Andrew O’Neill: Rocker and part time union card-carrying transvestite Andrew O’Neill turned up at a benefit gig in King’s Cross recently that Dancing Dave, Housemate James & I went to. Good mix of one-liners, non-sequitirs, and generally pretty sharp material. Will definitely go check him out again I think – maybe wouldn’t put him at number 1 in a top ten, but it’s alphabetical, so get off my case (OK, so I’m clearly covering here for the fact I can’t remember a thing the guy said other than I found him intelligent & humorous).
Andy Zaltzman: If this list were alphabetical by surname he’d be last on it… but that wouldn’t make him any less of a gold-standard A-list bullshit artist. Zaltzman teams up with longterm sparring partner John Oliver to produce highly excellent audio newspaper podcast The Bugle. How he can go on week after week delivering such a marvellous load of topical poppycock with a straight face is an utter mystery.
Brendon Burns: Equal parts comedian and force of nature, Burns is loud & unapologetic about putting his material out there. We were lucky enough to see him in Edinburgh performing his thought-provoking & award-winning show, “So I Suppose This Is Offensive Now?“. For Burns comedy isn’t a safe, smug, sit-back-and-giggle at things he’s noticed that you’ve noticed – he gets in your face and challenges your ideals, which to my mind is an extremely valuable function of comedy.
Daniel Kitson: OK, so the reason I didn’t number this list is because once I’d put Kitson at #1 I struggled to rank the rest. He’s just brilliant. Unfortunately (for us) he’s notoriously reluctant to do TV, so footage of his material’s a bit hard to come by. The first time I saw him was in the 2003 Melbourne Comedy Festival Gala:
He now tends to do 2 types of shows – standup, such as in the video, which often involves a short story or two crammed with asides & distractions, riffs on his own material, and his amazing vocab peppered with absolute cheeky filth… he really delights in it, and there’s not much he won’t do if he reckons it’ll be funny. The second type of show, which he’s really collecting acclaim for and justifiably so, is his story shows – each one is a carefully crafted tale, usually read from a book or at least notes; absolutely jammed with detail and intricacy. Kitson uses the English language like watercolours, capturing all sorts of subtlety and nuance to describe his rich creations. I’ve been extremely fortunate to have seen a couple of them now, such as “The Ballad of Roger and Grace” (a tale told by a man on a train to another man on the same train, of the greatest love story ever), “Stories From The Starlit Sky: Part 1” (a tale of two people who work through the night in a secret government office, filing every act of love that takes place in the world), and “The Interminable Suicide of Gregory Church” (Kitson’s recounting of how, when looking for a property to purchase he stumbled on a suicide note from the former owner, and pieced the man’s life together via the 30,000+ pieces of correspondence he left behind). Quite often Kitson employs the atmospheric and songwriting talents of his friend Gavin Osborn, which fit in nicely to create the ambience that makes each piece so special.
Without fail, every time I leave one of Daniel Kitson’s story shows, I kick myself repeatedly that I didn’t buy half a dozen extra tickets and force my friends to all come along.
Josie Long: an everywoman comedian who I can’t help but smile widely at. She’s slightly shambolic, doesn’t present like a polished performance, but gets you on side and giggling, after which you realise just how talented she is. I think appearing ill-prepared is part of the schtick: unless it’s just a massive coincidence that every time I’ve seen her she’s just come back from a festival and hasn’t slept, or has had to leave her shoes offstage because the backstage shower flooded the dressing room & saturated them. I love the way she tackles all kinds of comedic notions, even if she’s not 100% researched (famously, at Robin Ince’s “Nine Carols and Lessons for Godless People” gig she embarked on a piece of material about the philosopher David Hume and ended up arguing with a heckler about whether Hume was an atheist or agnostic), and then comes back with something as silly as a list of alien themed films she would like to see (such as “aliens come down to Earth, and no-one is particularly bothered”).
Lucy Porter: She sets you up to think she’s sweet & innocent, but underneath all that is a deviate mastermind. She’s a cute & insightful feelgood performer who I can’t help but love. Her best routine that I’ve seen was at Robin Ince’s “A Night Of 400 Billion Stars and maybe a bit of string theory” gig, where she read out a love poem she’d written at the age of 14 to a boy at her school, which used most of the chemical elements in the periodic table.
Milton Jones: A howitzer of one-liners – the kind of pull-back-and-reveal observations that Steven Wright wryly delivers, mixed in with some chronic puns. Jones is relentless. And ludicrous. I’m a massive fan of the silliness and logic which make his jokes work, always delivered with a slightly manic and discomforting stare and perfectly timed stilted pace.
Robin Ince: Fast building a reputation for himself as the Bob Geldof of science-based comedy (except with better hygiene and a wider selection of brown cardigans), Ince is one of my favourite circuit comics – as well as being the only one on this list I’ve bought more than 6 beers for. His shows (that I’ve seen so far) usually wander about amid science, religion, and his outrage about the bullshit that gets put over on TV masquerading as news – the underlying message I think being “find things out for yourselves! read! think!”. Ince also curates geek-comedy showcases, such as the two large shows mentioned above, as well as the more frequent “School for Gifted Children” nights which are part comedy gig, part public lecture – but such a refreshing change to being in a Jongleurs club with comedy geared at pissed-up lads on a stag do.
Stewart Lee: The 41st best standup comic in the world, Lee’s dry and considered delivery passed me by the first time (although the Albert Hall probably isn’t the best environment for this sort of thing). I really enjoy his use of repetition, and labouring a joke, making you wonder just how far he’s prepared to go with something. He also gained some noteriety for being the co-creator of “Jerry Springer: The Opera” – the most complained about programme the BBC has ever screened, with the bulk of the complaints coming in before it had even been screened.
Tim Minchin: As if I haven’t raved about Timmy enough – the wild-haired Australian singer/songwriter is easily a musical prodigy in his own right, but combine his intellectual & insightful songs with that and you can see why he’s getting so much attention these days. His rise to fame seems somewhat meteoric, and after the geniusness of “inflatable You” and “Rock And Roll Nerd”, he cruised through the difficult second-album-syndrome with “So F*cking Rock” (can’t fault a dude who can rhyme “the story of Moses” with “error in the booking process”) and the more Tom Lehrer-esque “F Sharp”, and then came storming back with third album masterpieces “Confessions”, “If I Didn’t Have You” (below), and hopefully hasn’t peaked too soon with 9 minute beat poem about a dinner party encounter with an alternative hippy type and the resultant refusal to listen to her thinly justified yet forthright nonsense, “Storm”. Man, that’s the WORST description of Minchin’s work anyone’s ever written, I think.
And there isn’t time to refine any of this, because if I don’t post it now then it won’t be Tuesday any more. There’s no point in having Top Ten Wednesdays – it doesn’t work alliteratively. It’s the only poetic device I can remember from Year 10 English godammit, and I’m gonna use it.