Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Top Comedy Characters

There was a 50 greatest on telly which I disagreed with. That, coupled with an abundance of spare time, has led me to construct my own list.

This list is not definitive. I haven't seen every comedy show or movie, and can't remember all the ones I have seen and on any other day this may be ranked differently but here is my personal top 50 comedy characters.

You may want to read from the bottom up for best effect but it's really up to you.

1.Homer Simpson- He seems an obvious choice but Homer Simpson combines numerous elements of the best comedy characters. He is a pure parody of the stereotypical American and a critique of some of Americans' less flattering attributes. Having said that he remains thoroughly likeable and ticks many comedy boxes with both slapstick and clever throwaway lines ("If we don't watch the commercials it's like we're stealing TV"). Dan Castellaneta has also given one of the most underpraised comedy performances ever bringing the character to life. Also, his high ranking here is partially in response to the absence of animated characters in the Channel 4 list that inspired this one.

2.Dame Edna- One of the few characters high up in my list that doesn't fall strictly into the parody bracket, Edna ranks so highly for Barry Humphries' improvisational abilities as well as the fact that after 50 years the character remains fresh and consistently hilarious.

3.Jim Royle- The Royle Family is arguably the British response to the Simpsons. In many ways Jim is similar to Homer, lazy, fat, self-interested, but instead of slapstick and stupidity Jim has the dry humour for which Brits are famous and a quick and scathing tongue.

4.David Brent- The Office so brilliantly perfected the mockumentary and Gervais the lame boss-as-friend blue-sky-thinking boss that in many ways defines modern society. And is bloody hilarious in the process.

5.Borat- I've never been too keen on the idea of Borat as satire. People from poorer parts of the world who appear uncivilized to Westerners are not exactly the most pressing of targets, but if you can go to that place where you stop giving a crap about who is offended and embrace the premise Borat is side-splittingly funny both as a character himself ("In Kazakhstan football nuclear retardation disease where man grow foot from testi-satchel") and in the responses he gets from his hapless and not-so-hapless victims.

6.Nigel Tufnel- The best character in one of the best comedy films ever made, Christopher Guest gets the British accent and pretentious rock-star spot on. There's really not much else to say without re-quoting lines.

7.Nessa-Gavin and Stacey is good, and a lot of people love Smithy, but as someone who thinks James Corden is fairly talentless and quite overrated it's no wonder I think the star of the show is Nessa played by writer Ruth Jones. We all know someone a bit like Nessa, who you get the impression has more to her than meets the eye (often alluded to with references to relationships with John Prescott and Richard Madeley) but who is humourless on the outside and apparently very unaware of their own peculiarity.

8.Eric Cartman- Some shows are made up completely of fantastic characters. I've never felt South Park is one of these shows. Don't get me wrong, there are some great ones, but a lot of characters also seem to fall into a homogeneous blob, something that's well avoided by a show like the Simpsons. The one character that stands out over all the others is Cartman who can be best describes by Wikipedia: "Cartman is an overweight, immature, spoiled, outspoken, lazy, foul-mouthed, mean-spirited, racist, sexist, anti-semitic,sociopathic, narcissistic, and ill-tempered third- then fourth-grader".

9.Victor Meldrew- I don't believe it. Before the 'Grumpy Old...' franchise milked the cow of grumpy older people dry there was the many times more funny One Foot in the Grave with a surprisingly likeable protagonist who people of all ages can relate to in some way.

10.Ted Maul/Chris Morris- These are both fictional reporters played by Chris Morris in the Day Today and brass eye, strong in both scripted sections and interactions with real people for which Brass Eye became famous. The sublime and accurate parody of these shows is more true today than ever with increasingly dumbed-down news coverage relying more and more on graphics and bizarre metaphors.

11.Sheldon Cooper- The nerd character has been done before. Indeed, Moss from the IT Crowd appears in this very list, but the reason the Big Bang Theory's Sheldon comes so far up is partly because of how very extremely nerdy he is but also because of the fantastic performance of Jim Parsons. It's impossible to imagine anyone else in the role, and the time he must take learning all those lines is worthy of recognition in itself.

12.Bernard Black- Black Books in not a remarkable sitcom. It's often confused about the direction it wants to take and seems to have a certain amount of identity crisis, but the character of Bernard redeems the show. The highlight of the character is his elaborate physical comedy. He is the first of several alcoholics in the list.

13.Marsha- She may not be familiar to my reader as Spaced is a very under-rated sitcom which is worthy of more than a small cult following. There are two Spaced characters in this list, but Marsha comes first because of the tremendous performance of Julia Deakin, twisting her face into something that's not quite Janet Street-Porter. A depressing past is alluded to with the end of a story in the fist episode where her husband chose the dog over her, accompanied by the amount of alcohol she consumes.

14.Ali G- Ali G has become so much part of the fabric of our collective conciousness that it's easy to forget his beginnings and what a satire he was of white people attempting to embrace black culture to a ludicrous extent. He manages, like Borat, to tease ludicrous statements out of his interviewees and is just an all-round funny character, particularly to those familiar with Tim Westwood.

15.Mrs Doyle- Wasn't keen to include her in the list but a voice in my head kept saying "go on....go on.....go on go on go on go on go on go on". The top character from Father Ted in this list, Mrs Doyle is another example of a character ranking highly chiefly due to their actor. Pauline McLynne more than holds her ground in the masculine world of a priest-based sitcom and manages to create an unedrlying sympathy for what is on the surface just a wacky caricature.

16.Mrs (Mandy) Cohen- It's fair to say women aren't as well represented on this list as their male counterparts and Brian's mother from Life of Brian certainly doesn't accentuate the most positive aspects of femininity. However, memory of the high-pitched shriek of Terry Jones invokes such iconic scenes as the stoning and asking the three wise men "what star sign is he?". Brian's mother gets many of the best lines and she is probably the best character in the film.

17.Barry from Eastenders- There's something beautiful and depressing about tragic clown Shaun Williams in Extras. Technically Shaun plays himself so isn't really a character, but he's mostly referred to as "Barry" and if what we see in Extras isn't a character, Williams deserves to be in the list purely out of sympathy. What better way to highlight the useless agent than have someone who genuinely has had a failed career as his client?

18.Father Jack- The second of out Father Ted entries, Father Jack is a mixture of all the worst stereotypes of the priesthood: alcoholism, perviness and general self-interest. The character of Jack remains an enigma throughout but every now and again we get glimpses of the man beneath the "drink, feck, arse and girls" such as when he sobers up and shouts "Am I still on this fecking island??"

19.Gareth- Uptight, overserious, humourless and just generally a tosser, everyone knows a Gareth. Brilliant Gareth moments include the stapler in jelly (interesteringly, replaced with cheese in the French version), (territorial) army stories and his investigation into who has put boss David in a porn photo.

20.Joy Turner- A brilliant sketch of white trash, Joy is one of the best characters in My Name is Earl, which is saying a lot because every character is worthy of their own show. I would include one of the many brilliant quotes, but they don't really work out of context.

21.Ben and Sam- Comedians have tried and failed to satirize modern youth. The only thing funny, for example, about Catherine Tate's effort is that she thinks she can pass for a teenager. Ben and Sam from Lead Balloon, however, captivate the lack of enthusiasm, imagination and motivation of middle class yoofs while providing more than their fair share of laugh-out-loud moments in the show. They are included together on this list for obvious reasons. Reading Wikipedia, I have just discovered that their actors are 26 and 29 respectively, which surprised me.

22.Frank Spencer- Taking it back about thirty years, repeats of Some Mothers do Ave Em was one of those rare telivisual gems of my childhood, mostly for the slapstick, but also for its main character, fantastically brought to life by Michael Crawford. I may not even find it funny now, but at the time it was absolutely side-splitting.

23.Edmund Blackadder- I haven't watched Blackadder in a while but "we're in a stickier situation than when sticky the stick insect got stuck on a sticky bun" sums up the vicious and sarcastic British wit embodies by the marvellous Rowan Atkinson as Edmund Blackadder.

24.Darren Lamb- Shitty agent to previously mentioned Barry from Eastenders, Stephen Merchant was sadly not in the Office,but does a great job of making up for it here.

25.Earl Hickey- As previously mentions, all My Name Is Earl Characters could feature in this list. Earl is not particularly remarkable. He is an everyman (albeit a rather simple one) for other characters to bounce off, like Father Ted, Andy Millman, or Tim Caterbury. However, he gets in some good lines himself and is much more proactive than some other 'everyman' central characters.

26.Brian- The second Spaced person in this list, Brian is brought to life by Mark Heap. Clips of Spaced on YouTube are thin on the ground so unless you're familiar with it you'll just have to trust me on this one.

27.Maggie Jacobs- The third and final Extras character in this list, Maggie is your classic sitcom idiot (in the same lineage as Phoebe, Joey, Dougall, Randy...). But there are a couple of reasons why I've included her, one being because I love Ashley Jensen in Ugly Betty too and another being that I like shows where they have a man and a woman who are friends and there's no romance involved (and neither of them is gay). The only other example of this I can think of is Daisy and Tim in spaced, and while perfectly good characters, neither of them really qualify as a comedy creation by themselves.

28.Karen Walker- It's years since I watched Will and Grace, but I remember Karen being one of the main reasons to watch with her funny high-pitched voice, treatment of her maid, and general weirdness.

29.MC Vagina- That's right, I included an internet character. While I enjoy 90% of the songs of Jon LaJoie, his creation of insanely over-the-top rapper "MC Vagina" is, of course, what makes it to the list. He started with "Show Me Your Genitals" which had a sequel, a threequel ("I Kill People") and a...er...fourquel "Very Super Famous" where he went down the Dame Edna route of claiming megastardom, as well as a brief cameo in WTF Collective 2. Jon, while playing Vagina, suffers from actually being a good rapper. He can't help but do good rhymes.

30. Maurice Moss- Marginally less nerdy than Sheldon, Moss is much more likeable and child-like than his American counterpart. Another example of a brilliant actor bringing a character to life.

31.Harry Monroe- No, that's not Moss again, or Sideshow Bob, it's another character with massive hair, and another character from My Name is Earl. Harry, AKA Darnell, AKA Crabman, is calm good natured, and for some reason chose to marry Joy. You get the impression there is more to him than meets the eye, and Mr Turtle is cool too.

31.Amanda Tanen-Summers- Ugly Betty, why did they have to cancel you? Not the funniest show ever, but the characters are all excellent and pretty-but-dim receptionist Amanda along with best friend Mark gets all the best lines, mostly about Betty's weight or Mexican heritage.

32.Magda- Magda is very much like Borat, except less of a cartoon and more grumpy.

33.Lily Savage- Paul O'Grady successfully brought what was effectively a traditional drag act from the gay scene to the mainstream by being very funny. Also, anyone else think Lily reminds them of Pete Burns?

34. Mr Bean- Bean falls into the same category as Frank Spencer for me. Although it's rare I watch either now, I'm fairly sure I wouldn't find either as funny as I did as a child. However, Rowan Atkinson riding on an armchair on a mini is timeless.

35.Jen Barber- I really like Jen. While she may not be an iconic character that will be remembered for centuries, she is much better than air-headed Penny in the Big Bang Theory. Ok, she doesn't know about computers but in other areas she is much more competent than Roy and Moss, and it's refreshing to have a young female character that's not afraid to look a bit silly or shout "Taxi!" every episode.

36.Patsy Stone- Ab Fab hasn't been on in ages, but I remember the incessant bickering of the fabulous Saunders/Lumley duo. Lumley is better know now for her efforts with the Gurkhas.

37.Barry Rumack- I wanted to include someone from Airplane, and who better than the late, great Leslie Nielsen?


39.Janice- None of the core cast of Friends, while likeable and entertaining, are really 'great' comedy characters. Janice, however, despite of her infrequent appearances, has established a cult following. Her appearance and catchphrase "Ohhh myyyyy Gawwwwwd" never fails to bring the house down, and that's just my house.

40.Donkey- One of the main reasons to watch Shrek. Eddie Murphy. It's certainly not Mike Myers' Scottish accent.

41.Babs- Another animated one. Chicken Run is great, and Babs is probably the funniest stand-alone chicken. "Are we going on holiday?"

42.Fletcher- Porridge.

43.Kermit- I love the muppets. Gonzo, Miss Piggy, Animal, Cookie Monster, Rizzo, Fozzy, Sam the Eagle, Bunsen Honeydew, Beaker. They are all great but unfortunately only chief mupper Kermie made the cut.

44.Brian Butterfield- The Peter Serafinowicz show was criminally cancelled. It was the best of the surge of sketch shows of the last ten years. Better than catchphrase-based Little Britain, even worse catchphrase-based Catherine Tate, "people saying things out of context"-based Armstrong and Millar, as well as the slightly better Harry and Paul and the hit-and-miss Kevin Bishop. Peter Serfinowicz was the most consistently funny of all these, and the best non-impression character (see Simon Cowell, Derek [Barry Scott] Bum, Darth  Vader) is Brian Butterfield. Here is the Butterfield Detective Agency. See also Butterfield Diet Plan and Butterfield Time Line.

45.Fry- I really wanted to include a Futurama character and I was torn between Fry, Leela and Benda. In the end I went with Fry because he takes idiocy to a new level "I never told anybody this, but a thousand years ago I used to look up at the moon and dream about being an astronaut. I just didn't have the grades. Or the physical endurance. Plus I threw up a lot, and nobody liked spending a week with me."

46.Miranda- Miranda is sort of a real person so I'm not sure if she counts. I was not initially enamoured with her sitcom "Miranda" but I've changed my mind. It falls solidly into the "so bad it's funny" category, and I mean SO bad. But the only reason anyone puts up with such an immature and silly sitcom is because Miranda is so likeable and seems so desperate.

47.Chef- Who doesn't love Chef? I wanted to use the prostitute song here but the quality was really bad on the video so I'm afraid it's audio only.

48.Geraldine- I'll admit I'm kinda scraping the barrel now. Thinking of 50 comedy characters is harder than it sounds so I've gone for Dawn French's character in the Vicar of Dibley because it's quite a good sitcom and I'm running out of ideas.

49.George Dawes- The Shooting Stars score keeper played by Matt Lucas. His weekly songs are what has earned him his place in this list.
50.Sarah Palin- John McCain's sense of humour should have won him the presidency. Creating a comdey character like Sarah Palin as his running mate is one of the greatest practical joke in human history. Since it was revealed 2 months ago that Palin is actually actress Heather Donahue the world has been in awe of how she maintained the wacky, happy-go-lucky newsroom psycho act so consistently for almost three years. Now the joke is out of the bag, it's fair to say she deserves a place in the list of greatest comedy characters.

Shit. I forgot Brüno. While his film wasn't great, he did a great job of lampooning the fashion world in the TV show. And I was going to include the dad from "Friday Night Dinner". Never mind.

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