by Julian Hall

The best way to describe The Rough Guide to Cult British Comedy is that it’s kind of like Chortle - but in book form. So reading through its potted biographies of contemporary stand-ups, from Allen (Keith) to Wilty (Nick), the inescapable feeling was… damn, why didn’t we think of this?

It’s inevitably not as comprehensive or as up-to-date as a website can be, but then it’s aiming at a slightly different audience. Not so much as die-hard live comedy fans, as people who might need a bit of gentle persuasion to go that way.

The avowed aim of author Julian Hall, The Independent’s comedy critic, is to try to tempt readers to expand their comedy horizons, whether in be venturing into their local stand-up club or seeking out a new DVD set away from the mainstream.

As such a primer, this guide offers a decent overview of both the live scene and of TV classics. Every stand-up catalogued deserves their place in Hall’s top 50, and it’s well-enough researched not to make even a hardened fan doubt its accuracy. Only the inclusion of the meticulously scripted People Like Us in the ‘reality comedy’ section alongside Triger Happy TV and Denis Pennis seemed to jar.

The comics range from those at the vanguard of alternative comedy, like the late Malcolm Hardee, to newer arrivals like Mark Watson and Gary Le Strange. He’s even ranked his top ten ‘coolest live acts’ which, for the record are, in order, Eddie Izzard, Daniel Kitson, Andrew Maxwell, Alan Carr, Robert Newman, Ross Noble, Mark Watson, Jerry Sadowitz, Brendon Burns and Tim Vine.

As well as the comics, there’s a round-up of Britain;s major clubs, some suggested reading and websites for more background, and CDs you might like to buy or download. And although it’s a guide to British comedy, the American influence has not been forgotten either, with a section covering everything from Curb Your Enthusiasm to Doug Stanhope.

There’s also an idiot’s guide to the craft of comedy – hardly comprehensive in 17 pages when whole volumes have been dedicated to the subject, but still a solid enough introduction.

And that’s really the ethos of the whole book. Hardcore fans might read little they don’t already know, and find it too cursory to be a major reference source.

But if you’ve maybe sampled a bit of stand-up on TV and want pointing in the direction of comedians you might want to try, the Rough Guide is your perfect starting point.

Reviewed by:Steve Bennett
October 30, 2006

The Rough Guide To British Cult Comedy, by Julian Hall, is out now. Click here to order

Published: 30 Oct 2006

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