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mark watson press 2014

Mark Watson’s top ten stand-up comedians

The jittery TV regular reveals his favourite comics

By Ben Williams
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Mark Watson's latest solo show, 'Flaws', is his most personal (and funniest) yet. As he brings the Edinburgh Fringe hit to London, he runs us through his ten favourite colleagues.

sean mcloughlin press 2014
© Ed Moore

10. Sean McLoughlin

‘The best comedian you haven’t heard of yet. Unless you’re especially comedy-literate. Or you’re comedy-illiterate and haven’t heard of some of the others on this list. In any case, this gangly, pathetically angry young man is a future star, and not in the particularly distant future, either. He reminds me of myself, but by way of compensation for that piece of narcissism, most of my other choices are here precisely because they’re nothing like me.’

Watch a clip of Sean McLoughlin

josie long press 2014
© Giles Smith

9. Josie Long

‘Her mutation from nerd-schtick to ballsy political activism has been inspirational. She brings intelligence and passion to bear on what she does; she takes risks, she deals elegantly with haters. We can all learn something from Long.’

Watch a clip of Josie Long

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emo philips
© Romana Rosales

8. Emo Philips

‘I’ve only ever seen this man live on stage once, and it was in 2001, before I’d begun doing comedy myself. I didn’t know anything about him or, really, about stand-up. In the 50 minutes I was watching him I underwent a transition from someone vaguely interested in comedy to someone who wanted to be up there. Given the amount of time that’s passed since, it’s impossible to say now whether he only seemed brilliant because I had virtually nothing to compare him with. But for the impact he had that night, he at least deserves to be at Number 8. Bet he’ll be delighted when he hears.’

Watch a clip of Emo Philips

liam williams press 2014
© Mark Dawson Photography

7. Liam Williams

‘Another exciting new talent, and by “exciting” I mean “profoundly troubling” given that the last thing any of us needs is to watch a talented person ten years our junior. Williams’s ultra-downbeat persona is a clever disguise for a still-pretty-much-totally-downbeat person. It’s dry, wordy, uncompromisingly funny stuff, the likes of which you don’t see all that often. He also did a very funny song about the World Cup.’

Watch a clip of Liam Williams

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hannah gadsby press 2014

6. Hannah Gadsby

‘For a long time the comedy world was missing a deadpan Tasmanian golfer and fine art expert. Gadsby thankfully filled the vacancy. A comedian of rare intelligence, honesty and insight, who takes on subjects anyone else would struggle to get the funny from.’

Watch a clip of Hannah Gadsby

lee mack press 2014
© Avalon

5. Lee Mack

‘Now people are used to seeing him on “Not Going Out”, they might not be aware what an outstanding live comic Lee Mack is, with a bulging hard-drive of gags where his brain should be. I warmed up for him several times in my early career and on each occasion witnessed a masterclass. If I hadn’t chosen him, I would have said Danny Bhoy. Both are people who go out unashamedly to entertain the audience from first minute to last. It sounds easy when you put it like that, but not many people can do it like either Mack or Bhoy.’

Watch a clip of Lee Mack

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sam simmons press 2014
© Richard Davenport

4. Sam Simmons

‘This avant-garde Aussie has become a critical favourite in recent years – a vindication for those of us who maintained that he was a genius even when he was mostly just putting bits of bread on his feet and singing songs about pancakes. Even now, he’s a puzzling act, but the solution to the puzzle ends up being pure joy. Most straightforward observational comics, like me, have a taste for more daring, unconventional acts, which brings us to number three…’

Watch a clip of Sam Simmons

paul foot press 2013

3. Paul Foot

‘The most I’ve ever laughed at a comedy show was Foot in 2004, and the rest of the audience was similarly incapacitated pretty much to the man. I went back a few days later and saw the same thing, and this time hardly anyone laughed. More than anyone else, this diminutive fop sums up the risk of live comedy and the huge rewards when the risk pays off. I’ve seen Foot reduce a room to uncontrollable mirth like no one else around, and also supported him at a gig where about 40 people walked out in disgust. Plus, after one show we did together, he took us considerably out of our way on the drive back because he’d earmarked, on the map, a specific place he wanted to eat his pork pie.’

Watch a clip of Paul Foot

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dara o briain

2. Dara O Briain

‘A lot of this list has tended towards the unorthodox, but in terms of my own department – jokes, anecdotes, that sort of thing – I probably learned more from watching this big beast of comedy than from anyone else. In a recent discussion over who you’d choose if someone had to do a great gig to save your life, the consensus came down to O Briain or Adam Hills, though with the caveat that we very much hope no such scenario arises. Dara’s command of a stage and mastery of an audience are total. As with Lee Mack, the only worry is that his own TV success could overshadow his live work; but given that Dara seems to do about 495 gigs a year, it should be safe.’

Watch a clip of Dara O Briain

tim key time out 2014
© Rob Greig

1. Tim Key

‘Is he even a stand-up? Probably not. He reads squalid little poems from the back of playing cards. He flirts unbecomingly with audience members, or at other times berates them, or he might just swig low-quality lager from a can. He wears a horrible boiler suit sometimes, sports an ill-judged beard at others. Like a lot of the people in this list, he takes big risks with the audience’s goodwill, and not everyone likes it. But the simple fact of the matter is, there’s no one funnier.’

Watch a clip of Tim Key

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