunday, December 10, 2006


Saturday, December 09, 2006

For review copies, author interviews or to arrange a promotion or giveaway, contact Anna Paynton at the Rough Guides Press Office, 020 7010 3701 or you can contact the author directly on


A new book about British Comedy has been published by Rough Guides. Focusing on the last three decades, the Rough Guide to British Cult Comedy covers the gamut of UK comedy talent, showcasing the cultiest comedians and shows to have entered public consciousness, earning in some cases near-regal status.

"The British comedy scene is an incredibly creative and vigorous one." says Andrew Lockett, Rough Guides publishing director for film, music and culture. "The Edinburgh fringe, for example, is a real comedy powerhouse, as well as being a massive tourist attraction, and it makes perfect sense for Rough Guides to use the popular and direct approach we take in travel guides and other books and apply it to the subject of comedy, both live and on TV and film. Last year we launched the Rough Guide to Comedy Movies, in our film series, and I’m sure it’s an area we’ll return to."

The new comedy guide covers the rise of alternative comedy and surrealist sketch shows, and charts the evolution through to the triumph of reality comedies such as The Office. Along the way, the book includes chapters about US influences, the best comedy venues and recommended DVDs and CDs. "In true Rough Guides spirit," says author Julian Hall, "we’ve also mapped out the major geographical sources of laughter-making, introducing the comedy scene in the major cities and charting the places that have inspired comics, such as David Brent’s Slough, Alan Partridge’s Norwich and the Royle family’s Manchester."

Julian Hall, who is comedy critic of the Independent, says "With the explosion in comedy since the 1980s, it’s really hard to believe there’s anyone over the age of 25 who hasn’t yet experienced one of the UK’s comedy nights, but there’s a first time for everyone. My hope is this book will help many more comedy virgins lose their innocence. If you miss out on the live circuit you miss out on the origins of many of Britain’s best-loved TV comedies – for example The Young Ones, The League Of Gentlemen, Phoenix Nights, Black Books and The Fast Show."
At the core of the Rough Guide to British Cult Comedy is a chapter entitled Icons, profiling the most influential comedians to have emerged in the last 25 years. The book also contains a top-ten guide to the best-ever live acts.

The Rough Guide will tell you which comic legends started out as impressionists, which foppish film star might have become a live comedian and which comic was rendered utterly helpless as he was laughed off the stage by demonic hecklers. The Rough Guide also explores the craft of comedy – writing and presenting good stand-up and creating sketches and sitcoms – and it covers the basics of getting into, and surviving, the terrifying art of standup. "We’ve thrown in some funny stories for good measure," says Hall, "the kinds of things that only happen to a comic – or someone watching a comic."

"But the main aim." says Hall, "is to increase people’s enjoyment of comedy, in person or at home. The comedy business is full of underrated comics and there’s more to TV comedy than Little Britain, funny as that can be."

Friday, December 08, 2006

Jerry Sadowitz with more than just tricks up his sleeve.
Photo by Geraint Lewis.

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.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Cult TV Comedy

In The Cult TV Chapter are Absolutely, Absolutely Fabulous, The Adam And Joe Show, Agony, Anyone For Pennis, Big Train, A Bit Of Fry And Laurie, Black Books, Blackadder, Bo Selecta, The Comic Strip Presents, The Day Today/Brass Eye, Desmonds, Early Doors, The Eleven O'Clock Show, The Fall & Rise of Reginald Perrin, Father Ted, 15 Storeys High, Green Wing, The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, Kelly Monteith, The Kenny Everett Show, The Fast Show, Goodness Gracious Me, The Innes Book of Records, Knowing Me Knowing You...with Alan Partridge/I'm Alan Partridge, The League of Gentlemen, Little Britain, Marion And Geoff, The Mark Thomas Comedy Product,Men Behaving Badly, The New Statesman, Nighty Night, No Angels, Not The Nine O'Clock News, The Office, Peep Show, People Like Us, Rising Damp, The Royle Family, Saturday Live/Friday Night Live, Shameless, Shelley, Smack The Pony, Spaced, Spitting Image, That Peter Kay Thing/Phoenix Nights, The Thick Of It, Trigger Happy TV, The Young Ones.

Network DVD have just released Shelley: The Complete First Series and on 16th April, 2007 they will be releasing Saturday Live: The Best Of The First Season. Check out for more details.
Bonus excerpt from the book!
In The Rough Guide To British Cult Comedy I compiled a list of some of the not-so-hot comedy shows of the last thirty years, and here they are...
Trippers Day, 1984
After Leonard Rossiter’s work in Rising Damp and The Fall And Rise Of Reginald Perrin, this lame tale of a supermarket manager struggling to control his staff was
almost heartbreaking to watch. The jokes hit the floor with a heavy thud.

Up The Elephant And Round The Castle, 1983–85
Worse even than Jim Davidson’s dubious talents as an actor were the scripts for this sitcom which made his character’s birds and booze quests far less diverting
than Davidson’s tabloid escapades.
Yus My Dear, 1976
Spun off the dire, racially stereotyping sitcom Romany Jones, named after veteran comic actor Arthur Mullard’s lame catch phrase, this was so hideously unfunny even ITV yanked it off air after one series.
Take A Letter, Mr Jones..., 1981
This sitcom was a vehicle for Are You Being Served?’s camp hero John Inman (Mr Humphries) but a onedimensional plot about him being the secretary (and not a
woman) flagged halfway through the first episode.

Mr Bean, 1990–95
Though successful, with even a smash movie spin-off, there’s surely only so much face-gurning you can take from Rowan Atkinson who went from the sublime Blackadder to the ridiculous with this show.

The Upper Hand, 1990–96
This dull remake of the popular US sitcom Who’s The Boss, had a one-joke premise that everything else fell around: the will they, won’t they, who cares anyway issue of whether widower/housekeeper Charlie (Joe McGann) would get it together with his employer Caroline (Diana Weston).

Keeping Up Appearances, 1990–95
Though attracting devoted fans in number this comedy of manners had nothing on its sparkling predecessor, The Good Life.
Babes in The Wood, 1998–99
Samantha Janus and Denise Van Outen were easy on the eye for male viewers but this hackneyed young, free and single “birds on their own” premise was looking
decidedly jaded by this point in comedy history.
Coupling, 2000
A shrill exploitation of the Friends formula, this retread had the same number of characters as the US sitcom but one sixth of the charm and guile.
Shane, 2004
A disappointingly middle-of-the-road outing for Frank Skinner, almost as cheesy as Jim Davidson’s Up The Elephant And Round The Castle (above).

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The US Comedy Connection

Fans of US comedy will be delighted to know that there is a whole chapter on the Amercians who have made us laugh from Lenny Bruce to Doug Stanhope (photo by Geraint Lewis) and TV shows from Taxi to Curb Your Enthusiasm. As well as profiles, British comedians such as Arthur Smith, Dave Gorman and Richard Herring reveal their favourite influences from across the Atlantic:

Dave Gorman: “Janeane Garofalo is very different to the normal run-of-the-mill, snappy, sassy kind of comic. Todd Barry is great in a modern-day-slightlycreepy-Woody-Allen way. One of the most amazing things I’ve seen live was Steve Martin doing a short routine about his singing testicles. He didn’t speak a word but every detail was spot on and he just oozed class.”

Richard Herring: “Larry David because Curb Your Enthusiasm is the greatest comedy TV show ever. The team behind Spinal Tap who influenced my entire generation of comedians more than anyone could imagine. Woody Allen because I would like to be him – apart from the bit about marrying your own daughter.”

Arthur Smith: “George Carlin for his originality and Richard Jeni because he once caused me to fall over laughing. Once, in a club in San Francisco, I fell in love with a comic called Bernadette Luckette. Would it have been better if I had spoken to her?”

Featured in the US chapter are the following comedians and comedy shows:

Woody Allen, Lenny Bruce, Christopher Guest, Rich Hall, Bill Hicks, Andy Kaufman, Sam Kinison, Steve Martin, Eddie Murphy, Emo Philips, Richard Pryor, Chris Rock, Rita Rudner, Doug Stanhope, Robin Williams, Steven Wright & Cheers, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Frasier, Friends, It's Garry Shandling/The Larry Sanders Show, Roseanne, Saturday Night Live, Seinfeld, Sex In The City, The Simpsons, Taxi.