Best comedy gigs of 2008

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Laugh? I nearly cried. Time Out comedy editor Tim Arthur looks back on the comedy year – from the ones who made us smile to those who simply made us weep

  • Best comedy gigs of 2008

    Best of '08: newbie Mike Wozniak © Claes Geller

  • ‘So, this is Christmas and what have you done?’ I hear you ask. Well… Let me think. ‘Another year’s over, and a new one just begun.’

    Yeah, all right, hold your horses. Give me a second, will you? I’ve been really busy, I know I have. Anyway, I don’t come round to your work and ask what you’ve been up to all year, do I?

    ‘But we thought you’d been making a list? Checking it twice? Aren’t you supposed to tell us who’s been naughty or nice?’
    Am I? Are you referring to the annual comedy section round-up of the best and worst shows of the year? ‘Yes!’ Well, why didn’t you say that in the first place, rather than crowbarring in a load of naff Christmas song lyrics?

    It is indeed time to name the best and shame the rest...

    Let’s start with newcomers.

    It’s been a good year for new talent. Jack Whitehall has continued to establish himself as the hottest young talent on the block, and at only 20 years old he has no right to be as slick and confident as he is. He oozes charisma from the moment he walks on stage and delivers sure-fire punchlines time after time. It’s no surprise every TV prducer worth their salt is trying to find a vehicle for him. Within three years he’ll be the next Russell Brand or Russell Howard – or failing that, Bertrand Russell, if he takes an unexpected career move into philosophy.

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    Pippa Evans

    Pippa Evans emerged as a potential heir to Katherine Tate’s character-comedy crown. Her show ‘Pippa Evans and Other Lonely People’ is a beautifully crafted piece, set in a workshop for lonely people. At least two of her creations – Amangela, an awkard, kooky lost soul, or her sexy, psychotic American singer-songwriter Loretta Maine could easily go on to become household favourites.

    However, our ‘New Act of the Year’ was Mike Wozniak. His exquisite show about the misfortunes that befell him, his Polish family and various doomed pets over the last year deservedly won him an if.comedy Best Newcomer nod at this year’s Edinburgh Festival, and was about as assured and creative a debut as I’ve witnessed.

    Our next category, in these unofficial comedy Oscars is ‘Best Breakthrough Act’, for the comic who has made the most improvement. The mumsy Geordie with a filthy mouth, Sarah Millican, who has been on the circuit for a few years now, pulled together a sublime first full hour with ‘Sarah Millican’s Not Nice’. In it she managed to successfully exorcise all the personal demons, that had arisen after the break-up of her seven-year marriage. She resolutely avoided slipping into mawkish sentimentality and delivered an incredibly honed, laugh-every-ten-seconds, performance.

    Michael McIntyre has been the comedy phenomenon of 2008. He has not simply broken through, he’s leapt, seemingly effortlessly, to become one of the most popular comedians in the country. His brand of non-offensive, mass-appeal observational comedy has struck a chord with the general public and, for this posh, puppy-faced, excitable gagsmith, the comedy world truly is his oyster.

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    Rhod Gilbert

    Close though he came, McIntyre still rates behind the ferociously bewildered Welsh stand-up Rhod Gilbert. He not only took his regular stand-up set to a whole new level of hysterical intensity on the London comedy-club circuit, sealing him the ‘Breakthrough Act’ prize, but also wins our ‘Best Show of the Year’ gong for his blistering tour de force at the Edinburgh Festival: ‘Rhod Gilbert and the Award-Winning Mince Pie'. Leaving his imaginary hometown of Llanbobl to enter the ‘real world’, he is slowly driven insane as he tries to face the mundane and maddening tasks of everyday life such as buying duvets, spending time in motorway service stations and purchasing the aforementioned mince pie.

    A handful of other stand-ups delivered superlative performances in 2008, including Tim Minchin with his atheism-themed ‘Ready for This?’, which further confirmed him as one of the most complete and rounded talents in comedy.

    Russell Howard’s ‘Dingledodies’ proved that he has finally graduated from being ‘that annoying blond one on “Mock the Week”’ to being one of the finest and most imaginative stand-ups we have when it comes to sheer laughter-inducing silliness. And last, but by no means least, Chris Rock’s ‘No Apologies’ was utterly electrifying and established him as the clear front runner for the title of ‘World’s Best Comic’.

    ‘But those were the children who’d been nice; who were the naughty ones?’

    Weirdly enough the two most disappointing shows of the year were probably the two most eagerly awaited. Lee Evans’s ‘Big’ was a damp squib of show, which was dwarfed by the arenas it played in, and Steve Coogan’s ‘Alan Partridge and Other Less Successful Characters’ was a car crash of unimaginative, poor writing, which looked under-rehearsed and left the audiences bemused rather than amused.

    Well, that’s it for 2008. As the credit crunch bites, the oil runs out, the earth warms up and food shortages bring half the world to its knees, we may need comics to make us laugh more than ever. So Merry Christmas to every one of them and keep up the good work.

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