Seriously, they are the world’s hottest jokers

By Mark Leveson, July 31, 2008

As the comedy fest that is the Edinburgh Fringe gets under way, the Bafta-award winning creator of BBC2's Mock the Week names the six comics who most tickle his ribs


Seth Rogen

Canadian and former Habonimnik, Rogen is a comedy actor, writer and producer who can do no wrong. He burst into Hollywood's major league last year with a brace of wickedly funny movies - Knocked Up, which he starred in, and Superbad, in which he had a minor role but also co-wrote with childhood friend and barmitzvah classmate, Evan Goldberg. Rogen tends to play characters laid back to the point where they are almost falling over and he has a lovable T-shirt, jeans and beer-belly common-man appeal.
His first significant acting role was in Freaks and Geeks, the finest US comedy TV drama series not to be recommissioned. It was produced by Judd Apatow who has since become the hottest comedy film writer/producer/director on the planet. It co-starred James Franco who will be starring with Rogen in the film Pineapple Express, due to be released here next month. Billed as the first weed-action movie, it is also co-written by Rogen & Goldberg and produced by Apatow. Rogen plays a pot-head who goes on the run having witnessed a bad cop murdering a drug dealer over a new strain of marijuana called "Pineapple Express". I have yet to read any reviews but the trailer, which you can find on a website near you, is a riot.


Alex Borstein

Alex Borstein is a writer, producer and performer on the avidly non-PC and bitingly funny American cartoon Family Guy, which, for my money, is one of the funniest shows on TV. It features the dysfunctional family of Peter and Lois (played by Borstein) Griffin, their kids and talking dog Brian and is set in the fictional town of Quahog, Rhode Island. BBC3 aired series six earlier this year, but given that in the States they are two series ahead, there will be plenty more episodes for us to catch.

There are also, of course, DVDs galore including the absolutely hilarious Star Wars pastiche, Blue Harvest. The 45-minute film, originally a double-length TV episode, is an uncannily accurate reproduction of the original, but animated in Family Guy style and populated with Family Guy characters. Blue Harvest was so successful that the word is they are busy working on the sequel, a send-up of The Empire Strikes Back.
Meanwhile the Chicago-born Borstein, a great impressionist and a former star of American sketch show Mad TV, is clearly in touch with her Jewish roots. She says: "Passover is the favourite festival for Jewish actors because it offered them their first audience - drunk, hungry and captive."


Robert Popper

Robert Popper is one of those ridiculously multi-talented showbiz people. He is the human equivalent of a Swiss Army knife, boasting writer/producer/actor/musician/author components. As well as being its writer and producer, he wrote and performed music for and starred in the highly inventive BBC 2 science mockumentary Look Around You and earlier this year was the 2008 Bafta-winning producer of Channel 4's Peep Show.

He has script-edited numerous TV comedy shows including C4's The IT Crowd and E4's The Inbetweeners. He's also the author, under the pseudonym Robin Cooper, of the popular prank letters book, The Timewaster Letters.

Popper, another former Habo-kid has recently been writing with Sacha Baron Cohen (yes, I know, yet another Habonim alumnus) on his new film featuring his outrageous Austrian fashionista persona, Bruno.
Popper says that one of his favourite occasions is still Friday-night supper at home. Even now, he and his brother revert to childish roles and try and pull pranks on each other. A favourite for him is, at the end of the evening, to switch his brother's tinfoil-covered chicken, packed by their doting mother, for tinfoil covered garbage. The impish Popper waits with glee for the irate call the following day when his brother discovers what is really inside the foil package in his fridge. No wonder so much of his comedy output is so cheeky.


Mark Watson

There is an old Yiddish fable which says that in every generation there is a Stephen Fry. Forty years ago it was Jonathan Miller, now it is, well, Stephen Fry, but who will be next? Some say it will be David Mitchell, the erudite, posh, comedy actor, star of That Mitchell & Webb Look, but I would keep an eye out for Mark Watson.

Like Miller, Fry and Mitchell, Watson is a Cambridge Footlights alumnus. Also, like Fry, he is extremely witty, tremendously charming and ridiculously intelligent and crosses all media with ease. Sadly, unlike Fry, he's not Jewish. Rather, his ethnic interest lies in his Welsh persona.

At the tender age of 24, Watson's first novel, Bullet Points, was published and he followed this with A Light-Hearted Look At Murder. He has guested on TV panel shows and sketch shows and he has just been commissioned by ITV to make a sitcom pilot.

He is a multiaward-winning stand-up comic who, among other things, has cornered the little populated market of 24-hour comedy shows. Examples of his quirky observations include: "In London everything is cleverly marketed, even toilets. I was in a pub and the toilets had signs XX and XY, like chromosomes. I didn't realise I'd have to revise just for a wee." You can see the gangly, dragged-through-a-hedge-looking but totally lovable Watson in person at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August and at the Bloomsbury Theatre in London for a week in September.

Ruth Jones

Ruth Jones is the epitome of the journey-woman-turned-overnight-sensation. Ten years of supporting roles in TV dramas and comedies culminated recently in a Bafta for Jones and her fellow roly-poly writing partner James Corden for their sitcom Gavin & Stacey. Jones and Corden were both in ITV's Fat Friends, and Jones really hit (and poked) the public eye with her splendidly shameless lesbian barmaid, Myfanwy, in Matt Lucas's and David Walliams's Little Britain sketch, The Only Gay In The Village.

Later this year she will undoubtedly enjoy big audiences for the first showing of season two of Gavin & Stacey on BBC2 and will star in a Gavin & Stacey Christmas special. Doubtless, Jones, as the outrageously brash Nessa, will be stealing the show with lines like this one on Dodi Fayed: "Kept texting me from his boat. Haven't heard a peep from him since, and I'm talking years."


Frankie Boyle

I'm not sure if Boyle has bartered his soul to become a comic genius in some sort of Faustian pact or whether he is simply the devil himself. Either way, when reviewers talk about his dark humour and biting wit, they are not kidding. This Scottish performer has sharpened his satirical comedy to devastating effect. On BBC 2's Mock The Week - the show I created with Dan Patterson and produce - no subject is safe, and politics, religion and celebrity are all victims of his incisive, vehemently non-PC humour. A former teacher (there's a scary thought), Boyle has been perfecting his act over a number of years and is now one of the finest stand-ups in Britain today and master of the one-liner. For instance: "Boris Johnson is the sort of person who 200 years ago would have died aged 30 leading a cavalry charge into a volcano."
Boyle will be starring in his own DVD, Frankie Boyle Live, out in November.


Mark Leveson created and produced, with Dan Patterson, the improvisational comedy TV show, Whose Line Is It Anyway? both here and in the US, and also Mock The Week, a new series of which is currently on BBC2. He also won a Bafta for producing the short film Brown Paper Bag with yet another former Habonimnik, Natasha Carlish

Last updated: 1:47pm, July 31 2008