14 of the Best British Comedians
When it comes to stand-up comedians, the British are on a whole other level. Their humor is often self-deprecating and sarcastic, with the best British comedians never afraid to make fun of themselves. They also have a quite dry approach to comedy while also being fans of satire and surrealism.
The nations that make up Britain (England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland) have been producing some of the best comedians in the business. Some are massive only in Britain and across Europe, while others have made it big in America and around the globe. British comedians aren’t just relegated to stand-up, with many going on to star in their own specials and sitcoms or becoming hosts or frequent guests on panel and quiz shows. If you can make it big in the British comedy scene, then there are lots of opportunities to grow and pursue other creative avenues, as you will discover from the comedians featured below.
These comedians are the best British has to offer. Some broke through in the 70s and 80s and are regarded as legends, while others have only become famous in recent years and are part of the new breed pushing comedy forward. The one thing all of these comedians have in common is that they are very funny people. So read on and find out more about the best British comedians.
1. Ricky Gervais
After a short-lived career as a pop singer, Ricky Gervais found his true calling as a comedian. Working with frequent collaborator Stephen Merchant, the two first found fame with the mockumentary The Office, which got an American remake and became one of the biggest sitcoms in recent years.
Gervais would go on to write and star in several more comedies (Extras, Derek, and After Life) while also creating An Idiot Abroad and Life’s Too Short and starring in several highly successful stand-up specials. He also starred in several movies and had a hit radio and podcast show, making him hands down one of the great U.K. comedians.
2. James Acaster
Another failed musician, James Acaster is now an award-winning comedian who has had success both in Britain and across the pond. He broke through into the mainstream consciousness in 2018 with his Netflix special James Acaster: Repertoire. This led to Acaster becoming a regular on British panel shows, touring extensively, and releasing three books, with each one becoming a Sunday Times Best Seller.
3. Bill Bailey
For over 40 years Bill Bailey has been making audiences laugh around the world. Slightly kooky and looking like a mix between a wizard and a homeless person, Bailey has pretty much done it all. He first found fame on panel shows such as Never Mind the Buzzcocks, Have I Got News for You, and QI, before scoring a role on the hilarious dark Channel 4 sitcom Black Books.
Often incorporating music into his comedy, Bailey has toured the globe and is a big hit in Australia. As well as making people laugh, Bailey is a big animal activist and is the oldest person to win the U.K. version of Strictly Come Dancing at the age of 55 in 2020.
4. Katherine Ryan
Katherine Ryan is Canadian born but has been living in England for over 15 years. Initially a corporate trainer at Hooters, she began exploring comedy while living in the U.K.
As she slowly gained a following, her popularity increased and she started popping up on several panel shows, such as 8 Out of 10 Cats, Never Mind the Buzzcocks, and Would I Lie To You? She continues to appear on panel shows while also dabbling in film and TV, appearing in shows The Dutchess and Romantic Getaway.
5. David Mitchell
If you only ever watch one British comedy series, make it Peep Show. Shot from the point of view of its main characters, the nerdy and socially awkward Mark Corrigan (David Mitchell) and his slacker housemate and best friend Jeremy “Jez” Usbourne (Robert Webb), the show is a hilarious look at the lives of the two men, who are both horrible people who get into disastrous situations due to their actions.
Mitchell is particularly funny, and since the show first aired in 2003, he has gone on to be a staple in the British comedy scene. A regular on the panel show Would I Lie To You?, Mitchell has also been a guest on several quiz shows, taken part in the stage show The Upstart Crow, written several books, starred in more TV shows with Webb, and also written a column for The Guardian.
6. Rowan Atkinson
Blackadder is the show that first got Rowan Atkinson noticed, but it was Mr. Bean that propelled him into the top echelon of comedians. Playing the near-mute character made him a star and helped Atkinson transition to the big screen where he had memorable cameos in Four Weddings and a Funeral, The Lion King, and Love Actually. He even got his own movie franchise with the Bond satire Johnny English.
7. Jimmy Carr
With a distinct laugh and a sharp wit, Jimmy Carr is a British comedian with a huge following. His deadpan delivery and controversial comedy often get him in trouble, but it hasn’t diminished his fan base. He is the current host of 8 Out of 10 Cats, 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown, and The Fix and has consistently released well-received comedy specials over the past two decades, with his latest being His Dark Material in 2021.
8. Peter Kay
Arguably the most famous comedian to come out of Bolton, Peter Kay has had audiences laughing for over 25 years. His stand-up shows always sell out within minutes and his DVDs have sold over 10 million copies.
As well as stand-up, Kay is known for his hit shows That Peter Kay Thing, its spin-off Phoenix Nights, and Peter Kay’s Car Share. He’s a very funny man who some claim is the funniest British comedian of this century.
9. Michael McIntyre
Michael McIntyre was the highest-grossing comedian in 2012, which pretty much puts him in the conversation for one of the great comedians to come out of the United Kingdom.
Similar to many British comics, McIntrye splits his time between sell-out tours, guest appearances on all the big panel shows, and hosting his own shows, with Michael McIntyre’s Big Show and Michael McIntyre’s The Wheel his most recent efforts.
10. John Cleese
A true veteran of the British comedy scene, John Cleese was part of one of the great comedy ensembles, Monty Python. Along with Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, and Graham Chapman, the group performed live and released three critically acclaimed movies; Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Life of Brian, and The Meaning of Life.
Cleese also had much success as a solo artist, co-writing and starring in the hit sitcom Faulty Towers and appearing in the cult movie A Fish Called Wanda, two James Bond movies, two Harry Potter movies, and three Shrek films.
11. Steve Coogan
Steve Coogan is responsible for one of the great TV characters; Alan Partridge. Often putting his foot in it, Partridge is a narcissistic and politically incorrect radio host who has been the focal point of a radio series, several TV series, and even a movie.
Besides playing Partridge, Coogan is known for his work with Rob Brydon (The Trip series of movies) and for appearing in Hollywood productions and TV shows like Curb Your Enthusiasm and The Simpsons.
12. Victoria Wood
She might not be familiar to younger readers, but Victoria Wood was a massive influence on British comedy throughout the 70s and 80s. She starred in several TV shows and specials and found her niche with observational humor. She won many awards during her life, including four BAFTAs, before passing from throat cancer in 2016.
13. Sacha Baron Cohen
“Very nice!” Sacha Baron Cohen is responsible for some of the most recognizable comedy characters of the past two decades. Ali G, Borat, and Bruno are some of his best creations that have become pop culture icons.
As well as his own movies and TV shows, Cohen has starred in the likes of Les Misérables, The Trial of the Chicago 7, and Grimsby. He also won an MTV Movie Award for Best Kiss with Will Ferrell in the movie Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.
14. Billy Connolly
Now retired due to Parkinson’s disease, throughout the 70s, 80s, and 90s, Billy Connolly was everywhere. The folk singer turned comedian started getting popular in the late 70s and 80s throughout the U.K. before hitting it big in America in the 90s. This is when Connolly found himself acting in Hollywood films and playing to sold-out crowds across the globe.
While he continued to act throughout the 00s, he also made over a dozen well-received documentary series about his travels around the world. Connolly has also written over half a dozen books and released more than 30 stand-up recordings.
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