15 Best British Comedians of All Time
Britain has a long history of producing great comedians, some of which have certainly taken the medium of film, television and even the humble stand up scenes to new heights. The land of Monty Python has a lot to offer for those who like the funny. Join me as we go through the best 15 of British comedians, and touch on their best work and comedy style. It’s too hard to rank one above the other, so let’s explore the list in no particular order, and you can pick your favorite.
With a huge body of work, Bill Bailey is certainly one of the all time great British comedians. Starring in shows such as Black Books he rose to fame and can be found on many other shows including QI, Never Mind the Buzzcocks and many others as a guest.
Known for his musical and comedy ability, check out Bill Bailey: Part Troll for one of the greatest comedy performances ever.
Among his huge list of credits he has appeared on Skins and many nature shows, which is revealed to be a passion of Bailey’s through his various animal rights campaigns, including trying to rescue dancing bears.
A list of greatest comedians of all time wouldn’t be complete without at least one member of Monty Python, and it’s hard to go past the amazing Cleese. Specializing in satire, black comedy and sketch comedy, his surreal and absurd takes are unique in the business.
With so much material produced under the Monty Python banner, Cleese kept going with his production Fawlty Towers and then followed it up with several films, including ones he wrote.
His role of Basil Fawlty was recognized as the 2nd best television character ever in 2001, losing out to Homer Simpson.
Cleese has also been cast as R and Q in the James Bond films, and been in the Harry Potter Franchise as Nearly Headless Nick.
Often appearing alongside Rob Brydon, Coogan is a master at voice acting and impressions, while also having an extremely successful career in TV and movies.
Famous for his politically incorrect character Alan Partridge, Coogan’s biting humor and satire have made him a force to be reckoned with in whatever medium he decides to use, be it stand up comedy, scripted television or movies, or even screenwriting.
Unlike many on this list, he has also branched out in decidedly non-comedy roles to reveal his bona fides in other genres.
Best known for his mockumentary The Office, Gervais is one of the most awarded comedians of all time, with seven BAFTA Awards, five British Comedy Awards, two Emmy Awards, three Golden Globe Awards, and the Rose d’Or twice.
After making The Office with Stephen Merchant, he then followed it up a few years later with the hilarious series titled Extras. His many other projects include podcasts and starring roles in many major films, including The Invention of Lying and the Night at the Museum trilogy.
Gervais has also had several hosting gigs, including notably the Golden Globe Awards a total of five times. His 2020 stint definitely won’t win him many friends in Hollywood, but it had several hilarious bits roasting celebrities that will go down in history.
Sacha Baron Cohen
Famous for his many characters including Ali G, Borat, and Bruno, Cohen is a master of interviews using bizarre costumes and accents to hide the absurd questions he poses.
His fame has made these characters too recognizable and so he has subsequently retired them. Cohen has branched off into many other projects, consistently winning awards and being rated as in the top best comedians year after year.
Getting his big break with Robert Webb in Peep Show, Mitchell has gone on to be one of the most recognizable faces on British TV due to his constant appearances and performances on a variety of UK panel shows.
His dry sense of humor is amazing for both stand up, scripted work and film. His use of cringe-inducing humor and uncomfortable situations makes his comedy almost impossible to watch for some people, but the payoffs are amazing.
An absolute king of the one liners and controversial jokes, Carr has one of the greatest comedy minds out there, as well as one of the most bizarre laughs.
Carr has moved into hosting roles including on The Big Fat Quiz of the Year and 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown among many others.
However, it is Carr’s constant touring as a stand up comedian for which he is most famous, with his biting style often getting him into trouble, for which he very rarely apologizes.
Another member of Monty Python, Palin has also produced a string of travel documentaries as well as feature length films and comedy series.
His comedy often dips into the absurd, dealing with topics such as penis transplants, reforming working girls, and a diamond heist involving dead dogs and dead fish.
Appearing in many comedy films including the fantastic The Death of Stalin, Palin is a comedic genius who has been dominating for years.
Coming to prominence with his 1999 sitcom Spaced, Pegg saw mainstream success with his Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy, containing the three fantastic films Hot Fuzz, Shaun of the Dead and The World’s End.
Pegg is also known for appearing in many sketch shows, including the brilliant Big Train as well as a slew of big Hollywood films such as the Mission Impossible franchise.
Teaming up with Ricky Gervais, Merchant has been part of the comedic genius behind The Office and Extras, as well as appearing with Gervais on a variety of other projects.
A fantastic comedian in his own right, Merchant’s gangly frame of 201cm adds another layer of absurdity to his style of humor.
One of his more recent shows, The Outlaws, follows a group of criminals who are forced to do community service, a setting inspired by Merchant’s own parents who related the stories of their time as supervisors in the community sector.
One of the best all around talents in British media, Wood has written and starred in dozens of sketches, plays, musicals, films and sitcoms over several decades, with her live comedy act being widely renowned.
Her observational comedy routines paired with parodies and satires, particularly of the British social class system, has seen her become one of the most awarded people in British history, with Wood being a 14-time BAFTA TV Award nominee and recipient of four BAFTAs.
The other half othe Mitchell and Webb comedy troupe, Webb is famous for portraying the selfish, juvenile and arrogant Jez Usbourne on Peep Show, who easily ranks as one of the best worst characters ever.
Having seen his own success in The Smoking Room, Webb is also a big participant in the many panel shows, including hosting and appearing in other sitcoms.
Starting out as a journalist, Brooker eventually went on to create a series of shows taking a critical and satirical look at modern media and society, called Screenwipe, Newswipe and other variations.
His anthology series Black Mirror, while not exactly comedy (often described as speculative fiction based in near-future dystopias), showed just how large his range is, and is a big departure from his hilarious takes on shows like Newswipe.
His takes on the corruption and shady operations of big media are some of the funniest social commentary you’ll ever see.
A stand up comedian who spends a large part of one of his specials kneeling on the stage, Acaster has shot to prominence after touring his stand up comedy for several years.
Known for telling his ‘classic scapes’, or stories from his life about when he gets up to certain escapades, Acaster’s ‘chaotic good’ persona and adorable lisp make him quite the comedian when he gets going.
Best known as the acerbic chat show host Mrs Merton Aherne has also appeared on The Fast Show, and as Denise in The Royle Family, a series which she co-wrote.
She has won BAFTA awards for her work on The Mrs Merton Show and The Royle Family as well as being a narrator on the fly on the wall reality show Gogglebox.
Mrs Merton often stunned her guests by throwing outrageous questions at the real-life celebrities, getting away with the schtick for so long due to her accent being perceived as non-threatening.