What’s Been So Funny This Year?

Each December, The British Comedy Awards celebrate the best of, well, British comedy. Like all good awards ceremonies, it would have been better if I could have chosen the categories, nominations, and winners, but presumably everything here must have made someone laugh at some point, so it’s a helpful snapshot of contemporary British humour.


Best TV Comedy Actor

Hugh Bonneville (Twenty Twelve)

Peter Capaldi (The Thick of It)

Steve Coogan (Alan Partridge: Welcome to the Places of My Life)

Tom Hollander (Rev)

Winner: Peter Capaldi

Best TV Comedy Actress

Olivia Colman (Rev)

Olivia Colman (Twenty Twelve)

Rebecca Front (The Thick of It)

Jessica Hynes (Twenty Twelve

Winner: Rebecca Front

What we can glean from these two categories is that there’s some excellent comedy acting on British television right now. Both Twenty Twelve and The Thick of It have strong ensemble casts, so the multiple nominations are not surprising. Both shows also work as nice time capsules of this year: Twenty Twelve was a mockumentary about the brains behind the planning of the London Olympics, and The Thick of It, Armando Iannucci’s political satire, returned with a coalition government in power.

Peter Capaldi is brilliant as the foul-mouthed Malcolm Tucker (there should be a category for best Malcolm Tucker insult), and the scenes between him and Rebecca Front’s Nicola Murray are painful (in a good way) to watch. To be fair, everyone’s role on Twenty Twelve was equally important (and good, though Jessica Hynes perhaps made her annoying Head of Brand Siobhan Sharpe too good as I found her borderline intolerable). Olivia Colman pretty much deserves a nomination for everything she’s ever done, though her role in Twenty Twelve was less impactful than her part on Rev, where she plays the wife of Tom Hollander’s terrific vicar. Steve Coogan’s Alan Partridge is as funny as ever, but his show was a one-off special, whereas the others had whole series to impress.

Rebecca Front & Peter Capaldi in The Thick of It


Best Sketch Show

Cardinal Burns


Horrible Histories

Very Important People

Winner: Cardinal Burns

Sketch comedy seems less relevant these days: That Mitchell and Webb Look (2006-2010) set such a high bar that quite frankly, none of these compare. Cardinal Burns comes closest, I guess, though it’s definitely hit or miss. Facejacker‘s disguises and prankish humour, Very Important People‘s impressions (which are spectacular but weakened by the repetition — yes, we get that Fearne Cotton is obnoxious and Amy Childs is stupid), and the fact that Horrible Histories (which has won this category for the past two years) is actually a children’s show indicate that British sketch comedy needs a boost. Until it shapes up, I’d prefer a category of Best Ensemble Cast (for which Horrible Histories could still compete, though could not defeat its rivals).


Best Comedy Breakthrough Artist

Seb Cardinal & Dustin Demri-Burns (Cardinal Burns)

Nina Conti (Make Me Happy: A Monkey’s Search for Enlightenment)

David Rawle (Moone Boy)

Morgana Robinson (Very Important People)

Winner: Morgana Robinson

Nina Conti is a ventriloquist who talks to a monkey puppet on her hand. There, I said it. I’m not sure she’s going to spark a revival of the art of belly speaking, but her live shows can be good comedy. Make Me Happy: A Monkey’s Search for Enlightenment, though, was more strange than funny as she (and the monkey) set out to examine the world of new age self-help.

David Rawle brings youth to the category as the young boy whose imaginary best friend (Chris O’Dowd) helps him navigate life in the charming Moone Boy. While I clearly wasn’t bowled over by either of the other three nominees’ shows, Morgana Robinson’s work is quite impressive: she’s equally good as men or women, and her Russell Brand is just top notch. She revealed backstage at the Awards that Very Important People has been cancelled, but said she’ll soon be in America shooting a sitcom pilot starring her Gilbert character (“Channel 4 axes impressions show”, British Comedy Guide, 13 December 2012)


Best New Comedy Programme

Alan Partridge: Welcome to the Places of My Life

Cardinal Burns


Moone Boy

Winner: Hunderby

Seb Cardinal and Dustin Demri-Burns should be grateful to be in such company here: the fact that their show and Alan Partridge are both Also-Rans should not imply their lasting powers are comparable. I feel a bit bad that Moone Boy, a show described as warm, quaint and disarmingly sweet, had to compete with Julia Davis’ Hunderby. Davis is the queen of black comedy, and this disturbing show set in the 1800s has been called the best British period sitcom in 20 years. It also beat the heavy competition of Rev, The Thick of It, and Twenty Twelve in the Best Sitcom category.


Best Comedy Entertainment Programme

Alan Carr: Chatty Man

Celebrity Juice

The Graham Norton Show

Harry Hill’s TV Burp

Winner: Harry Hill’s TV Burp

I think panel game shows deserve their own category, but I don’t run these awards (yet) so this category basically covers everything that’s not considered a sitcom. We’ve got two chat shows: the gentler Graham Norton and slightly more snarky Chatty Man. Harry Hill’s TV Burp won over even those who aren’t fans of Hill’s surreal comedy with its silly take on the week’s television, though the fact that its eleven year run ended this year may have made its win more of a farewell tribute. My take on panel game Celebrity Juice (or any Leigh Francis/Keith Lemon vehicle actually) can be summed up in one word: No.


Lee Mack

Best Male Television Comic

Harry Hill (Harry Hill’s TV Burp)

Sean Lock (8 Out of 10 Cats)

Lee Mack (Would I Lie to You)

David Mitchell (Would I Lie to You)

Winner: Lee Mack

Jo Brand

Best Female Television Comic

Jo Brand (Have I Got News For You)

Nina Conti (Make Me Happy: A Monkey’s Search for Enlightenment)

Sarah Millican (The Sarah Millican Television Programme)

Sue Perkins (Have I Got News For You)

Winner: Jo Brand

Charlie Brooker

Best Comedy Entertainment Personality

Charlie Brooker (Charlie Brooker’s 2011 Wipe)

Stephen Fry (QI)

Harry Hill (Harry Hill’s TV Burp)

Graham Norton (The Graham Norton Show)

Winner: Charlie Brooker

These three categories are odd ones, since the nods are technically tied to specific programs even though many of the nominees work all over the place. I’ve got lots of time for all four of the male television comics (though my wanting to marry Sean Lock might push him slightly to the head of the group). Frankly, David Mitchell and Lee Mack should have been nominated as a partnership because the banter between them is the best thing about Would I Lie To You.

It’s harder for me to choose a clear winner in the women’s category, since Nina Conti’s show was an hour long one-off, Sue Perkins and Jo Brand were nominated for their guest presenting on a panel game show, while Sarah Millican’s the only one with her own series. Millican can be very funny, but I’m afraid I wasn’t won over by her show. For most of it, she just looked so uncomfortable that I ended up feeling more anxious than entertained. Brand and Perkins were perfectly fine on Have I Got News For You, though quite a few comics are perfectly fine as guest presenters. To be honest, Brand’s work on the powerful Getting On has overshadowed her now too-familiar jokes about her husband and body shape, and I’d prefer to have seen her win for that show.

The kind of catch-all category of Best Entertainment Personality seems intentionally vague. Stephen Fry, Harry Hill and Graham Norton are connected with regular, long-running series so, despite the nomination for his one-off review of 2011, I can’t imagine that the jury ignored Charlie Brooker’s other appearances elsewhere. If personality really is the keyword here, we’re looking at a race between grumpy, clever, silly, and cheeky. This year, grumpy won.


Jack Whitehall

King or Queen of Comedy

Alan Carr

Lee Mack

Sarah Millican

David Mitchell

Graham Norton

Jack Whitehall

Winner: Jack Whitehall

This category is the People’s Choice as the winner is chosen by telephone votes from the public. Jack Whitehall’s been all over the place this year: he did a comedy tour on Hit The Road Jack, became a panelist on A League of Their Own, starred in both Fresh Meat and Bad Education (the latter he also wrote). He’s a dapper, young chap, posh and handsome, and these details do not go unnoticed by the girls, all of whom have phones and are not afraid to use them.

Ultimately, some winners deserved to win, some losers shouldn’t have lost and, of course, some good comedy was ignored. Whether your pony won or not, the British Comedy Awards 2012 was an enjoyable reflection of what’s been so funny this year.