Springchicken's Top 10 Comedians of All Time

What makes people laugh? Some would say that it's our ability to find humour in everyday life and the absurdity of situations. For others, it might be those awkward moments when we're not quite sure how to respond. But whatever it is that tickles your funny bone, there's no doubt that comedy is one of the most popular forms of entertainment around and for many of us it is what keeps us going.

So today, we're looking at some of the funniest comedians of all time. Whether you're a fan of stand-up or love classic sitcoms, we posed the question to our Facebook Springchickens;

'Which comedian never fails to make you laugh?'

Luckily for us over 4,000 of them let us know who makes them howl with laughter day after day. After all, who doesn't love a good laugh? Undoubtedly laughter is the key to maintaining our sanity through all of life's slings and arrows!

Without further ado please can we have a warm Springchicken welcome for tonight's incredible line-up.

Billy Connolly - The King of Comedy

The top of the comedy tree according to our Facebook poll is the one and only Sir Billy Connolly aka, The Big Yin. 

The multitalented Billy Connolly possesses that rare quality and stage presence that doesn't even require a joke to trigger waves of laughter from his audiences. Often the theatre is filled with laughter just watching him march onto stage muttering to himself! 

 

 The Glaswegian, born back in 1942 utilises all his history and experiences pointing out the unusual and the ridiculous. However, that's not all he does, as there are many comedians that do this too. Billy manages to make it his own, the storytelling is immense as you get kidnapped into the Connolly world. A world you end up never wanting to leave. 

Sir Billy grew up in working-class Glasgow surrounded by hardship and humour. He worked on the docks as a welder and absorbed all the banter and humour that got people through tough times.

It wasn't until the early '70s that Billy took the plunge into the world of entertainment with the folk-rock group The Humblebums, alongside Gerry Rafferty. 

Springchicken Top 10 Comedians of All Time

It was during this brief sojourn as a folk musician that he took to telling stories in between songs and sets to keep the crowd engaged. Soon, however, it became the main reason why people went to the gigs. Also, Billy Connolly loved the buzz he got from making a crowd laugh. A star was indeed born.  

The 1970s, '80s and '90s saw Billy Connolly bringing comedy to the masses. No longer was it the remit of smoky pub backrooms or working men's clubs, comedians could now fill stadiums.

They were the new rock stars! Perhaps it was Newman and Baddiel that were the first to fill a football stadium with a comedy crowd but we're sure without Billy Connolly's contribution they would all still be playing the pubs and clubs. 

There was nothing Connolly couldn't do, he had platinum-selling albums, sell-out tours and in the '80s and '90s decided to turn his hand to acting. Possibly his finest role was as John Brown opposite Judi Dench's Queen Victoria in 1997's Mrs Brown. Billy received accolades from the screen critics for his unexpected performance, leading one to comment; 

"Connolly has the reserve and self-confidence that most stand-up comics lack almost by definition".

Billy Connolly's irreverent and sideways way of seeing the world has influenced many comedians for the past decades. For many when wondering if a particular line is too much or perhaps goes too far they simply ask themselves, 'What would Billy do', and get on with it. 

Billy Connolly has been living with Parkinson's Disease since his early diagnosis back in 2013. However, he still manages to thumb his nose at Parkinson's and society as much now as he has ever done.  "The rules of being 'windswept and interesting' are doing as you please and not taking lessons from anyone."

Favourite Billy Connolly line;

“Before you judge a man, walk a mile in his shoes. After that who cares?... He's a mile away and you've got his shoes.”

Peter Kaye - The Northern Joker

Peter Kaye burst onto the scene back in early 2000. Kaye has always wanted to make people laugh from an early age and worked throughout his teenage years to make comedy his world.

Seemingly an old-style stand-up comedian Kaye manages to cross the age barrier, after all 'what's funny is funny' as they say. That Peter Kaye Thing, Phoenix Nights and  Live at The Top Of The Tower cemented his place in popular comedy. Peter Kaye's Car Share (2015-2018) is also a joy to behold.

Peter Kaye's unique cross-generational popularity is unparalleled in the comedy world currently. Generations of families flock to his live shows as he has something for everyone, even a 'bit of blue' for the Dads! Kaye knows his audience and knows what makes them laugh and long may it continue.

Favourite Peter Kaye line;

Why does mineral water that 'has trickled through mountains for centuries' have a 'use by' date?

Tommy Cooper - The Jester with a Fez

If there is one act that just has to walk on stage to get his audience rolling in the aisles, it's the master, Tommy Cooper. Cooper's act, based around a magician that can't quite get things right seems pretty straight forward however in the hands of Thomas Frederick Cooper it is a masterpiece.

Cooper's comedy splits opinion across all demographics as all good comedy should. However, there is no more ardent a fan than a true Tommy Cooper fan.

Tommy Cooper was an unlikely entertainer discovering his love of laughter whilst serving in the Royal Horse Guards. It was in Cairo whilst with a NAAFI entertainment party that he inadvertently discovered his trademark Fez that was to stay with him for the rest of his life.

Throughout the 1970s Tommy Cooper was to bring a nation to tears with his Parkinson's appearances and Cooper's Half Hour ITV show. 

During the 1970s and 1980s with his undeniable wit and talent Cooper was to become one of the most recognisable comedians in the world. Touring globally to loving audiences.  

To quote another comedy great of the era, Frank Carson, it's the way he tells them. Nobody else could deliver Tommy Cooper's stage act like Tommy Cooper, although many tried from Lenny Henry to Mike Yarwood, Cooper was an impressionist's dream.

Undoubtedly, very few could ever match his comic timing and ability to milk laughs from an audience with just a sideways glance.  

Sadly, his lifestyle of smoking and alcohol abuse was to catch up with him, on stage April 15th, 1984, as an adoring nation watched on. As the curtain fell and the laughter silenced, Tommy had made his final performance. 

Favourite Tommy Cooper line;    

Police arrested two kids yesterday, one was drinking battery acid, the other was eating fireworks. They charged one and let the other one-off.

Dave Allen - The Irish storyteller

Dave Allen was different even for his time. Allen's unique storytelling ease coupled with his warm Irish brogue made him the favourite of TV audiences in the '70s and '80s.

He was brave in his comedy choices taking on establishments like the Catholic Church and government before it was fashionable to do so. For many, he was the godfather of the alternative comedians that came along after.  

His dry, slow delivery would often wrong foot an audience and allow his rapier killer line to bring them to their knees, he had a sharp tongue and an even sharper wit.

Nothing was ever off-limits for Dave Allen, if it made people laugh, he would talk about it. Luckily for us, he liked to talk.

His stories were not necessarily joke driven but more observational with a slightly surreal nature. As he often said, 'A good storyteller never lets the facts get in the way' and thank goodness he didn't.

His end of show signoff was to become a beautiful epitaph to the world he left in 2005 aged just 68. 

Goodnight, thank you, and may your God go with you.

Favourite Dave Allen line;

My church accepts all denominations - fivers, tenners, twenties.

Lee Mack - The Fastest Quip in the North

Lee Mack has become a regular on our screens over the years. His sharp wit and brilliant comedy writings have kept us entertained week in week out. His appearances on Would I Lie To you, They Think It's All Over and Not Going Out is a thing of absolute joy.

Mack's fast one-liners are a delight to behold. The often-maligned panel show format is the perfect vehicle for Mack's almost superhuman comedy brain. 

Alongside the self-penned hit TV show, Not Going Out and his live stand-up routines, Lee Mack's humour has already changed the landscape of British comedy. The bar has been moved up a level, so you best bring your A-game if you're going up against Lee Mack. 

Favourite Lee Mack line;

“I actually got mugged in Limerick. That’s the place by the way – not the style. I don’t mean someone came up to me and went: ‘Hello my name is Pete, I’m standing in the street, don’t be rash, give me your cash or I’ll kick you in the teeth.'”

Freddie Starr - The Manic Genius

You just had to see the fear in Des O'Connor's face whenever it was announced that Freddie Starr was on the show. 

Starr had an irrepressible nature about him, a glint in his eye that made you fear for what was coming next. The energy that he emitted on stage was palpable. 

Freddie Starr was performing from the age of 12 at Northern clubs and pubs. In the early 1960s, he became the lead singer of The Midniters. 

Although The Midniters played Hamburg with the Beatles, released 3 singles, produced by Joe Meek and managed by Brian Epstein, the big time evaded them. It was 1967's Opportunity Knocks where Freddie was to get his break.

Freddie Starr was to go from strength to strength entertaining an audience for several decades. However, come to the late '80s early '90s alternative comedy and alternative attitudes sounded the death knoll on Freddie's unique brand of humour. 

Whilst Freddie Starr was tea total due to his father's abuse and alcoholism, he did however develop an addiction to Valium. As Michael Parkinson once wrote "Valium addled his talent and confused his personality eroding a virtuosity equalled by only a very few entertainers"

Sadly, Starr's career was to go off the rails and occasionally would hit a headline in the tabloids. Several comebacks were attempted but all failed and Freddie was to pass away at his home in The Costa Del Sol in 2019, aged 76.

Favourite Freddie Starr line; 

on a tour of the Middle East 

‘There were very strict codes,’ the 68-year-old star said, recalling that at one gig the comic was told: ‘Just two things Mr Starr, never swear and never refer to Prince Hussein directly.’

‘Curtain up.

‘Freddie: "Aright, which one of you f***ers is Prince Hussein?"

‘Curtain down!’

Victoria Wood - The Queen of comedy

The hugely talented Victoria Wood is surprisingly the only female entry in the Springchicken top 10.

Wood's ability to write, perform, compose, direct, act and produce was immense. In her short 62 years on the planet, Victoria Wood was kind enough to give us some of the funniest moments on television. 

Her understated charm coupled with her keen eye for the ridiculous and the funny allowed her to create some of the best characters in British comedy. From the mid-'80s Victoria Wood was the Queen of light entertainment. Wood's As Seen on TV, An Audience With and the self-titled Victoria Wood show garnered audiences of millions and TV awards too. In the 1990s Pat and Margaret and Dinnerladies were to exhibit the full range of her skills. 

It seemed the thirst for more Victoria Wood was never satiated. We always wanted more and she would give us more when she was ready. Sadly 2016 saw the passing of the first lady of British comedy way too soon.

Favourite Victoria Wood line; 

"Life's not fair, is it? Some of us drink champagne in the fast lane, and some of us eat our sandwiches by the loose chippings on the A597."

Micky Flanagan - Everyman's funny man

Hard work and dedication have paid off for this working-class boy done good, whose rise to the very top of the comedy world is nothing short of meteoric. The cheeky cockney persona belies an astute comedy brain that is ever-present.  

Flanagan's early days in Billingsgate fish market, as a furniture maker and a painter and decorator fed a lot of his early comedy. Whilst admittedly, he has a 'few bob' now he still goes back to the early days for a lot of his best material. 

Finally getting into comedy after deciding a teaching career wasn't for him. Micky has gone from strength to strength with his 2017 tour And Another Fing playing to over 600,000, breaking box office records up and down the country.

The beauty of Micky's comedy is that it's just like your funniest mate addressing all the day to day challenges we all have except now he has a 'bit of wedge'. As he opens one of his shows explaining that the audience will have to suspend belief for a few hours and imagine he is just like them 'but with money'. 

Favourite Micky Flanagan line; 

"I’ve been asked to go on a TV show called Who Do You Think You Are? I said that sounds like the start of a fight where I come from."

Lee Evans - A Whirlwind of wit

Definitely the sweatiest of all our top 10. You better fasten your seatbelt if you're at a Lee Evan show as he does NOT stop!

Lee Evans' stand-up show will leave you needing a lie down in a dark room to digest the onslaught of hilarity. Even if his brand of comedy is not to your taste you still have to give him 10 out of 10 for the effort, he puts in. Imagine Norman Wisdom on speed and that's Lee Evans. 

Evans is a rare thing in the British comedy world as he seems to have cracked America too. Starring in big Hollywood blockbusters like There's Something About Mary and The Fifth Element, Evans never looks out of his depth.

After a hugely successful run of Hollywood film, record-breaking tours and million-selling DVDs, Lee Evans has called it a day in the limelight. Quite simply 'He's had enough' and wants to spend time with his family and that's the way it's been since 2013.  

How long before his funny bones drag him back, we wonder? 

Favourite Lee Evans line;

“I actually spent four days in my hotel room because I closed the door and there was a sign saying, ‘Do Not Disturb’. I thought, ‘I can’t get out!'”

Morecambe & Wise - The King's of Christmas comedy

The only double act to make the Springchicken top 10. Morecambe and Wise were the laughter track to so many people's lives in the '70s and '80s.

Very few people can recount a happy nostalgic Christmas without Eric and Ernie in the background. 

Their Christmas shows are a thing of legendary status attracting audiences in excess of 20,000,000 viewers.

Back in 2017, the Guardian reported that The Morecambe and Wise Christmas show was till top of the Polls for most memorable Christmas TV! 

Top 10 Christmas TV memories according to the British public (2017)

  1. Morecambe and Wise
  2. Queen’s Speech
  3. Only Fools and Horses
  4. Doctor Who
  5. Top of the Pops
  6. The Snowman
  7. The Two Ronnies
  8. EastEnders
  9. The Royle Family
  10. Strictly Come Dancing

Religiously people would tune in to see who their guest would be and leave the drabness of the '70s behind. The showbiz glitz of Shirley Bassey stomping around on stage or Andre Previn being schooled by Eric is television gold.

The ripples from their impact on the British entertainment industry is still being felt today, David Baddiel, Richard Herring, Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer all cite Eric and Ernie as major influences on their comedy.  

Whilst the world is a poorer place without them, they left us plenty of recordings to enjoy time and time again.

Favourite Eric & Ernie line;   

My neighbour asked if he could use my lawnmower and I told him, of course, he could, so long as he didn't take it out of my garden.

Also rans...

The list of over 4,000 names on the Springchicken Facebook page  reads like a Who's-Who in comedy history. From Boris Johnson to Keir Starmer!

And a few more in between, Spike Milligan, Ken Dodd, Sarah Milligan, Les Dawson Benny Hill and Sean Locke all feature heavily. 

There were also plenty of stand up comedians from across the pond, Jerry Seinfeld, Robin Williams, Bill Hicks, Richard Pryor, George Carlin, Eddie Murphy and Chris Rock to name a handful.

We wanted to specifically focus this article on stand up comedy that is essentially British humour. Whilst we agree a sense of humour knows no boundaries there is something unique to what makes different nationalities laugh.

So, there you have it, our top 10 British comedians of all time.

It was a difficult decision to whittle it down to just 10 and many more deserving names could have made the list but we hope you enjoy reading about these legends of laughter.

From the big screen to the small stage, they have entertained us all in their own unique way.

What is your favourite comedy show of all time?

As we are all masters of comedy now, how exactly did the Springchicken cross the road? Answer in comments, please...

Image Credits 

Billy Connolly by Sean Reynolds from Liverpool 

ComedyNostalgiaVintage

1 comment

Tony

I remember seeing Victoria Woods when she was in a hilarious double act Woods and Waters. Absolutely hilarious show. This was before Julie Waters flourished and expanded into other ventures.

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