America is a big exporter of entertainment–it’s probably a lot easier for someone from any other English-speaking country to list a few top-quality comedians from the US off the top of their heads than it is for someone in the US to name basically any non-American comedians.
So in the hopes of rectifying that, here are four comics from the UK any American would do well to familiarize themselves with.
There is every chance that I will do this multiple times in the future and an even greater chance that I will not do this with four people at once again. Please feel free to share any opinions as to issues with length/whatever in the comments.
List continued after the break.
Americans might recognize him from… The Bugle (podcast)
Andy Zaltzman just barely squeaks by on the list because I’m a terrible judge of how popular podcasts are. Suffice it to say, Zaltzman cohosts one of the best. The Bugle is a 45 minute political satire show with his long-time collaborator and current Daily Show correspondent/guy who wasn’t at this John Hodgman thing I went to even though he was in the advertising, John Oliver.
The Bugle is a instant-favorite podcast of mine not just because I like it when people make me feel even marginally better about the increasingly bleak world news, but because for all its harsh jabs at public figures, everyone involved seems to genuinely like each other. There’s something especially appealing to me about listening to professional comedians who are also clearly good friends.
On the show, Zaltzman is known for his excruciating pun runs, his overwhelming attraction to Florence Nightingale, and for his readings from the “unpublished John Grisham manuscript” The Congressman’s Penis. This isn’t comedy related, but he also delivered his own son which is phenomenally bad ass.
Americans might recognize him from… “Oh hey wasn’t that guy in Black Books/Hot Fuzz/Green Wing/Look Around You? He looks familiar.”
Sometimes I confuse Kevin Eldon with Ben Elton and for this I am deeply sorry. If you have watched the sort of British sitcoms that make their way over to American comedy snobs in the past ten years, you have probably seen Kevin Eldon’s face a lot. While not a stranger to stand-up, Eldon is primarily a comic actor who happens to have worked with Steve Coogan, Stewart Lee and Richard Herring, and Chris Morris, four of the most influential alternative comedians in the UK today.
Eldon’s pedigree is well-deserved. He’s in everything because he boasts an astounding range when it comes to comic characters, from those simply exaggerated for comic effect to completely nonsensical goofiness. The above sketch is from Big Train, a show co-created by Graham Linehan and Arthur Mathews (creators of Father Ted, Black Books, as well as the IT Crowd for Linehan) and starring the now-very-famous likes of Simon Pegg and Catherine Tate, as well as Spaced and Green Wing’s Mark Heap and Julia Davis, creator and star of Nighty Night, which also starred Eldon.
Americans might recognize from… Dobby on Peep Show.
Like her Peep Show character, Isy Suttie possesses a sort of quality that makes her seem both very odd and very normal at the same time–Dobby is a quintessential nerd who, compared to every other character on the show, is extremely level-headed and sensible. Isy Suttie’s stand-up similarly places her as a sensible observer, albeit one who is particularly drawn in by strange minutiae in everyday life.
Suttie is a musical comedian who blends the two elements in an interesting way–she doesn’t just play the guitar and tell jokes at the same time a la Zach Galifianakis, but she doesn’t strictly perform comedy songs. In an odd way, her act reminds me a bit of that of a traditional folk musician, with storytelling and song interweaving throughout. The last song in this bit in particular in a strange way reminds me almost of one of those ten minute long Joanna Newsom story-songs.
Americans might know her from… played a guidance counselor on Skins.
Josie Long might be one of my favorite comedians full stop. She’s recently been gaining a bit of traction in the States thanks to a growing association with the Maximum Fun podcast network (she and Isy Suttie have appeared separately on their newest comedy quiz show podcast, International Waters, which has fast become my favorite podcast). She also hosts her own podcast, Robin and Josie’s Utter Shambles, with Robin Ince, best known to Americans mostly as Ricky Gervais’ friend. The podcast features a fair amount of political discussion between the two hosts and a guest (my favorite recurring guest: comic book author, man who apparently worships some kind of snake god, and anarchist Big Hairy Alan Moore) yet remains lighthearted–something that easily describes Long’s own stand-up as well.
She possesses one of my absolute favorite qualities in a stand-up comedian, which is obvious, unbridled enthusiasm. It’s one thing to be so professional and comfortable on stage that your set can feel like an intimate conversation no matter the audience–the likes of say, Marc Maron, have that covered. But just seeming really, really happy to be doing something you love is infectious and it easily elevates the content of any given set.