The English language can sometimes be complex and as a result can be difficult to learn. However, British comedians have been taking these tricky elements and turning them into comedy for years.
British humour is famed around the world for bringing us many of the comedy greats, from Monty Python to Blackadder, Mrs Merton to Mrs Brown’s Boys… so we’ve compiled a list of the top 20 British comedians of all time.
Are your favourites in here?
Name: Sacha Baron Cohen
Top joke, as Borat: “In US and A, if you want to marry a girl, you cannot go to her house and swap her for 15 gallons of insecticide.”
Name: Caroline Aherne
Top Joke, as Mrs Merton to Debbie McGhee "So what atttracted you to the millionaire Paul Daniels?"
Name: Eddie Izzard
Top joke: “The first coherent line ever spoken was: 'I have no idea what you're talking about.’”
Name: Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy
Ollie: “Call me a cab.”
Ollie: “Call me a cab.”
Stan: “You’re a cab.”
In the English language, there are many words that can be confused because they have the same sound but differing meanings. Many British comedians like Laurel and Hardy have made careers by identifying these words and creating stories around them.
Name: Ronnie Corbett
Top joke: “A cement mixer collided with a prison van on the Kingston bypass. Motorists are asked to be on the lookout for 16 hardened criminals.”
Name: Eric Idle
Top joke: "I cut down trees, I skip and jump, I like to press wild flowers. I put on women's clothing, and hang around in bars"
Name: Rik Mayall
Top joke: “God I’m bored; I might as well be listening to Genesis.”
Name: Terry Jones
Top quote: “He’s not the messiah; he’s a very naughty boy!”
Terry Jones was a member of Monty Python, a comedy group that was equally famous and controversial with audiences around the world. Whilst there are many great quotes from their comedy, this one is the most famous line of all.
Name: Harry Enfield
Top quote: “Eh! Eh! Alright! Alright! Calm down! Calm Down!”
Harry Enfield developed a number of characters from around Britain, including a Scouser (someone from Liverpool). It is important to recognise that the various accents around Britain can drastically alter the sound of a word, so if you are unsure:
- Consider the context of the word that is confusing
- Ask the speaker for clarification
- Ask a friend for help.
If you are still unsure, a private tutor may be able to help you with the words and phrases that are causing you the biggest problems.
Name: Dara Ó Briain
Top joke: “The game of comedy is all about owning the stage, and from a physical point of view, it's beneficial that I am a larger man. From my lumbering presence alone, I can't really help *but* dominate the stage.”
Name: Jo Brand
Top joke: “Inside every fat person, there’s a thin person looking to get out – they’ve just eaten them.”
Name: Hugh Laurie
Top joke: “Now, my mom always said two wrongs don't make a right. But she never said anything about four wrongs, and that always left me confused.”
This joke is a play on words of the common phrase ‘two wrongs don’t make a right’, which is frequently repeated to children, especially those who are being bullied at school. The English language has a huge number of these phrases and sayings and, whilst their meanings do not always directly translate into other languages, understanding them will help you develop your grasp of English.
Name: Ronnie Barker
Top joke: “A man walks into a chemist's and says, 'Can I have a bar of soap, please?' The chemist says, 'Do you want it scented?' And the man says, 'No, I'll take it with me now.’”
Name: Russell Howard
Top joke: “Do you think the Queen has ever pulled a blanket up so just her head is showing and gone, ‘Philip, look at me! I’m a stamp.’”
Name: David Jason
Top quote: “This time next year Rodney, we’ll be millionaires.”
Name: Stephen Fry
Top joke: “Technology is like a mirror. If an idiot looks in, you can’t expect an apostle to look out.”
Name: Rowan Atkinson
Top joke: “That would be as hard as finding a piece of hay in an incredibly large stack of needles.”
This is another play on words and is a reversal of a commonly used phrase in the English language. The phrase ‘finding a needle in a haystack’ is often used when the speaker is suggesting that something will be impossible to find.
Name: Dawn French
Name: Jimmy Carr
Top joke: "I did a sponsored walk, once. In the end, I managed to raise so much money, I could afford a taxi.”
Name: John Cleese
Top joke: The Ministry of Silly Walks
Whilst the silly walk was John Cleese’s most memorable joke, having to perform the routine throughout the years has been blamed for his knee troubles. YouTube now hosts thousands of imitators looking to show off their own silly walks and in Norway a special road sign has been created in homage to the famous sketch.
Do you have a ‘silly walk’ to share with us?
Think there is someone missing from our list?
Need some help understanding some of the jokes?
Tell us over on Twitter or Facebook – we’d love to hear from you – or sign up to one of our courses today so that you can get to grips with more British comedy and enjoy learning English in the process.