Standup comedy, and indeed all comedy, is subjective, so it is impossible to definitively say which are the quintessentially funniest standup routines ever. I’m certainly not going to poll the audience: I’ve leave that to the newspapers. Instead, I’ll give you what I, Jaime Pond, believe to be the funniest standup routines coming out of today’s working comics in Britain and Ireland.
Jon Richardson – Washing Up
I can’t say that I get a big thrill out of most mainstream standup routines, but nothing really brings me more joy than listening to Jon Richardson complain about his roommates’ inability to wash the dishes properly. Even without context, it’s a funny routine. With context, either by watching Richardson’s documentary A Little OCD or his book It’s Not Me, It’s You!, it’s even funnier.
Stewart Lee – Pear Cider
If you’re not of the initiated, you may watch the first thirty seconds of Stewart Lee’s act and flip over because it doesn’t have the intense energy that many mainstream comedians have. However, I beg of you to hang on for these 24 minutes of the famous pear cider routine. It does pay off, I promise. And if you know that it’s based around a real pear cider commercial starring fellow comedian Mark Watson, it’s even funnier (albeit more tragic).
Paul Foot – Food Allergies
Everybody has a routine about food allergies. Sean Lock has one. Louis CK has one. But the funniest of them all has to be Paul Foot’s poke at wheat intolerance. Part of it’s Foot’s unique delivery. Part of it’s the word choice: “Was it the 14th of September, 1998? Thinking about it, I think that was the date that people stopped coping with bread.”
Josie Long – Noir Voices
I don’t have a good video example, but sometimes Josie Long’s routines can slide into film noir, and it is my absolute favorite thing. My step-son and I have started doing the voices around the house. I recommend you try it.
Nathaniel Metcalfe – The Barefoot Executive Theme Song
Nathaniel Metcalfe is known for standup comedy based around forgotten elements of pop culture or pieces of culture that are just in the peripherals of pop culture. He’s done routines celebrating the actor Deep Roy, as well as Oscars research surrounding Rob Schneider and the movie Precious. My favorite routine, though, is about the misheard lyrics of the long forgotten live action Disney film The Barefoot Executive. First he plants in the audience’s brain what he thinks the lyrics are so that by the time he plays the song, they hear the misheard lyrics instead of the real lyrics. The humor is aided by Metcalfe’s patience in slow pacing and repetition, building anticipation.
Jason Byrne – Pregnant with the Crocodile Hunter
I first heard Jason Byrne tell the story about how his wife was allegedly pregnant with the reincarnation of Steve Irwin on Show and Tell, a podcast hosted by Robin Ince and Josie Long that would someday morph into today’s Book Shambles. That story alone (okay, as well as Martin White’s exceptional accordion playing in that episode) made that episode one of my all time favorite podcast episodes.
Rhod Gilbert – Lost Luggage
I think this one makes it on a lot of people’s top standup comedy routines lists, but it’s for good reason. These days, Rhod Gilbert has taken his surreal style and turned it toward marketing and customer service. You can’t believe a word of Gilbert’s stories, even when he goes so far as to tattoo a potato on himself, but it really doesn’t matter. Watch this clip next time you go flying. No matter how anxious the airport makes you feel, at least you can think, “Well, at least I’m not that guy.”
Robin Ince – Boring Science
Robin Ince, though he does do standup about literature, politics, and philosophy, is most known these days for comedy in conjunction with science popularization. At one of the Christmas-time science gigs that he hosts, the 2009 Nine Lessons and Carols for Godless People, he does what may not be considered standup comedy, but is in the same vein of what his standup is like. He is, as he often is, accompanied by music and interpretive dance.
Isy Suttie – Welsh Song
I can be as leery about musical comedians as the next person, but if you are one of those people, I insist you set aside your prejudices for Isy Suttie, who has both some really great heartfelt songs and some silly songs like this song in Welsh.
Tim Vine – My Marvelous Metronome
Okay, now that I’ve got your attention with musical comedians, I’m going to introduce you to a whole different kind of musical comedy. Tim Vine does a brand of comedy that is very family friendly. It’s pun-heavy, it’s prop-heavy, and there are a variety of ridiculous songs. Honestly, you’ll love it or you’ll hate it. I love it.
Eddie Izzard – Star Wars
Okay, we’ll end on a safe one. I think everybody loves the sketch shows that play out in Eddie Izzard’s mind as he inacts them solo on stage without supporting actors nor prop nor set. The imagination comes alive!
There are a few others that didn’t make it on this list: Dylan Moran’s “Ah, women are different, eh,” piece that imagines a lover for his girlfriend and the ego of men; and Kevin Eldon’s spot-on impersonation of Michael McIntyre. Have you heard Sofie Hagen talk about peeing on somebody? How about Sean Lock’s ghost train bit? David O’Doherty’s bike on fire?