The Top 100 most influential people in comedy 60 - 41
Tim Clark19 June 2012
We're reaching the midway point of the Top 100 and already seen some greats of the comedy world put down on the list, today sees Jimmy Carr kick off proceedings...
60. Jimmy Carr
Jimmy Carr was once the sneery wiseguy of comedy, but his sharp use of the one-liner has taken him beyond cheap gags to become the revelation of the often otherwise-troubled 10 O'Clock Live line-up.
He's also helped helm the slow morphing of 8 Out Of 10 Cats from HIGNFY also-ran into the sharpest weekly satire on telly (although it has to be seen how he'll deal with this week's tax troubles).
It's a difficult tone to pull off, but like a declawed Frankie Boyle, the wit of Carr is shining through and making him a mainstay of British comedy.
59. Maria Kempinska
Though many comedians may refer to Jongleurs as the Tesco of comedy, Maria Kempinska justifies her place in the Top 100 for two reasons. The first is that though many comedian's aren't particularly enamoured by Jongleurs, the chain of comedy clubs still pays so many comedians' wages it holds a certain sway over the life of a circuit comedian; the second is that for many members of the public Jongleurs represents what they think live comedy is.
Arguably programmes such as Live At The Apollo have made stand-up more familiar to the general public in recent years so perceptions of live comedy could change, but very few of the public are likely to seek out anything other than the established club, whether that be in Bristol or Birmingham.
Add to that Kempinska's impressive resolve to build a business worth millions, sell it, and then start rebuilding a new empire after the original crashed, shows that three decades after being an early builder of the live comedy scene, she hasn't lost the passion for the genre.
58. Kevin Eldon
When Kevin Eldon announced that he was to make his solo Edinburgh debut in 2010, it felt like the entire comedy world suffered a spasm of excitement. Eldon didn't disappoint either: as Chortle put it, "if this is Kevin Eldon titting about, just imagine what he could do if he applied himself".
Still, he's not on this list for his five-star stand-up alone: he's instead here for being in the centre of comedy's Venn diagram for twenty years. He was on Lee and Herring's speed dial for Fist of Fun and TMWRNJ; Chris Morris's for the Day Today and Four Lions; Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright's for Hot Fuzz and Spaced; Simon Munnery's for Attention Scum and Julia Davis's for Nighty Night, to mention a few.
His new commission on BBC Two puts him to somewhere we haven't seen him very often: centre stage. Hold on tight for 2013 to see what it does for his fortunes...
57. Tommy Sheppard
Many comedians head to the Fringe, but very few of them head home in September with the ability to pay their rent. That's why Sheppard, who has developed a reputation for building acts at the Edinburgh Fringe rather than simply trying to shift tickets, ranks so highly on our list. However Sheppard doesn't simply keep his acts bank balance out of the red, he nurtures talent, and has built dozens of reputations.
With a new club in Newcastle to add to his venues in Edinburgh and Glasgow, and the revamped Assembly Rooms coming under his wing Sheppard has stepped his operation up another notch in 2012. In short Shepherd is the respectable face of modern-day promotion.
56. Sacha Baron Cohen
Though his latest film The Dictator has split audiences, Sacha Baron Cohen has left a dildo-shaped mark on the world of comedy in the past ten years. From Staines to Hollywood, his characters have shocked, sensationalised and sent lawyers running to the courts.
Yet at a time that most comedy plays within the rules, Baron Cohen pushes things further than anyone else in pursuit of unique, populist comedy moments.
Even if that means there is the odd misstep, it's the inevitable side effect of trying to do comedy that most would baulk at. Read Sacha Baron-Cohen's full profile here.
55. Jo Brand
Being the butt of ugly /fat / John Sergeant jokes for twenty-odd years can't be easy, but Brand seems to have been able to take it in her stride and remain a stalwart of both live and TV comedy.
While her early TV career was coarsely anti-man, she's settled into a panel show life that borders on amiable - heck, Jo Brand's Big Splash was almost upbeat - while proving her acting chops to a new audience with the excellent Getting On.
It's a cliché to say any woman has broken ground for those who have come after them, but in the most man-heavy corners of comedy, Brand has done just that.
54. Lee Mack
While Mack won So You Think You're Funny way back in 1995, his stellar comedy career, completely taking over BBC One, only started seven years ago.
In that time, Not Going Out has developed a dedicated audience, bringing old-school lines to big audiences (and somehow landing a Rose d'Or in the process). He's on the list for writing the most durable sitcom on BBC One, and one that's survived the channel's choppy relationship with the format, with a sixth and seventh series now pencilled in the diary.
Throw in his panel show contributions, and he is rapidly cementing his reputation as the BBC's reining populist comedy champion.
53. Jonathan Lynn
When Gold went looking for a comedy format to revive that would bring gravitas, plaudits and audiences to the archive channel, they picked Yes (Prime) Minister for good reason: it's the only programme that can rival the Thick of It for successfully nailing our political class.
It's not just popular and good, it's one of those comedy shows that is actually important, shaping the public's view of politicians - it's no wonder the programme was already revived for the stage in recent years by Lynn before being chosen to return to our screens.
52. Reeves and Mortimer
With their (already missed) Shooting Stars renaissance on BBC Two spurring them on to investigate all sorts of new projects - from new sketches with Fosters, pilots for them on Channel 4, and even kids' TV for Vic - there's not been any shortage of new ground for Reeves and Mortimer to explore.
It's hard to think of another comedy act who have broken so much ground, but rather than revisiting old triumphs, are taking real risks with their careers to do something else such as the Fosters Funny series. Less elder statesmen of comedy; more its mad uncles.
51. Peter Kay
It would seem churlish to start with anything but the money about Peter Kay. Michael McIntyre might be the lightning rod for criticism of big comedy earnings, but it's Kay that's flogged over 10 million DVDs and was the first to demonstrate how a handful of big names could make the big bucks.
Throw in the mega-selling (early) books, and the lesson is simple: have a warm routine that even your nan understands, and watch the cash come rolling in.
50. Rowan Atkinson
Blackadder, Bean, and classic Comic Relief: the quiet man of eighties comedy is also the guy who's had real staying power. There's something of the old school about a man who can turn his hand to the most cerebral geek comedy, modern-day slapstick and still find time to raise cash for charity.
And what is he choosing to do with his time these days? He was reportedly going to play Mr Bean in a forthcoming Indonesian horror comedy...before that turned out to be a PR hoax. There can't be any creative on our top 100 who can retain influence while simultaneously being so quiet.
49. Dan Patterson
Whose Line Is It Anyway? and Mock The Week are two starkly different shows: the former was an early comedy win for Channel 4 that harnessed the Comedy Store Players' enthusiasm and energy for inclusive laughs; the latter has become the crucible for complaints about all that is wrong with modern TV comedy, from the panel show format, to the satire-lite content, young men in t-shirts, and employing Frankie Boyle for so long.
But they have some crucial similarities: they have both effectively showcased the major strain of contemporary comedy and its related comedians to a bigger audience, they both have massive popularity and staying power (hello, 5USA's daytime schedule) and they're both the brainchildren of producer and writer Dan Patterson who has kept ahead of the competition for well over two decades.
48. Russell Brand
Most comedians on our list have kept some regular projects going in the UK, but Rusty Rockets is a bit of a stranger to these shores following Sachsgate in 2008.
His Hollywood career may be plateauing - Arthur was an outright failure and he's been dropped from the Rentaghost remake - but he's the master of biding his time. HBO's Brand X, showing on Sky Atlantic in July, might do the trick (or it might be a revisit of the disappointingly so-so Ponderland). More likely, however dreadful eighties rock musical film Rock of Ages is going to be this summer, it's a great fit for Brand.
And if there's nothing else, his love life is keeping him in the tabs. Read a full profile here.
47. Catherine Tate
What the Catherine Tate Show started, Tate's turn on Doctor Who finished: making yelling a viable way to become a national institution.
She's since taken up residency in the American Office and is completing other 'special projects' (read: plays and one-offs on Sky) with similar gusto, getting called upon whenever TV needs a gobby character with a vulnerable side.
But it will surely be sulky teen's Lauren Cooper appearance in a Comic Relief skit with Tony Blair will surely outlive us all.
46. Ben Elton
While the appearance of Elton on this list at any position is going to make plenty of people tut, it's another of those entries that requires looking back through the mists of time to remember why - back past We Will Rock You (or, as it's also known, 'the longest night of my life') to Blackadder and the Young Ones.
While the rest of his CV is fading into comedy history (Maybe Baby, anyone?), the historical comedy is proving remarkably resilient, remaining a quotable blend of undergrad LOLs, class comedy and endless debates about which series was the best.
The answer is Blackadder II, if you're wondering.
45. Stephen Fry
Loveable Englishman or ad industry shill? Fry increasingly divides audiences in much the same manner as his beloved Macs do: to some he's the mad uncle from the country with a library the size of his heart; to others he's a fanboy with a penchant for decontextualised facts who's been resting on his laurels for the best part of a decade.
There's certainly a chance that Fry has overplayed his status as Most Radio 4 Man Alive to the relentlessly sensible David Mitchell, but he's got enough cultish fans out there to keep trucking for a good while yet. Read Stephen Fry's full profile here.
44. Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin
As BBC One's biggest comedy success of recent years, Outnumbered made family comedy into something for adults to enjoy instead of endure.
Andy Hamilton's panel show work, particularly on the News Quiz, and the much-missed Drop The Dead Donkey show they could easily bring some fresh satire to telly, but for now they're focused instead on an Outnumbered-inspired film.
43. Mick Perrin
Last year promoter Mick Perrin managed to add three one-day 75,000 shows to his already bulging repertoire of comedy gigs: this is a man making the most of comedy's boom times. His roster represents the biggest names in comedy: Eddie Izzard and Merton, Clary, Moran and Sadowitz among them.
The Just For Laughs promoter is also able to take a UK act and make them a global name with the Mister Wonka-style golden ticket to the Just For Laughs festival in Canada. And to top it off, Perrin's Edinburgh parties are known as the must-have ticket of the industry summer.
42. Nica Burns
For all the plaudits, lists and awards going in comedy these days, one remains the gold standard: being able to say you've won the Edinburgh Comedy Award is still the fastest way to get your live show on everywhere, and to get meetings with all-important TV and radio commissioners.
Directing the Edinburgh Comedy Awards since 1984 makes Nica Burns a big shot in comedy, but it was her own bank-rolling of the awards to the tune of £150,000 when former sponsor dropped out that shows her dedication to the craft.
It's that dedication that means she gets stuff done for all sorts of life on stage: she's also co-owner of six major West End theatres, which she purchased by remortgaging her own house.
41. Jonathan Ross
The original overgrown schoolboy has become the past master in surviving the peaks and troughs of a long career in showbiz.
His current ITV work may not be the most exciting thing in the world and his British Comedy Awards may be more stilted than you'd expect from Mr Confidence, but for our money Jonathan Ross really broke ground as a comedian who would pop up in so many different formats: loudmouth chat show host, omnipresent panel show guest, and popular daytime DJ before the comedy-heavy roster on 6Music had even been dreamt of.
The multi-capped comedians of today owe more to Ross than he's given his due for.
Thanks for sticking with us so far, we enter the top 40 tomorrow morning...
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