For thirty years, Channel 4 has been at the forefront of ground-breaking and brilliant British comedy. This special show, counting down the channel’s greatest ever comedies – as voted for by the public – was everyone’s chance to celebrate that. But what was the top thirty made up of?
30. Paul Merton: The Series
I wasn’t around when this show went to air but am a big fan of Paul on Have I Got News For You and Radio 4’s Just A Minute. From the few clips we saw on 30 Greatest Comedy Shows, Paul Merton: The Series seemed quite funny. I might try and catch a couple of episodes online.
29. The World of Lee Evans
Somewhat forgotten about, The World of Lee Evans introduced the public to the comedian. I love Lee’s stand-up and this series seems to have been even more madcap, random and physically challenging than his live comedy…if that were possible.
28. The Jack Dee Show
Once again, I think Jack is great – and excelled on the revamped Shooting Stars – and his style of pessimism is still evident in many comics today. Just like with Lee Evans’s show, this is where it all started for Jack and the rest is history.
27. Star Stories
Kevin Bishop and Steve Edge – just two of Star Stories‘ stars – are great actors and writers. Plus, Bishop is a really good mimic which was invaluable for this show: a spoof of celebrity life. I have seen a couple of episodes of Star Stories, such as the Take That one and that depicting Simon Cowell’s rise to fame and they’re clever, funny and – most importantly – great send-ups of the celebrity culture.
26. Saturday Night Live/Friday Night Live
Again, Saturday/Friday Night Live was before my time but I have seen clips – particularly those including Jo Brand, Julian Clary and the brilliant Harry Enfield as Loadsamoney. Its contribution to British comedy cannot be underestimated as it launched the careers of the aforementioned trio as well as Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, French & Saunders, Rik Mayall, Ade Edmondson and so many more. Actually, I’m surprised it wasn’t further up the list.
Ground-breaking in that it was one of the first comedies to feature a predominantly black cast, Desmond’s didn’t really connect with me in terms of humour but maybe that’s just because times have changed and – despite the writer’s claims – this show isn’t one of those which you could say has stood the test of time (like Only Fools or Fawlty Towers, for example) but I can’t deny it’s importance in sitcom history.
24. Harry Hill
I watched an episode of Harry Hill the other night but didn’t really like it: I found it a bit too madcap. Plus, I think that for myself, and many others of my generation, Harry’s true home will always be on TV Burp.
I’m surprised PhoneShop is so far up the list (perhaps it should swap places with Saturday Night Live) as I have watched it twice, I think, and haven’t found it particularly funny either time. I think it’s great that the show embraces the actors’ comic talents by it mainly consisting of improvised pieces – just like Outnumbered – but personally I don’t find it funny. Clearly I’m in something of a minority, though, as a third series is in production.
22. The Armstrong and Miller Show
Well it was a lot ruder before it moved to the BBC, wasn’t it? I find Armstrong and Miller hilarious and I’m so pleased others do too, therefore placing them at number twenty two in the list. This is where it all started for the pair and it’s great that they have now also branched out and moved into gameshows (Alexander Armstrong on Pointless) and dramas (Armstrong in Love Story and Miller in Primeval).
21. Friday Night Dinner
Shit on it! Isn’t Friday Night Dinner just brilliant? The cast, the scripts, everything! I think one of the show’s stars, Tom Rosenthal, put it perfectly when he said, “Generally people are strange and I think the Goodmans are a perfect example of weird normal people.” Everyone can relate to Friday Night Dinner: we all have disasters in the kitchen, family occasionally visiting (therefore creating even more stress than there was before) and we all have our own quirks and play jokes on one another, just like Jonny and Adam do. The filming for the second series is, I think, finished and now all we have to do is wait until its return, courtesy of writer Robert Popper.
20. Smack The Pony
The first sketch show written and performed by a group of women, Smack the Pony is very funny and inventive. It doesn’t conform to the stereotypes set by its comedy predecessors and instead just presents women for what they are – very funny.
19. Bo’ Selecta!
If you follow my reviews, you’ll know that I adore Lemon La Vida Loca and the character of Keith Lemon as a whole. Before the madness of Lemon, though, Leigh Francis forced such characters as Avid Merrion, Mel B, Craig David (sing it, don’t say it!) and Michael Jackson upon an unexpecting world. The result was the brilliantly and unashamedly weird Bo’ Selecta!. How the hell did he think this up? Anyway, regardless of how he did it, thank God he did because it was clearly very popular with audiences.
18. The Adam & Joe Show
I’d never seen this show before I watched clips last night. Put it this way: I’m not going to seek out any more clips.
17. The Comic Strip Presents…
Even before Saturday Night Live, The Comic Strip Presents… introduced us to French & Saunders, Rik & Ade and the gang as this premiered on the Channel 4’s first night. Personally, I’m not mad about it – and neither was I about last year’s special, The Hunt for Tony Blair – but, once again, perhaps that’s a generational thing. Whereas I might not love the show itself, I do adore its cast.
16. Drop the Dead Donkey
Prior to watching Greatest Comedy Shows, I had only heard of Drop the Dead Donkey and had never seen any episodes. I will definitely seek it out now, though – it looks hilarious! It would seem that Gus, Globelink News’ boss played by Robert Duncan, could have been the inspiration for The Office‘s David Brent over a decade later.
I have never watched this show and am not particularly bothered about doing so. Sure, it didn’t look bad but it didn’t overwhelm me either. Sorry.
14. Vic Reeves’s Big Night Out
The other day, I reviewed Vic & Bob’s Lucky Sexy Winners and stated that I was a huge fan of the duo. It transpires that Big Night Out was even more random and frankly inexplicable than Shooting Stars. There really is nothing else to say – it was just really good and slightly puzzling viewing.
I have never been a fan of Fonejacker or Facejacker but I appreciate that it has become a cult hit and am not surprised in the slightest it has been voted so highly in this list. I recognise that to make a show which is, in effect, one about prank calls, work on TV (whereas its usual home would be the radio) is some feat and I applaud Kayvan Novak for that. Unfortunately I don’t find it terribly funny, though.
12. Trigger Happy TV
With Dom Joly’s new show Fool Britannia beginning on ITV1 this coming Saturday, this was the perfect way to celebrate what made him a household name: Trigger Happy TV. It’s just genius, isn’t it? Imagine if you encountered Dom and he played a prank on you – you would just be astounded, wouldn’t you? Especially if the prank you were caught up in involved ‘The Big Phone’!
11. Gareth Marenghi’s Darkplace
Gareth Marenghi’s what? I’d never heard of it! However, I soon warmed to it because of its send up of all those cheesy hospital dramas…and the fact that it stars Richard Ayoade and Matt Berry.
10. Da Ali G Show
Whenever I’ve seen Ali G on TV, I’ve liked it. However, I’ve never felt the need to find out more about the character or its creator Sacha Baron Cohen. The interview with the Beckhams is, for me, what Ali G will always be synonymous with but seeing the clips on Greatest Comedy Shows proved to me that Cohen excelled in other situations, not just interviews.
9. Phoenix Nights
Firstly, I would like to say how great it was to see Dave Spikey being interviewed about Phoenix Nights? He really doesn’t get the credit he deserves. I had the pleasure of going to see him on his tour this year and then meet him afterwards and I have to say that he is one of the nicest, kindest, most underrated men in comedy. Far too often, Phoenix Nights is thought of as Peter Kay’s exclusively but it wasn’t – Neil Fitzmaurice, Dave Spikey and Peter wrote it, and that shouldn’t be forgotten. Of course, it’s a brilliant series and all of the characters are excellent. May I be controversial and say that I prefer Max and Paddy’s Road To Nowhere, though?
8. Brass Eye
Cake. It’s just funny. I’ve never watched a full episode of Channel 4’s most controversial comedy Brass Eye but I have watched the ‘Cake’ skit and liked it. How on earth did Chris Morris convince the rich and famous to say and do the things they did? Well, it worked, anyway.
7. Green Wing
I have seen one episode of Green Wing and quite liked it. With a cast consisting of Stephen Mangan, Tamsin Greig and Pippa Haywood to name just a few, it’s one of the main jewels in Channel 4’s thirty-year-old comedy crown and is the true definition of a cult comedy. Just like many of the other comedies in this list, I might get onto 4OD and watch a couple of episodes.
I have never seen Spaced, I must confess. It’s undoubtedly a very geeky sitcom and – just like Green Wing – has definitely achieved cult status. Plus, anything with Jessica Hynes in I will love!
5. The Inbetweeners
I can’t remember whether I voted for The Inbetweeners or Father Ted but either way I am really surprised this only came in at number five. It is purely and simply one of the best comedies of the twenty-first century and every joke still works after the tenth time of watching it. I am sure that in twenty years time it will still be relevant and we will still be talking about it – it’s timeless.
4. Black Books
I’ve never been ‘in to’ Black Books. I’ve watched clips and even an entire episode but don’t connect with it. I can see why people would find it funny: Dylan Moran’s character of Bernard Black is just so pessimistic and constantly irritated that there’s something of the Basil Fawlty about him and Bill Bailey and Tamsin Greig are highly capable actors, making the most of all of their roles. I can see why Black Books appeals, but it just doesn’t appeal to me.
3. The IT Crowd
If you dislike The IT Crowd, you have a serious sense of humour failure. Maurice Moss is just my favourite character from any comedy since the turn of the century. Graham Linehan gives him razor-sharp and inspired one-liners and Richard Ayoade delivers them to their full potential. In fact, even if Linehan’s script was poor (which it’s far from), there’s always Moss’s hair to find hilarious. Oh, and Chris O’Dowd and Katherine Parkinson are really good too.
2. Peep Show
I am going to be really controversial and say that I’m not a Peep Show fan. I love David Mitchell, Robert Webb, Olivia Colman and, in fact, all of the cast. I even loved the creators Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong’s university comedy-drama Fresh Meat from last year but for some reason I don’t get the hype about Peep Show. Don’t get me wrong, I know that the use of ‘inner-monologues’ and unorthodox filming methods is brilliant, but I don’t warm to the end product. I have been desperate to like it, though! I have watched the whole of the first series and several other episodes besides but I just don’t get it. I’ll give it another go when the next series airs and see if I understand it any more then. Fingers crossed!
1. Father Ted
Of course, at number one it was somewhat inevitable that it would be Graham Linehan and Arthur Mathews’s sublime, wacky but absolutely hilarious beyond description Father Ted. There’s not one weak member in that cast and the show itself is simply legendary. How many other comedies can you think of which have an episode as funnily titled as ‘Kicking Bishop Brenan Up The Arse’? It’s timeless fun and if you haven’t yet checked it out, what the hell have you been doing with your life? Get the box set, get on YouTube, get on 4OD – just do anything to discover the brilliance that is Father Ted. Ah go on, go on, go on, go on, go on, go on, go on, go on….
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