I’ve never been someone who watches a great deal of TV, there are a handful of shows that I remain loyal to and will watch whenever a season of it is on but for the most part, TV serves as the background noise of my life, something to have on in the background while I play a game or I’m writing. However, the one genre of TV I find myself frequently enjoying is that of comedy.
There are plenty of Youtube Channels out there that make hilarious content that keeps me entertained, but there’s something about the production and style of TV that provides a level of laughs that I can’t find anywhere else and given that we’ve just gone through the Christmas period, where I’m at home and spend more time watching TV than usual, I thought it’d be fun to go through some of those shows today.
To be clear here, there are no rules in terms of what format the comedy show takes. Sitcoms, panel shows, sketch shows and all the rest are eligible for the list so long as they’re made for TV and are designed to make the audience laugh. So let’s take a look at the funniest of what the land of TV has to offer.
WARNING: EXTREME AMOUNTS OF BRITISHNESS INCOMING
10 – Mock the Week
Ran from: 2005 – Present
Channel: BBC Two
Starring: Dara O’Brien, Hugh Dennis & Various Comedians
I knew I wanted to get one example of the traditional British panel show on here and after running through a couple like Have I Got News for You? and QI I settled on Mock the Week purely because I think it’s the funniest.
Comedians taking the piss out of the news is more or less the backbone of the stand-up genre and Mock the Week took the format brought to the table by Have I Got News For You and revised it to allow for a much more constant stream of laughs. With each episode separated into fairly vague rounds, the format allows the 6 comedians they have on every show to run wild and make a huge variety of jokes on just about anything.
The news from the past week is generally the topic for the most part, but once the comedians finish firing off their quickfire jokes and they start discussing the topic, it’s almost guaranteed that they start to stray onto whatever topic comes into their heads. Then there are the stand-up rounds, where one of the comedians will be given any old topic like Family or Travel and have to do a 5 minute routine on it which gets in a great dose of stand-up comedy as they usually have a selection of the best current comedians on the show. Then there’s the final round of every show, for which the show is arguably the most famous, the “Scenes we’d like to see” round, where all of the participants are given a vague topic like “Unlikely things for a Doctor to say during a check-up” and everyone piles in and does a load of one-liners on the subject which is always hilarious to watch.
Dara O’Brien is a great host for the show, he seems to able to bounce off just about everything anyone says and has generally created some of the funniest moments in the show’s history to boot.
Mock the Week is the best example I can think of for a British panel show because it really does have a bit of everything, pair that with a brilliant host and the finest selection of comedians and you’ve got guaranteed hilarity.
9 – Red Dwarf
Ran from: 1988 – 1999, 2009 – Present
Channel: BBC Two (1988-1999), Dave (2009-Present)
Starring: Craig Charles, Chris Barrie, Danny John-Jules, Robert Llewellyn
Red Dwarf’s a bit of an odd one because it’s one of those shows that are absolutely unmatched when it’s at it’s best, but it spent a good while at a sub-par quality level which has dragged it down and caused it to be considered “overrated” in many circles.
It came about in an era where there was A LOT of Sci-fi, especially in the UK. Doctor Who was just about to close out its initial run and Star Trek was just as big in the UK as it was in the US, so this was a show that looked to come in and tear the genre apart; to point out all the ridiculous stuff and satirise it for all to see. It didn’t satirise it in the modern way though, which is to make it SO ridiculous and over the top that it stops being funny, but instead, it took these satirical ideas and framed them in a show that was able to stand on its own two legs as a decent sci-fi show in its own right.
It didn’t create massive worlds with tonnes of characters, but it was able to create a very cosy universe for itself and put just four very well-rounded characters in it and once that was set up, the comedy followed easily. With the exception of perhaps Kryten, you can’t really put any of the main characters into a box and specifically say that they’re a parody of another character from a different sci-fi show because the writers knew that was a style of comedy that couldn’t hold up for very long.
It’s hard to deny that around ’98-’99 the show took a dip in quality, but come 2012 when the first new series in over a decade aired, the show did something very few shows have ever been able to do before. It came back, just as good as it was in its hey-day. It wasn’t quite as good as it was at it’s best, but the recent series of Red Dwarf are just as well written and funny as they were during the original few series and that’s something that can’t be discounted when looking back at it.
Red Dwarf was a show that took a beloved genre and managed to rip the piss out of it, while still adding to it in the process, not once but twice and I’m absolutely thrilled that it’s still going.
8 – That Mitchell and Webb Look
Ran from: 2006-2010
Channel: BBC Two
Starring: David Mitchell, Robert Webb
Sketch comedy is a genre that’s never gone over all that well on TV, it’s a format that’s more suited to the theatre, or in the modern era, online platforms like Youtube. That doesn’t mean that a great sketch show has never been on TV though, and here’s an example of one.
I’ve always loved David Mitchell as a comedian, there’s something about his delivery style that gets me every time he delivers a joke (we’ll get into that a bit more later) and he’s a lot better than I thought he’d be at portraying the wide variety of caricatures that feature on a sketch show like this one. As for Robert Webb, I’m well aware he’s an acquired taste and I know many people that can’t stand him, but I think he’s hilarious. He has this “couldn’t give a shit” style of delivery that I adore, but he can also play over the top enthusiasm in a hilarious way too, which is fantastic for sketches like the obscure & pointless advert parodies.
As for the content of the sketches, there are so many brilliant recurring features that I could list. Just to name a few there’s: The Quiz Broadcast, Ted and Peter the former snooker players, Get Me Henimore and of course…That’s Numberwang! Even the one-off sketches are absolutely brilliantly written in the way they parody all aspects of British TV, it really is a great collection of sketches that I could watch endlessly.
7 – Futurama
Ran from: 1999-2013
Channel: FOX (1999-2003), Comedy Central (2008-2013)
Starring: Billy West, Katey Sagal, John DiMaggio
Futurama is a show that Matt Groening created just as his other show, The Simpsons, was starting to see it’s quality decline slowly but surely, which is why it’s almost surprising that Futurama ended up as good as it was. Futurama was a show that took the same style of comedy as The Simpsons and set it in a world where they could absolutely anything they wanted, it was like having a whole series of “Treehouse of Horror” episodes.
Much like Red Dwarf, it was able to identify so many sci-fi trends and find a way to repurpose them for the sake of comedy, with hilarious results. The way it presents Robots is great, where they’ve become advanced to the point where they act pretty much the same as humans allowed for a greater variety of both characters and stories as they explore the differences between the two which led to both comedy and heartfelt moments.
That’s what elevates a comedy show like this above so many other sitcoms, it wasn’t afraid to occasionally make you cry. There are plenty of moments in the show that grounds the whole thing in a very human reality – like Fry seeing his Mom in a dream or the tragedy of Seymore that only serves to enhance the ridiculousness of the lobster monsters and planets with stupid names.
I also don’t think it ever declined in quality all that much. It had the odd crap episode of course, but as far as I’m concerned, the final season in 2013 was on the same level of quality as the first one in 1999. This is thanks to the sheer scale of the show, it allowed the writers with any bat-shit stupid idea they had and make it work. You want Leela to write and film her own kids show, only for it to turn out she stole the idea from some aliens she found? Go for it. You want an hour-long epic where the characters get sucked into a game of D&D that then becomes a Lord of the Rings parody? Let’s get it made. You want to have an episode that’s just about Fry looking for a place to live? No problem, and we’ll make it one of the funniest episodes in show history.
Futurama was a show that was so incredibly creative when it came to its comedy and I honestly don’t think we’ve ever seen a show hit its stride quite like it before or since.
6 – Dave Gorman’s Modern Life is Goodish
Ran from: 2013 – 2017
Starring: Dave Gorman
I know, it’s a show about a man called Dave on a channel called Dave, UK TV is weird sometimes.
This is a rare example of what is essentially a series of stand-up shows becoming a serialised TV show, entirely featuring a single comedian, but luckily they picked the perfect man for the job.
Many stand-up will tell stories in order to get their jokes out, it’s one of the main features of any routines, but I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a comedian better at telling a story than Dave Gorman. Check out his stand-up show “Dave Gorman’s Googlewhack Adventure” if you don’t believe me, the man can weave all kind of tales while he’s up there on stage and every sentence contains something worth laughing about.
The premise of the show itself is quite simple, he has a slideshow and his voice and he looks to dissect the world we live in and show you why it’s good…ish. The way he goes about it, however, is fantastic, he’s great at the classic style of stand-up bits where he points out all the ridiculous things we accept without even realising it every day; such as game trailers that look to sell the game with “not actual game footage” or how we’re more likely to buy a clock if we think it’s smiling at us (you’re going to have to watch the show to understand that one).
Then in almost every episode, he will do something a bit weird, but hilarious that questions our perceptions of modern life. Like creating a fake music puzzle just to infuriate his friend who’s really good at them; or sending £50 notes through the post in a see-through envelope to see if we can trust the post-service; or my personal favourite, where he put two pairs hamsters in two different cages, one laid with shredded newspaper and the other laid with shredded porn magazines to see if the hamsters with the porn magazines were more sexually active.
Dave Gorman’s Modern Life is Goodish is what happened when a top-level stand-up comedian is at his absolute creative best, with enough variety in every show to tickle your fancy no matter what style of stand-up you like.
5 – Scrubs
Ran from: 2001 – 2010
Starring: Zach Braff, Donald Faison, Sarah Chalke, Elisa Coupe, John C McGinley, Niel Flynn, Ken Jenkins
To put it plainly, I don’t like American live-action sitcoms. There have been a couple like How I Met Your Mother and the first couple of seasons of The Big Bang Theory that I’ve thought were alright and Friends certainly has its charm, but they don’t make me laugh out loud like any of the British shows on this list.
Except for Scrubs.
The thing about so many of American sitcoms is that they lean too hard on the silliness, good jokes come from breaking the norm, we laugh because the silly thing is unexpected or out of place, so when the whole world of a show is whacky and ridiculous the jokes don’t seem out of place, so just aren’t as funny. Scrubs understood this and made sure that it was going to ground itself in a very serious world.
A hospital is an inherently serious place, we think of it as a place where incredibly smart people do all they can to help the sick and weak, so what better place to set over-the-top, silly antics? All of the characters in Scrubs feel so larger than life because they’re stuck in this serious, realistic setting that only serves to highlight how absurd all of their jokes and actions are.
What’s amazing about Scrubs though, is that this contrast doesn’t just go one way, it doesn’t just serve to make the jokes seem silly, it serves to make the dark and serious moments have an even greater emotional impact. Just look at an episode like My Lunch for an example of this, the jokes come a mile a minute in this and it always gets loads of laughs out of me the whole way through and then 5 minutes later it’s got me on the edge of tears as it takes the characters through a horrible experience.
Scrubs is a show that understands exactly how to balance those two sides to its world in order to make both of them stand out to the fullest effect. There are plenty of other comedy shows out there that have moments of heart, even some I’m yet to talk about on this list, but none have achieved it quite to the level of quality that Scrubs did.
4 – Would I Lie To You?
Ran from: 2007 – Present
Channel: BBC One
Starring: David Mitchell, Lee Mack, Rob Brydon & Various TV Personalities
Going back to the world of British Panel shows we’ve got a show that I would say has the largest amount of laughs per minute on this list.
The format of Would I Lie To You is very simple, there are two teams each with two celebrity guests alongside David Mitchell on one team and Lee Mack on the other and they each take turns reading out a story about themselves, this story might be true or it might be a lie and it’s the job of the opposing team to ask questions about the story and determine which it is.
Naturally, all of the stories that come out are slightly weird or absurd which makes the interrogation all the more entertaining as the guests being questioned weave a grand tapestry of an absolutely ridiculous story that is so stupid it MUST be true. Mitchell & Mack are always on throughout this show, ready to pounce on any oddity or inconsistency in hilarious fashion, to the point where the show often devolves into an absolutely side-splitting shouting match between the captains who are able to bounce off of each other flawlessly.
The guests are also brilliant at making their stories sound as ludicrous as possible, just watch Henning Vane’s story of how he got onto Interpol’s missing person’s list, or James Acaster’s cabbage rivalry, or literally anything Bob Mortimer has ever said on that show. Rob Brydon does a great job of keeping the show moving and isn’t afraid to get involved in the shouting matches when he wants to, which only makes things all the funnier.
It’s a show that has that sense of fun that telling your mates a story of something that happened to you has, only with the added bonus of seeing that story torn apart by people who make a living being entertaining and funny. It doesn’t do anything special or groundbreaking, it’s just all-out hilarity from start to finish and that’s good enough for me.
3 – Black Books
Ran from: 2000 – 2004
Channel: Channel 4
Starring: Dylan Moran, Bill Bailey, Tamsin Greig
Going to the slightly more obscure regions now, to a show that, the first time I watched it blew me away by how obscenely funny it was.
Dylan Moran’s performance is what makes this show as good as it is, I’ve always loved his style of stand-up and he turns that up to eleven for his character in this show, being constantly loud, abrasive and generally an absolute arsehole to everyone and everything around him. This kind of “don’t give a shit” attitude that his character gives off adds so much to every single joke in the show, giving it this over-the-top feel that I just can’t help but laugh at.
On top of that, the jokes are just extremely well written. They don’t make any grand comments about our society or have some deep emotional meaning, they’re just unapologetically funny. Sometimes comedy for the sake of comedy is exactly what I want from TV and no show does that better than Black Books, every situation the characters get themselves into is relatively realistic, just slightly exaggerated and it brings out the best in each of the characters.
All three of the main characters have very clear roles to play and the performances slot into them perfectly. With Dylan Moran’s character providing the pessimist’s view, Bill Bailey’s character providing the optimist’s view and Tasmin Greig’s character serving as a mediator between the two, the three characters are constantly at each other throats and it makes for some of the best pure comedy I’ve ever seen.
2 – The Simpsons
Ran from: 1989 – Present
Starring: Dan Castellaneta, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith
It’s hard to summarise why I love The Simpsons in just a few paragraphs. During its 30 years and counting on the air, it became more than a TV, spearheading a cultural movement in the US, shifting away from the wholesome family style of TV into a darker product that prefered to satirise the modern family values; although people far more articulate than I have already gone into that in great detail (I recommend Super Eyepatch Wolf on YouTube if you’re interested).
This year I completed a task I had set for myself the previous summer to watch every episode of The Simpsons ever, in order. Not counting season 31, which is currently airing, that’s 662 episodes of a sitcom I believe to be unrivalled in its quality, a feeling that was only amplified by the time I had finished watching them all.
The Simpsons is a show that has been in my life almost literally as long as I can remember, when I was growing up (and still to this day) it was on the TV in my parents’ house at least once every couple of days, usually more. It was a show that helped define my sense of humour and also the humour of those around me, I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone over the age of 8 who hasn’t at least heard of The Simpsons and when it comes to the circles I’m a part of on social media, Simpsons’ quotes are pretty much the default setting for jokes.
The first 8 to 10 years of The Simpsons is undoubtedly some of the best television ever produced and while I can’t deny that in the many years since the show has declined in quality – with some episodes that are downright awful – but I think it’s still a lot better than most people give it credit for. While the laugh-out-loud jokes and quotable moments are fewer and further between in the modern version of the show, I very rarely come away from an episode without having had a good giggle once or twice, which is a lot more than I can say for just about any other sitcom I’ve ever seen.
For not only providing me with more laughs than any other TV show ever made, but for helping to shape the sense of humour I have today and being a show that will likely be on the air until the heat-death of the universe, The Simpsons very nearly takes the top spot, but not quite.
1 – Taskmaster
Ran from: 2015 – Present
Channel: Dave (2015-2019), Channel 4 (2020-Present)
Starring: Greg Davies, Alex Horne, Various Comedians
The reasons that I love Taskmaster aren’t as complicated as many of the other shows I’ve talked about on this list. It doesn’t contrast its comedy with touching moments and it doesn’t look to tell any kind of story. Instead, it just takes it personalities, puts them in weird situations and sit back as hilarity ensues.
Taskmaster is a show put together by Alex Horne where for each series they will get a panel of five comedians and set them weird and interesting tasks. These tasks are things like “Knock all the rubber ducks off of the fence as fast as possible” or “Get 11 points” with no indication of how points are scored. These situations on their own would be funny enough, but what really makes this show something special is the fact that the only rules that are set in stone are the ones written on the card, anything else is fair game.
When you have a bunch of comedians who have trained themselves to be quick-witted and creative thinkers, they will always come up with the most ridiculous and creative ways to work around the rules of the task. This inevitably leads to a couple of the comedians nailing it in genuinely impressive ways, while others fail miserably in hilarious displays of ineptitude.
Greg Davies pulls the show together very nicely in his role as the person who judges the performances and hands out the scores, always finding the right way to mock the contestants, leading to some great banter between everyone on the panel. On top of this, despite the fact that the show has been running for 9 seasons, the team behind the show don’t seem to be running dry on task ideas, every new season is just as good as the last one, never dropping in quality which seems like an incredible feat to me.
Taskmaster seemed like a hit-or-miss formula and they knocked it out of the park, no show has made me laugh so hard for so long while maintaining its quality the whole way through its still-ongoing lifespan.
And that’s the list! Thank you very much for taking the time to read this, let me know what comedy shows you, love, either in the comments below or on Twitter @10ryawoo! Join me this time next week where I’ll be running down the best talkers in WWE today!