The Top 100 most influential people in comedy 40-21
Andrew Mickel20 June 2012
Today we put on the Top of the Pops theme tune, crack out our Mark Goodier impression and start on the top 40...
40. Russell Howard
While Russell Howard's Good News has hardly created a distinctive enough agenda to be profoundly different from Howard's alma mater Mock The Week, it's a huge hit for bringing satire to young audiences, while the extended Saturday version also gives unaired stand-ups their first break on telly.
His current tour, Right Here Right Now, sold out in days - and his constant presence on Heat's weird crush list means he's got a dedicated audience for the long term. Howard is the godfather of young men in t-shirts noticing things, but his puppyish enthusiasm seems set to give him a comedy career long after the bubble bursts.
Read more about Russell here.
39. Mark Thomas
It's a fair question that's been asked with increasing urgency the last two years: where are all the political comedians?
For those comedians who want to engage with real world issues, Thomas's blend of populist stunts, investigative journalism techniques and willingness to engage with political campaigns on everything from dams in Turkey, to corporate human rights abuses in South America and the Israeli separation barrier, has marked him out as a one of a kind.
His messy end with Channel 4 means he has had to find new inventive ways to connect with audiences, but the fact he's managed to do that for a decade shows there continues to be an audience for his kind of comedy.
38. Corden and Jones
Sound the simplified comedy history siren: Gavin and Stacey came along at a time that a lot of TV comedy had coarsened to a blend of The Office mock docs, testosterone-powered panel shows and Monkey Dust base laughs.
Corden and Jones's show proved that audiences would respond to softer, cockle-warming shows, helping to pave the way for the likes of Miranda and Jones's new Sky 1 stellar-rating Stella, a show so genial it makes Gavin and Stacey look like Grindhouse.
With Corden now completing his very public rehabilitation after the arrogance of the later Horne and Corden years, they remain (separately) the go-to guys for warm-hearted comedy.
37. Zai Bennett
Having axed many shows closely associated with BBC Three - Ideal, Two Pints and Mongrels - Zai Bennett has taken a real risk to free up valuable programming budget to make new shows.
While the decisions so far have been scattergun - axing White Van Man, commissioning the quickly buried Word Series of Dating, and recommissioning the exceptionally so-so Pramface before it even started airing - there's plenty of time to find new comedy from the channel that has yielded brash hits as Pulling and Little Britain.
36. Tania Harrison
Though Glastonbury may still have the hollow tag-line 'festival of performing arts', it is Latitude which makes the comedy and theatre crowd excited, and gets comedians in front of massive, comedy-literate audiences in the festival season.
For comedians with a certain Radio 4 vibe (hi there, Robin Ince) Latitude is the biggest live event of the year.
Harrison also manages all of Festival Republic's artistic line-up, including Reading, Leeds and (cancelled til 2013's) Big Chill, and chaired the Edinburgh Comedy Awards in 2011.
Read more on Tania here.
35. Bain and Armstrong
Peep Show alone would land Bain and Armstrong a good spot on the list, but the success of Fresh Meat, along with the upcoming soap spoof Bad Sugar (bringing together the mind-melting dream combo of Sharon Horgan, Olivia Colman and Julia Davis), not to mention writing for the Thick Of It/In The Loop/Veep sprawl, make Bain and Armstrong the go-to guys for comedy fans with university degrees.
34. Mark Freeland
As head of in-house BBC comedy, Mark Freeland has the enviable job of keeping BBC comedy production in good nick at a time that the broadcaster's rivals have been given their biggest comedy budgets in years.
He presides over a diverse portfolio, taking in everything from the celebrated Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle, to Kevin Eldon's upcoming show, and the Yes, Prime Minister revival for Gold. While the Corporation's comedy output may be struggling to remain distinctive in the face of strict competition - perhaps best shown by the disappointing Extras retread that was Life's Too Short - it remains the biggest operation in the business.
33. Graham Norton
We're expecting this might raise a few eyebrows, but Norton essentially set the tone - rightly or wrongly - for what is expected of comedy chat shows today. Warmth, filth, some funny things plucked off the internet: the formula has been broadly the same since he filled in for Jack Docherty in Channel 5's early days.
Now with Norton remaining the king of the light-hearted interview on BBC One, Alan Carr is doing much the same thing on Four and Sarah Millican is in roughly the same terrain on Beeb Two - it really is only Jonathan Ross who's been around long enough to do something profoundly different.
With a new show on BBC America he could be poised to go international.
32. Don Ward
The Comedy Store was founded by Ward 33 years ago and is still going strong. While it made its name with eighties alternative comedy, it remains a major ambition for a lot of aspiring comedians to get their first performance there.
The importance of venue owners to provide a platform for comedy is shown by the way King Gong and the Comedy Store Players have become part of the fabric of British comedy. Throw in the Manchester Comedy Store (and Ward's overseeing of the city's comedy festival) and brave new ventures overseas, and Ward remains a key player in comedy.
Read more about Don here.
31. Julia Davis
Nighty Night, Human Remains, the 28 minutes of Lizzie and Sarah that have been committed to film, and soon on Sky Atlantic, Hunderby: say Davis, think dark comedy.
As the woman who makes the League of Gentlemen seem like sunny Butlin's performers, Davis is one of the most inventive writers in TV, and along with Kevin Eldon occupies more circles on the cult comedy Venn diagram than pretty much anyone else: Brass Eye, Nathan Barley and Shaun of the Dead to name a few.
Alongside spouse Julian Barrett, she's also half of the comedy couple you wish were your cooler-than-you parents.
30. Tim Minchin
His sell-out performances with orchestras around the world would easily land him a place on the list, but add in his work on critical and box office hit Matilda, and Minchin has quickly transcended his cultish beginnings.
After several US chat show appearances and the Broadway transfer for Matilda, he seems set to go global before 2012 is out.
Read more about Tim here.
29. Sarah Millican
No-one in comedy had a better 2011 than Millican, and 2012 looks set to cement her place in comedy fans' hearts: even her hideously over-formatted BBC Two show couldn't hide her clear role as inheriting the Graham Norton crown of gentle filth.
She's sold more DVDs faster than any other female comedian, can make even P Diddy blush with her warm but filthy anecdotes, and more than anyone else she's effectively batted away the 'women in comedy' question by sheer force of hilarity.
Read more about Sarah here.
28. Eddie Izzard
Poised, witty and saying something interesting: it might be tricky to hunt out fresh Izzard, but when he speaks, people listen.
He made marathon running a gravitas-earning occupation, and now jointly holds the mantle for sportiest comedian with David Walliams - the two people who managed the impossible and made Sport Relief make sense.
His level-headed pro-EU campaigning puts most of the political class to shame, and his wending through a series of Hollywood films, from Cars 2 to Snow White, shows his talent is recognisable internationally.
He has even popped up doing standup in a south London comedy club in recent months so fingers crossed the comedy part of his career is dormant rather than extinct...
Read more about Eddie here.
27. Jimmy Mulville
Hat Trick is one of the biggest comedy indies in the country, with the rabbit pulling a man out of a man after the credits have rolled on everything from Room 101 to Outnumbered and HIGNFY.
While it has a strong heritage with shows like the Kumars, Father Ted and Drop The Dead Donkey, the company is also good to making the best of new opportunities, taking Spy to Sky 1 before the broadcaster had established itself as a major comedy player, and now developing a big-screen version of Facejacker.
The company was taken to great heights by Mulville and Denise O'Donoghue, but with Denise now running things at ITV's in-house production unit, it's just Jimmy running the show these days.
Read more about Jimmy here.
26. Cheryl Taylor
BBC Comedy has taken some serious knocks of late, but there are lots of irons in the fire to bring something fresh to our screens.
Providing such a diverse range of output - from populist fare like Miranda on BBC One, to the cerebral Thick of It on BBC Four, via young crowdpleasers like Him and Her on BBC Three - it's a huge comedy empire that Cheryl Taylor oversees.
It may be having a tough time, but the BBC remains the biggest game in town.
25. Graham Linehan and Arthur Matthews
Father Ted was so good that it still gets shown with startling regularity on More 4, but Linehan and Mathews also got stuck into other cult favourites like Black Books and Brass Eye.
Their thoughful and paced writing appears in many of Linehan's solo ventures, most notably The IT Crowd - once heading to being an also-ran, before accidentally becoming the saviour of the tradition sitcom - but continuing with his current work restaging of the Ladykillers.
The huge affection he's held in by the comedy industry was shown most clearly by his touching standing ovation for winning the Ronnie Barker award at the British Comedy Awards in 2009, showing that innovation can be done with massive heart.
Read more about Graham here.
24. Dara O'Briain
Keeping a hold of the reins of Mock The Week is no easy task, but the confidence and quick wit of Dara, a man who seems born to live his life like a Late'n'Live compere, has kept him in control.
His sterling work has put him top of the sizeable pile of comedians who make a living from panel shows, helping to win him guaranteed sell-out audiences wherever he goes.
Being signed to Off The Kerb seems to guarantee him a future of equal size on the box.
Read more about Dara here.
23. Daniel Kitson
To call Kitson a comedians' comedian is a horribly accurate cliche. From running his own email lists (and releasing his old shows online for free) to reinventing himself this year to escape the bebearded homespun archetype he'd accidentally invented, he's a one-man business who always puts the comedy first.
Ploughing his own furrow has helped put Kitson near the top of our list by showing up-and-comers how to steer clear of the corporate comedy world.
Read more about Daniel here.
22. Howard Overman
Overman is responsible for E4's mega-rating international hit Misfits; he's also responsible for baffling BBC Two police comedy mess Vexed.
The Dirk Gently adaptation on BBC Four, also one of Overman's works, nicely mixes the strengths and weaknesses of the two of them: while it isn't always pure gold, there's real inventiveness, sparkiness and a freshness in his scripts that can win big audiences.
21. Jon Plowman
Producing Ab Fab, French and Saunders and the Vicar of Dibley; exec producing everything from The Office to the League of Gentleman; commissioning major hits for years; being with Comic Relief since the beginning...Plowman has rattled his way around just about every comedy job going at the BBC in the last 25 years.
He's still exec producing on some shows, most recently on sleeper hit Twenty Twelve, but he's most distinctive for being one of the last of a generation of behind-the-scenes BBC comedy figures who have made the Corporation funny.
Read more about Jon here.
So that's everyone but the top 20 done, which we'll be pulling the covers off tomorrow. Tune back to find out who's number one - and for a special feature on what a lot of people on this list have in common...
Person(s):Dara Ó Briain
Your rating: None
- Michael J Dolan Edinburgh Fringe review
- Nicky Wilkinson
- BBC's 1xtra launches comedy season
- First night: The Roffle Club, Camden, with Frisky and Mannish, Max and Ivan, Clever Peter, Marcel Lucont Delete the BanjaX
- Widdicombe, Christmas, Pappy's and Dommett head to Green Man comedy stage
- Ed Gaughan
- Al Murray
- Incoming: the Awkward Silence celebrate Rihanna’s birthday
- Live picks: some fab comedy festivals, Minchin closes the London Underbelly and previews galore
- Paul Foot wins Sydney Comedy Festival prize