The Top 100 most influential people in comedy: 100 - 81
Tim Clark18 June 2012
The Top 100 people in comedy list, numbers 100 to 81
New to the list? Start with the introduction to why and how we've got about piecing together this list over here.
100. Billy Connolly
A lot of people can convincingly be named the prototype superstar comedian, but the Big Yin has one of the strongest claims at the title.
He made his name as the original everyman outsider to celebrity conventions and Oxbridge comedy, with his coming-up-the-hard-way back story, amiable comedy songs, and appearances on Parkinson and the Secret Policeman's Ball coming together to make him more than simply a McIntyre/Flanagan hybrid of his day.
There's a risk that his career over the last 20 years means a new generation will only know him as that guy off the TV travel docs who appears in woefully-picked Hollywood films, with his periodic returns to stand-up more about the cash than the comedy. Still, older comics picked him as the most influential stand-up of all time in a poll earlier this year for a reason: the sector wouldn't look like it does today without him.
99. Bill Bailey
The ongoing renaissance in musical comedy can be in part attributed to Bailey, the amiable mad professor-in-waiting who hides one of the sharpest comedy minds behind his deep, daft sensibilities.
Coupling family-friendly turns on Doctor Who and nature docs with a wide-ranging musical taste (see: the Sonisphere performance and his Royal Albert Hall appearances) have ensured he can sell out wherever he goes, while his quitting Never Mind The Buzzcocks and willingness to take risks, such as his tour of tiny Scottish venues, shows his massive public appeal isn't about to cause him to sell out.
98. Micky Flanagan
At first glance, Flanagan seems badly-placed among the comedians who have profited from comedy's recent boom years to go the distance: he's come from nowhere to top of the game in two years flat; the everyman comedian is in a golden handcuffs deal with the more metropolitan Channel 4; and his biggest shows so far have been flops Epic Win and the Mad Bad Ad Show. So why is he on our list?
Because in an age where Cambridge comics are ruling the comedy roost and often failing to connect with mass audiences, Flanagan is the best-placed comedian to save us from mass comedy being defined by Mrs Brown's Boys and Benidorm. Equally impressive is how Flanagan has managed to get to where he is without being ordained by the big comedy promoters such as Off The Kerb or Avalon. A deserved tip of the cap in his direction.
97. Mel and Sue
We're expecting this might be one of the most controversial on the list – it caused a bit of a row in the judging panel too - but you have a think about who female comics looked to as influences when they were young.
Now Sue wields the archest of arch eyebrows on Radio 4 and Mel has become the audio equivalent of a cupcake on 4 Extra, it's easy to overlook the impact that the first claimants at the 'new French and Saunders' tag had on many female comics.
The former Cambridge Footlights put a pitch-perfect partnership together to make daytime TV's one watchable show of the last twenty years (sorry, Neighbours).
96. David Mitchell
There's a reason why Mr Middle Class tops many a woman's guilty crush list. His video monologues and Observer columns have shown how unrelentingly sensible he is, while his stints on panel shows and Peep Show amiably tap into a deeply British vein of misanthropy and self-effacement.
Throw in the heady mix of careful interviewing and right-on ranting that formed 10 O'Clock Live and it's no wonder that Only Connect school maam Victoria Coren snapped him up.
He may be one of the most prolific voices and faces on British TV, but no-one's complaining just yet. Read David Mitchell's full profile here.
95. Tim Key
While he has some detractors who don't get the joke, to many comedy fans, Tim Key is an inherently funny man who's gently observed actions and way with words provides an ideal showcase of pathos and bathos. The twitchy breakout star of uber-talented sketch group Cowards has made pulling a poetry book out your back pocket and reciting a few lines of verse a common sight in comedy clubs. And his careful wending through the back of many TV franchises (Skins, Buzzcocks, Partridge and Newswipe among them) is showing there's more to the poet who knows it.
94. Kenton Allen
Kenton Allen first became CEO of Big Talk Productions when BBC Worldwide took a 25% stake in the company in 2008 (he was previously the creative head of comedy at the Corporation, where he had produced the Royle Family back when it still had jokes). The company was successful then, but has truly grown in the last four years to adapt to life in a multi-channel world. While Rev, Show Me The Funny and Friday Night Dinner are keeping a strong foothold in terrestrial broadcasting, BBC Three's Him & Her, Sky 1's Chickens and particularly Comedy Central's overlooked Threesome are showing a willingness to take a punt on new writers and avenues.
If anyone is going to rise on this list, we’d put our money on Kenton and Big Talk raising their game still further in the next few years.
93. Richard Herring
There's an element of Bridget Jones to Herring's daily blog, but it's exactly that open-minded and open-hearted approach, combined with a willingness to experiment with low-brow daft ideas (Hitler moustaches, anyone?) and sharp-witted comedy, that has deservedly won him a cult audience who keep coming back to see what he's doing next.
There are few Edinburgh regulars in their mid-forties on such good form, but a wide and varied comedy CV which stretches back decades, along with a constant inventiveness means he'll hopefully keep coming back for years to come.
92. Karen Koren
The Gilded Balloon stands like a castle of comedy in the heart of the Edinburgh Fringe, which Koren has helmed at its different bases since establishing the venue in 1986. Without Koren, then, there'd be no Late'n'Live - and how else are we supposed to keep unruly comedians' egos in check? - nor would there be the biggest new act competition in the business, So You Think You're Funny.
Koren has been overshadowed in recent years by the New Kids On The Block at the Edinburgh Festival, however she's nurtured now-major names for 25 years, and as her packed weekly Scotsman column shows, there could be another 25 years in her yet...
91. Myfanwy Moore
ITV was once the home of the biggest sitcoms around - just check the ITV3 schedules. But since it started redefining the lowest common denominator in comedy terms (hello, Babes in the Wood) in the late nineties, it has become comedy desert. But no longer: Myfanwy Moore, who once oversaw Little Britain's rise to the top, has been drafted in to build on Benidorm's success and reconnect with comedy.
This is very much a work in progress, but with new pilots coming with Russell Tovey, John Barrowman and Jonathan Ross, and strong support from the bosses at the broadcaster, there's a good chance of success.
90. Jason Manford
Manford has packed an astounding amount of triumph and failure into a career for a man who's only just hit 30. 8 out of 10 Cats and comedy gigs at the O2 have proven his popularity; The One Show scandal and the failure of late-night comedy show Tonightly (although in fairness, he's hardly alone in failing to crack the format) weigh against him.
Still, to the public, his hosting duties on Show Me The Funny have anchored him as a populist Mr Funny, and with an ITV comedy renaissance in the offing he's well-placed to capitalise on it.
89. Steve North / Jane Rogerson
UKTV's move into more original programming is happening very tentatively, but head of commissioning Rogerson and Dave and Gold general manager boss Steve North have now resurrected Red Dwarf and Yes, Prime Minister. With the sizeable audiences on Dave there's lots of room for something truly new to truly make UKTV feel like a real part of the comedy landscape.
UKTV Dave has a big challenge on it’s hands convincing the industry that it is more than a graveyard for HIGNFY and Mock The Week episodes – and even on of it’s own comedians, Russell Howard pointed out that ‘Dave is Killing Comedy’ but if the channel can overcome these obstacles then it is ideally placed to take comedy to the next generation of fans.
88. Josie Long
There's a profound absence of political comedy in the tumultuous times we live in, but while many of her contemporaries recede into anecdotes about trivial household items Long has held her head above the pulpit to side herself with protesters everywhere .
Throw in her hipster sentiments - most recently landing a slot with Andrew Collins on 6 Music - and the fact she's funny enough to keep up the Edinburgh Comedy Award nominations, and Long has carved herself a unique place in comedy. Read a full profile here.
87. Paul Merton
If this list was put together fifteen years ago then Merton is one name that would be a lot higher on this list. He has a clear legacy as comedy's best-known improviser, from being the first among equals with the Comedy Store Players, through Whose Line Is It Anyway and on to helping Just A Minute keep up to speed.
His turns on Have I Got News For You have gone from surreal outsider to phone-it-in complacency, but when ITV started their own improvisation show a few years ago, there was clearly only one man to call.
86. Russell Kane
Fifty per cent Edinburgh award-winning stand-up; fifty per cent dross host of I'm A Celebrity spinoffs, BBC Three freakumentaries and even Geordie Shore reunions. There's something thoroughly 'of our times' about Kane, both in the shape of his career and in the nature of his material, dealing with metrosexuality and his macho forebears.
And at a time when Stewart Lee-derivatives are draping themselves over the mic stand, he shows younger comedians how to have energy without turning in to the fast-becoming maligned young men in t-shirts noticing things.
85. Alex Armitage
Next year marks 75 years in the business for the Noel Gay organisation, currently headed by Alex Armitage, grandson of founder Reginald. The talent roster is huge, bringing people like Robin Ince, Jeremy Hardy, Milton Jones and even Su Pollard (Su Ruddy Pollard) together.
Whether you want Stephen Fry for a corporate or Mark Steel for a presenting job, it's a powerful organisation.
84. Jack Dee
After twenty years in one of the most complaint-filled sectors there is, Dee retains his crown as Mr Grumpy, and it's helped him get his fingers into a lot of franchise pies - captain on Shooting Stars, seemingly the new permanent host of I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue, extensive duties on HIGNFY and hosting the original big-name stand-up slot on BBC One. Throw in co-writing duties on Lead Balloon and he's shown how to be a career comedian at the top of the TV game.
83. Iain Morris and Damon Beesley
Writers of the Inbetweeners - the show that out-teenaged Skins - Morris and Beesley helped to create E4's biggest hit, not to mention helping to raise a huge amount of cash for Channel 4 with last summer's film.
They've ruled out writing more of the franchise and it's not clear what their next move might be - they are both former comedy commissioners and also prolific producers, having worked on lots of Jimmy Carr - but after the huge success of their most famous creations, it seems likely they could get new writing commissioned faster than you can say 'clunge'.
82. Charlie Brooker
The last couple of years of Brooker straying from his origins as a TV and media critic have been uneven: 10 O'Clock Live still feels like its finding its feet (Ten O'Clock Live, what we have learnt), but like Brooker's much-circulated Guardian columns, when he actually means what he's saying, he's the master of his form.
Black Mirror has helped remind audiences that Brooker can do drama, and a Touch of Cloth on Sky later this year will bring comedy and drama together in what should be a potent spoof. More important, though, has been setting the tone for a whole generation of misanthropic young men: you can sense he's a little embarrassed by its coarse and wide-spread replication, but between his dramatic writing and Wipe franchise, he's become one of the most important writers in TV today.
81. Robin Ince
From launching new and experimental show the Book Club in 2006 to the award-winning science show/live tour combo of the Infinite Monkey Cage and its Uncaged Monkeys, Ince has found new ways to deliver comedy to an adoring audience.
Like the physical embodiment of the Latitude festival, his taste for science (Bright Club), books (Book Club) and the internet (no internet club - does the British Humanist Association count?) have made him a cult favourite. Indeed, you can't have a festival with a talking or comedy component without one of Ince or Minchin turning up these days.
Right, that's it. More tomorrow...
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