Five sketch shows you've forgotten that launched 86% of all comedians
Andrew Mickel25 June 2012
From Tate to Walliams and Kay to Key, here are five sketch shows that helped launch today's TV comedy scene
While TV sketch shows these days seem to be platforms for fully-formed properties, there was a time when loose confederations of aspiring comedians used them as the first rung on the broadcasting ladder. This week we're looking at lost comedy articles from us and other sites (starting over here), but right here we look at five sketch shows that launched dozens of names on to our screens.
Barking (Channel 4, 1998)
This is the motherload of pre-famous sketch show groups, pulling together a mega-roster of today's biggest comedy properties. There's very little we know in terms of content: there's one clip on YouTube, we didn't watch it and we don't have £6.19 to spare.
But internet opinion seems to be landing largely on 'oh look here is David Walliams doing Little Britain-y things before they were fully formed, and some other work-in-progress sort of sketches from other people who look younger/have worse hair than they do now'.
WHO WAS IN IT
Catherine Tate, who took the Doctor Who shortcut to becoming a national institution ahead of time.
David Walliams, Cowell baiter, expanse swimmer and the UK's first flirt laureate.
Omid Djalili, Hollywood's go-to Man From The Middle East and surprisingly good actor.
Peter Kay, national rememberer of biscuits and piers.
Dave Lamb, as Come Dine With Me's voiceover, has kept More4's daytime schedule in contention since 2005.
Mackenzie Crook, whose career post-Office and Pirates is either diverse or spattergun, depending on your viewpoint.
Rhys Thomas, playing comic characters in their late twenties in a career spanning three decades.
Marcus Brigstocke, Radio 4's arched left eyebrow. (Sue Perkins controls the right.)
Big Train (BBC Two, 1998-2002)
The first big show by Arthur Mathews and Graham Linehan after Father Ted, Big Train wasn't quite the first crack at the big time that Barking was, but it was a crucial step for cementing quite a few names in the public's comedy imagination.
It's the best known on this list and has stood the test of time with sketches like the staring contests, and thanks in part to going round on UKTV G2 in heavy rotation 'back in the day'.
WHO WAS IN IT
Simon Pegg, although he had already been in Lynda Bellingham megavehicle Faith In The Future, so his future was already safe.
Julia Davis, before she started hanging around with that Coogan and being all dark and that.
Mark Heap, who is cutting his larky teeth here for Green Wing.
Kevin Eldon, who was also already a solid comic actor and just sort of Carried On Doing That.
Amelia Bullmore, who was leaving behind her turn as Des's wife an Corrie and moving to comedy.
Rebecca Front, although she was already 'a person' from various Coogan/Iannucci/Morris properties.
Tracy-Ann Oberman and her hair, before she done that EastEnders murder. Now presents that soap quiz on Radio 2. Gay icon in waiting.
Bruiser (BBC Choice, 2000)
There was a very strange episode of Watchdog back in February 2000 (bear with me) where Anne Robinson turned to her sidekick Charlotte Hudson and made her all sheepish by asking about her new sketch show on BBC Choice that night. At the time, Hudson was probably the biggest name in the show, which was one of the BBC's earliest efforts at using digital channels as nursery slopes. The show wasn't exactly consistent, bringing Fast Show-esque catchphrases without the wit of Whitehouse, but with new writers like Ricky Gervais and Richard Ayoade on board it was a solid enough start to launch some very big names.
Here's an actually quite funny clip.
WHO WAS IN IT
David Mitchell and Robert Webb, the nation's Confused Young(ish) Men and thinking women's crumpets-in-chief.
Olivia Coleman, lovely mumsy Olivia Coleman.
Martin Freeman, who can now be seen YELLING AS A WAY OF SIGNIFYING EMOTION all over Sherlock.
Matt Holness, whose name you're probably more used to seeing preceded by the words 'creator of criminally underrated show Garth Merenghi -'. He most recently penned a play for Sky Arts Playhouse.
Charlotte Hudson, who does Regular Person TV Presenting these days. Or at least, did until a couple of years ago.
Spoons (Channel 4, 2005)
The last bout of sketch formats for new acts (cue four dozen suggestions of more recent ones on Twitter) came with Channel 4's Spoons, and Nick Frost-led Man Stroke Women on BBC Three.
Spoons is notable for being co-penned by Charlie Brooker, as he wended his way from digital backwater filler (like the Catherine Tate-starring E4 remake of listings website TVGoHome) to the nation's informed Waldorf/Statler heckler-in-chief.
It's the same themes as with previous shows on this list: great ideas and lines mixed in with over-repetitiveness and filler sketches (or 'Watson and Oliver syndrome' as it is now known). Still, nursery slopes, innit? That's the whole point...
WHO WAS IN IT
Rob Rouse, who has since returned to looking like the startled boyfriend of stand-up comedy.
Kevin Bishop, the gay fantasy and room divider in his first comedy show.
Josie D'Arby, the always-unexpectedly-funny CBBC presenter and former Casualty nurse.
Tom Goodman-Hill, the current living embodiment of the National Theatre.
Simon Farnaby, the intrigingly-haired Booshiverse orbiter and Horrible Historian.
Kerry Godliman, who was most recently tremendous in the so-so Derek.
Rosie Cavaliero, who as Elizabeth Bower has gamely noted on the Twitters is in the clip above/was in Jam & Jerusalem/is in Spy.
Elizabeth Bower, who as Elizabeth Bower has gamely noted on the Twitters, was also in Spoons. Elizabeth Bower.
Cowards (BBC Four, 2008)
And that brings us up to the modern era, where groups are already fully formed before they hit the screen.
While many a hot Edinburgh sketch property have spawned potent solo performers, Cowards were luckily spotted before they went their separate ways, giving a chance for them to record 90 minutes of awesome TV.
The sketches bring an unsettled undercurrent to some big, dumb beta male laughs. It's a bit like if Daphne Du Maurier was a scriptwriter on White Van Man. It also worked far more effectively than their Radio 4 show, which overflowed with laughter tracks that stomped all over the abstracted sense of dislocation the TV show managed.
And here's the best bit: it's all on YouTube.
WHO WAS IN IT
Tim Key, master of mumbling poetry, who completed his Masterslut trilogy at Edinburgh last year. Has become the go-to guy for Professional Faffing on TV for everyone from Charlie Brooker to Skins.
Tom Basden, who has since penned plays, and worked with Key on sketch group Freeze and Radio 4's Tim Key's Late Night Poetry Programme.
Stefan Golaszewski, who has since penned BBC Three's Him & Her and West End play Sex With A Stranger. Eyes like compelling coal.
Lloyd Woolf, who after giving the impression of turning into an actor on their way down and out by appearing in every commercial known to man, turned up as the writer of Sky 1's recession comedy Parents.
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