1 Stewart Lee, 50
I marvelled at the skill, I thrilled to the boldness, most importantly I laughed till it hurt when I saw Lee’s latest show, Content Provider, at the start of its tour 18 months ago. Do his teasing stand-up routines about everything from Trump and Brexit (correct, he’s a fan of neither) to Game of Thrones and mobile phones (ditto) hold up today on the performance recorded for television in May? Amazingly, they do: pretty much every moment has some sort of delicious surprise. And if a show addressing “the individual in a digitised free-market society” sounds highfalutin, Lee unspools these two hours with a sense of fun underlying every gear he goes through: abrasive, ironic, confessional, interactive, absurd, clownish, arrogant, but above all playful.
See him: on BBC Two on July 28 at 10.45pm
2 Hannah Gadsby, 40
It’s possible you will see flat-out funnier shows than Gadsby’s breakthrough hour, Nanette. It’s unlikely you will see another one as mesmerising, intelligent, inspiring and well-timed; this Australian comic smilingly explores and explodes misogyny, the history of western art, homophobia and stand-up comedy itself. She proves herself one of comedy’s great modern masters even as she highlights its tricks, even as she questions whether it’s done her more harm than good. No wonder Nanette won live comedy’s two biggest prizes last year, the Barry award in Melbourne and the Edinburgh Comedy award (the latter jointly with John Robins). Since it went on Netflix in June, it’s gone viral; last week it was declared “a word-of-mouth phenomenon” in The New York Times. Even if you flinch from labels such as “identity politics”, this is that rarest of shows; one that makes you see the world anew. With, for its first half at least, plenty of laughs along the way.
See her: Nanette is available on Netflix
3 Harry Hill, 53
How has Harry Hill managed to reinvent himself, six years after ending TV Burp, four years after his misfiring X-Factor musical, I Can’t Sing!? By finding a format that enables him to double down on what makes him great and by reincorporating so much of the vigorous absurdity we love from Burp and his stand-up work into Harry Hill’s Alien Fun Capsule, a primetime ITV panel show in which he rode roughshod over the format and the gobsmacked but game celebrity panellists. On a good week — most weeks — he turned tack into pure joy.
See him: Harry Hill’s Kidz Show: How to Be Funny, New Theatre, Oxford (0844 8713020), Oct 21, then touring to Nov 24
4 Dave Chappelle, 44
“And that’s why I make the big bucks!” says Chappelle, right after a routine in which he first announces what his wildly offensive punchline will be, then surprises and charms us all when he delivers it. Vaping away on stage in his latest Netflix stand-up special, he talks about parenthood and white privilege, responds to accusations of transphobia, and mixes thoughtfulness with the sort of braggadocio that might make him collide with a hornet’s nest or two, but somehow means he never gets stung for long.
See him: Equanimity and The Bird Revelation are available on Netflix
5 Tim Key, 41
On screen, Key is a reliably loveable supporting turn: as Sidekick Simon to Alan Partridge; in Peep Show, Detectorists, Gap Year. On stage or radio, he’s a genre of his own. He won an Edinburgh Comedy award in 2009, but the debonairly dishevelled way that he combines performance poetry with arty films, outrageous narratives, deadpan absurdism, audience molestation and theatrical conceits has only got better since then. I laughed so much at his latest show, Megadate, that I shed a tear when it ended.
See him: Megadate on tour, including Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh (0131 226 0000), Aug 16-26, and Old Vic, London SE1, Sept 28, or its filmed spin-off, Wonderdate, on BBC iPlayer
6 Steve Coogan, 52
We’re trying not to get our hopes up for the new Alan Partridge series coming to BBC One this year. And yet not only were Coogan and Rob Brydon on fine form in The Trip to Spain — lovely scenery, fine dining and smart subplots all clearing space for some really good impressions — but the books that he and co-writers Neil and Rob Gibbons have written recently as Partridge were laugh-out-loud delights. So sod it: Coogan is one of the world’s great character comics and Alan Partridge is the greatest comic character of the past 30 years. No offence, David Brent.
Hear him: performing the audiobooks of I, Partridge and Alan Partridge: Nomad
7 Flight of the Conchords, 44 and 42
After two series of their American sitcom, Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie decided they had lost the fun in their deadpan double act and musical parodies, and headed home to New Zealand. Yet, as their recent reunion shows proved, this unlikely pair can make a private joke swell to fill a 20,000-seater stadium. They mock all sorts of musical genres and social situations. Crucially, though, they ply sweetness as well as sarcasm, and real musical skill. They’ve never been better.
See them: their new special, recorded on their British tour, is on HBO this year
8 Michelle Wolf, 33
Her Edinburgh Fringe appearance in 2016 marked out this former Daily Show contributor as one of America’s brightest young talents. Then, hello, her fierce, funny, fearless speech at the White House correspondents’ dinner took her into another league. Not only did she take on Trump with naked but nifty hostility (hey, who doesn’t?), she also roasted the media outlets present for delighting too much in Trump’s awfulness. Where next for Wolf? Can’t wait to find out.
See her: giving her White House correspondents’ dinner speech on YouTube
9 Peter Kay, 45
He pulled out of the biggest stand-up tour of the year for “unforeseen family circumstances”. We know no more than that. Yet what he did give us this year, the final episode of his and Sian Gibson’s sitcom Car Share, was full of all the acute lifelike observations the series has excelled in, plus an anything but lifelike sequence in which he replaced Gary Barlow in an old Take That video. A comedy star for two decades, yet still Kay is as good as it gets at having fun with the small concerns of everyday life.
See him: Car Share is available to stream on iTunes, Amazon etc
10 Bridget Christie, 46
No comedian responded to Brexit better — or faster — than Christie, who rewrote an entire Edinburgh show from scratch in the aftermath of the EU referendum. Her latest live hour, What Now?, is just as good, organised around the neat conceit that in these deceptive times she is morally obliged to speak only the truth. Cue glorious routines about awful television executives, awful children, awful parents, the passive-aggressive admin sessions that make up a marriage (in her case, although she would never mention it on stage, to Stewart Lee). Nobody mixes the raging and the ridiculous with such fabulous focus.
See her: Leicester Square Theatre, London WC2 (020 7734 2222), Sept 13-Nov 10, and touring to Dec 4, bridgetchristie.co.uk
11 Trevor Noah, 34
Born in apartheid-era South Africa, the son of a Xhosa mother and a Swiss-German father, Noah grew up speaking English as his first language, a master of both engaging with different cultures and seeing their kinks clearly. That skill enabled him to take over The Daily Show from Jon Stewart in 2015. Live, though, he has gone from being a skilled stand-up to a spectacular one: Noah now is a master of satire, impressions and throwaway funny stories, and is impassioned and inclusive. He is writing a second memoir; his first, Born a Crime, is being filmed with Lupito Nyong’o as his mother, Patricia.
See him: his latest stand-up special, Afraid of the Dark, is on Netflix.
12 Daniel Kitson, 41
Two reasons why Kitson is the comedian’s comedian: 1) At his best, this Yorkshireman has a speed of thought that has no peer. 2) Ever since he won the Perrier award in 2002, age 25, he has worked entirely on his own terms. No television. No radio. A habit of staging plays at the National or the Old Vic one moment, returning to stand-up the next. Charging cinema prices as he does so. He can be sprawling, he can be arrogant, but his ambition and skill are second to none.
See him: his new work-in-progress midnight show, Good for Glue, is at The Stand, Edinburgh (0131 226 0000), Aug 5-26, returns only
13 Bob Mortimer, 59
This renaissance-man absurdist is on the form of his life after recovering from a triple heart bypass. He still works with Vic Reeves — a new series of their Big Night Out is imminent — but also has a footballing podcast, Athletico Mince, and excelled alongside Paul Whitehouse in Mortimer & Whitehouse: Gone Fishing. His comedy is as victimless as it is disarming.
See him: Mortimer & Whitehouse: Gone Fishing is on BBC iPlayer
14 Chris Rock, 53
When comedians ooze a confidence they don’t deserve, it’s infuriating. When comedians ooze a confidence their talent backs up, it’s exhilarating. That’s Rock, who uses his latest stand-up show to own up to the porn habit and cheating that broke his marriage, but also to speak up for a common-sensicality he fears is in peril from right and left alike.
See him: his latest stand-up special, Tamborine, is on Netflix
15 The League of Gentlemen
Mark Gatiss, Steve Pemberton, Reece Shearsmith and Jeremy Dyson have been so busy with other work (Sherlock, Inside No 9, Ghost Stories) that we may just have forgotten how fabulous they were together in their gleefully gnarly sketch troupe. Last Christmas’s television comeback changed that in a trice after 12 years away. Now, the big live tour. If it’s only a temporary reunion, let’s enjoy it while we can.
See them: Queens Theatre, Barnstaple (01271 316063), Aug 6 & 7, then touring to Sept 29; leagueofgentlemen.live
16 Julia Davis, 51
Dear Joan and Jericha, the agony-aunt podcast that Julia Davis and Vicki Pepperdine surprised us with this year, is as quietly, brutally funny as you’d expect from the woman behind Nighty Night, Hunderby and Camping. And filthy enough to make you think of a female Derek and Clive. Coming soon: Davis’s new series for Sky, Sally4Ever, while the Girls creator Lena Dunham is making an American version of Camping.
Hear her: on Dear Joan and Jericha
17 Tim Vine, 51
There are some fine one-liner merchants about: Jimmy Carr, Milton Jones, Stewart Francis, Gary Delaney. None of them sustain a live show as blissfully well as Jeremy Vine’s kid brother. He delivers his artful wordplay with a heroically uncool, end-of-the-pier enthusiasm, allied to silly props and silly songs. He makes the real world melt away.
See him: performing his Sunset Milk Idiot show, City Varieties, Leeds (0113 243 0808), Oct 2 & 3, then touring to Oct 31; timvine.com
18 Sara Pascoe, 37
Once, Pascoe performed dense, fascinating, provocatively philosophical and personal live shows, pushing at the edges of what comedy could do. Then, somewhere between her becoming a panel-show stalwart and her latest live show, LadsLadsLads, she found a way of uniting her big ideas with something still personal, but lighter, more gag-filled. The results are still smart, but newly joyous.
See her: Theatre Royal, Norwich (01603 630000), Sept 16, then touring to Nov 28; sarapascoe.com
19 Michael McIntyre, 42
There aren’t many comics who can make amusing 20,000 strangers in an atmosphere-free arena look like such a doddle. So don’t underestimate McIntyre, whose beaming smile conceals a planet-sized comic brain that can seize on pretty much any topic and make merry with it.
See him: his Big World Tour resumes Sept 4-Nov 11; michaelmcintyre.co.uk. Michael Mcintyre’s Big Show returns to BBC One later this year
20 Romesh Ranganathan, 40
After starting out as a maths teacher in Crawley, West Sussex, the gorgeously grumpy Ranganathan has now become not only a formidably funny stand-up, but is also fronting travel documentaries, a forthcoming courtoom show (Judge Romesh) and has sitcoms on the way too. Talk about making up for lost time.
See him: The Misadventures of Romesh Ranganathan is on BBC iPlayer
21 Lee Mack, 49
Is there any greater pleasure in comedy than Lee Mack going off on one on Would I Lie to You? His mind moving faster than a speeding train, he will pounce on and play with any passing absurdity. All credit to Rob Brydon and David Mitchell, who balance him perfectly, but it’s Mack who is the star soloist on one of the most dependably entertaining formats of the past decade.
See him: Would I Lie to You? is on BBC iPlayer and repeated on Dave
22 Sarah Silverman, 47
She snarked for America in her early stand-up. Now, although her sarcasm is still to the fore, the comic and actress (that’s her behind a tennis-court-sized pair of shades in Battle of the Sexes) is adding personal stories and emotional awareness to comedy that snarls smartly. And her Twitter exchange with a troll to whom she extended support rather than spite showed the heart behind the snark.
See her: on A Speck of Dust, her most recent stand-up special for Netflix (in which she speaks about her former boyfriend Michael Sheen)
23 Simon Amstell, 38
Television presenter, sitcom star, vegan activist: but best of all a confessional stand-up. In his fifth and finest live show, playing to acclaim in New York, Amstell takes us past his early worries about homosexuality and into a new kind of self-acceptance. Among British-based stand-ups, only Dylan Moran can rival him for mixing the accessible with the questingly intellectual.
See him: Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, London NW1 (0844 8264242), Aug 19
24 Tina Fey, 48
Not content with turning her film Mean Girls into a Broadway musical this year, Fey has also kept her hand in as a performer on Saturday Night Live, and remains one of the great writer-performers in modern American comedy. OK, her sitcom Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt isn’t quite 30 Rock. What is, though?
See her: hosting a celebrity-heavy Q&A session on the final episode of Saturday Night Live’s most recent season, on SNL’s YouTube channel
25 John Oliver, 41
This British satirist has been plying unabashedly intelligent, outspoken satire as the host of the crusading American talk show Last Week Tonight With John Oliver since 2014. Crucially, while he’s all about the issues, he doesn’t mistake himself for John Pilger. “It’s not journalism,” he once said. “It’s comedy first, and it’s comedy second.”
See him: Last Week Tonight is on hbo.com, or watch clips on YouTube
26 Reginald D Hunter, 49
Before Reginald D Hunter’s previous tour, his agent begged him to do some “light, funny, bouncy” jokes — not just the sort of stuff about sex and race and politics and family that gets them both into trouble. Well, even at his lightest this American-comedian-in-Britain can’t do bouncy, but what he will do is toy with liberal and conservative preconceptions in a way that’s always entertaining and often masterly.
See him: at Pleasance at EICC, Edinburgh (0131 226 0000), Aug 1-26. Reginald D Hunter’s Songs of the Border is on BBC Two on July 28 at 9pm
27 Sophie Willan, 30
Anyone for gnarly questions of how the world describes us and how we describe ourselves? Nobody? Ah, but the wonder of Willan’s latest show, Branded, is the way she reminds us how complex identity is, even as she investigates the implications of being a female, northern, working-class comic, the daughter of a heroin addict and more. All with the breeziness of a frothy club set. Remarkable.
See her: rescheduled dates from the Branded tour are at Theatr Mwldan, Cardigan (01239 621200), Sept 21; Wyeside Arts Centre, Builth Wells (01982 552555), Sept 22
28 Sacha Baron Cohen, 46
The jury is still out on Baron Cohen’s return to television, Who Is America? — a display of pointed pranking that is funny or resonant only when picking on someone his own size (the Republicans endorsing a crazy campaign to arm four-year-olds, say). His gumption and virtuosity is undeniable; we wait to see if bigger targets such as Roy Moore and Dick Cheney bring out the best from the London-born comic’s huge talent.
See him: on Who Is America?, Channel 4, Mondays, 10pm
29 Mo Gilligan, 30
If you’ve not heard of him, despite his huge tour that visits the West End in October, that may be because he broke through on social media, is only now getting going on live and television work. Already, though, this south London actor turned comic has such skill, such charisma, such promise. When his writing gets as sharp as his performing, the arenas surely beckon.
See him: as a sidekick on The Big Narstie Show on Channel 4; in the Coupla Cans tour at the Vaudeville, London WC2 (0330 3334814), Oct 22-Nov 10
30 Diane Morgan, 42
Best known as the spoof pundit Philomena Cunk. In BBC shows such as Cunk on Britain, she brings extraordinary comic presence and improvising skills to a character who is as fearless as she is clueless. She’s also the best thing in the parenting sitcom Motherland.
See her: on YouTube, where clips and episodes are spottily available. Or in the DVD of Motherland