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Who Are The Most Influential People In Comedy?

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How exactly do you come up with a definitive list of who has shaped the British comedy industry that we see today?

This was the question both I and my co-editor Andrew Mickel pondered back in late 2011 and, six months later, I had managed to find an answer: with difficultly.

Over the course of the past week the comedy site that we run has been attempting to put down a list of the people who we think hold the most influence over the comedy world you see today.

This doesn't just include the people in front of the mic, but the movers and shakers, the awards hosts and the festival curators the agents, TV executives and others whose artistic output has left an echo across the generations.

To help us in our task we asked for assistance from a number of people we knew had expert knowledge of comedy, from the editor of the British Comedy Guide, to veteran critic Veronica Lee from The Arts Desk, GQ's comedy specialist James Mullinger and Paul Fleckney from London Is Funny.

However, though we had a number of the best comedy minds on the task we came into problems almost immediately. The comedy industry simply has so many people working on so many things which deserve to grab our attention. From Radio 4's Caroline Raphael, whose career has helped make stars of The Mighty Boosh, to the Mighty Billy Connolly, whose long career still casts as shadow on the genre.

There are also people who I greatly admire that don't even feature at all. Omissions from the list include Ross Noble, Dylan Moran, Harry Enfield, Chris Addison, Lee Evans, Alan Carr and many more. However though we're aware of that the list we concocted is subjective, we think we've included in the people who make the most difference (cue heated web discussion).

But putting aside who is and who isn't on the Top 100, what have we actually learnt from putting it together?

As the process went on we noticed is that a lot of our attention was being focused on a group who could be considered (excuse the phrase) the 'great unsung heroes of comedy' - these were writers of the sitcoms which are usually overlooked as the media chases the talent they helped put on TV.

From Graham Linehan - who in recent years has found an audience of his own on Twitter - to Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong, and Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin, writers have the profession who have the under-appreciated input into the comedy world we see.

Another unexpected discovery which came as our research into the Top 100 list went on was how the current crop of names formed bonds (and sometimes arguments) decades ago.

You wouldn't imagine it (though it has been mentioned before, and again here), but you could argue that a large part of the current comedy style we see on TV today was born way back in the early '90s when a 27-year-old Armando Iannucci overheard some amusing mock news stories on the radio.

The man who made Iannucci laugh was Chris Morris, and together they formed a team to write a new show for BBC Radio 4 called On The Hour, which aired in August 1991. As well as Iannucci and Morris the team included Steve Coogan, Stewart Lee and Richard Herring - while music journalist Graham Linehan and Arthur Matthews replaced Lee and Herring in the second series.

If a radio or TV commissioner needs to know why they should invest in new talent then this is the probably the answer I would give them: allow creative talent space to flourish and watch the results blossom.

The reason why Lucy Lumsden featured so highly on our list was because Sky has given her a mandate to sweep the board of comedy commissioning which her BBC contemporaries arguably don't have. However, back to On The Hour, which set in motion a creative process which has given us The Day Today, Lee and Herring, Brasseye, Four Lions, Alan Partridge, The Thick Of It and many more.

It makes you wonder which group of writers are currently working together, and what ideas they are having now which will affect what we see on TV in 20 years' time.

Ultimately, though, despite the creative talents of all the people on the list, we felt that the ultimate influence on who is watched, who is given the limelight, and how our comedy is shaped is decided by a handful of powerful comedy agents.

The king-makers, if you like, of comedy include Addison Cresswell from Off The Kerb who topped out Top 100 list, as well as Avalon's Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner, Hannah Chambers who runs Chambers Management and Mick Perrin. Between them they look after the biggest names in the industry.

Whether we got it right is open to argument, debate and probably ridicule, but what we think is that the comedy industry we see is as healthy and as influential as any other creative industry in the UK.

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