BBC Festival of Funny: From Jason Manford to Dane Baptiste, comedians on their stand-up heroes

<p>L-R: Jason Manford, Anna Morris, Dane Baptiste and Kiri Pritchard-McLean</p> (Getty / Karla Gowlett / Daniel Hambury / Kayla Wren)

L-R: Jason Manford, Anna Morris, Dane Baptiste and Kiri Pritchard-McLean

(Getty / Karla Gowlett / Daniel Hambury / Kayla Wren)

We’ve done a lot of things in lockdown - followed the news obsessively, become amateur crafters, howled with despair - but laughing hasn’t been one of them. Thank goodness, then, for the BBC’s Festival of Funny, celebrating all things comedy. To mark the occasion, we asked some of our favourite comedians to tell us which stand-up they love the most.

Jason Manford on Peter Kay

In 1997 when I was 16 I worked in a room above a pub which held a weekly comedy club, The Buzz Club. Every week in between collecting glasses, I’d see the best comedians the UK circuit had to offer, from Steve Coogan to Caroline Aherne, to Harry Hill and Frankie Boyle. One week as I arrived at work there was, unusually, a queue round the block of waiting punters two hours before the show started. The reason: Peter Kay was headlining. This was way before his national treasure status, but word had spread about this hilarious comedian and everybody wanted a ticket. What I saw that night made me fall in love with comedy and made me realise how special Peter is. The love and respect that flowed from the audience to the stage and back again was like nothing I’d ever experienced before or since. He just seemed like one of us, a normal working class lad who just happened to be breathtakingly hilarious. It’s only since becoming a comedian myself that I’ve managed to work out just how hard Peter works to make what is genius seem so accessible.”

Dane Baptiste on Dave Chappelle

I feel like this might be seen as a given; or an obvious and racially biased choice, like an American president. Nonetheless! My favourite comedian is Dave Chappelle, who I would argue is the greatest living comedian. And it’s not just because we share similar sounding multisyllabic names (Dane Baptiste, Dave Chappelle, got the same ring to it)! It’s also because Dave Chappelle now enjoys the ideal state of being both critically and commercially acclaimed as an artist. His observations and art are so astute and well-crafted that he has transcended the conventions of comedy, ascending to the status of philosopher, which is just inspiring to witness as a human being and fellow comic.

Joanne McNally on Joan Rivers

There is a tonne of comics I admire, but the one I love the most has to be Joan Rivers, and no, it’s not just because she’s dead, although that always helps when it comes to garnering praise. Now it’s quite trendy to be a female in comedy, we’re in fashion, TV wants us, audiences want us, if people can’t see enough of us on their screens they will ring up and complain, but when Joan started it was the total opposite, she fought tooth and nose job to make it, and make it she did, and then she lost everything and then she pulled herself back from the brink and made it again. That’s why I adore Joan - it’s not just her killer jokes, it’s her tenacity, because in comedy you really do need both.

Fern Brady on Michelle Wolf

I’d been aware of Michelle Wolf as a comic since she was nominated for the Edinburgh Comedy Prize and achieved notoriety from doing the White House Correspondents’ dinner, but I didn’t see her perform until I was touring in Melbourne two years ago. She stands alongside Kevin Bridges as easily the best live stand-up I’ve ever seen. "You can’t be what you can’t see" was very true for me as a young woman in stand-up - I found her directness and confidence hugely invigorating and it renewed my enthusiasm for the show I was writing at the time and gave me more confidence in the type of stand-up I do.

The UK circuit is finally catching up with America in terms of having straight-talking women comics but for years we were very limited in our representation of funny women on TV - it was just women hiding behind character acts or pianos or ukuleles. For years I’ve been described as blunt or brutally honest but I really think it comes down to there not being many people who sound like me on TV in the UK. Michelle Wolf’s Live At The Apollo bit on body positivity is really great, as is her most recent Netflix special.

Eleanor Tiernan on Maria Bamford

Maria Bamford’s comedy positions her as an unknowing child probing with wide-eyed curiosity the attempts made by people she encounters to wield unearned power over her. An expert mimic and voice artist, she uses these talents to expose the feigned empathy and moral posturing of the world of reality TV, wellness and makeover shows. However, it’s when she speaks about mental illness (in a way that neither glorifies nor trivialises) that she demonstrates her full prowess. In owning her human frailty, Bamford wrongfoots those who idolise bluster and bravado, in favour of more sustainable ways of feeling secure in oneself. Also she does these unnerving imagined voicemails left by the baby Jesus on her mother’s answering machine that I really love.

Jo Brand on Linda Smith

Linda Smith was in some ways very ordinary, even her name, but that made her all the more extraordinary. In an age when women stand-ups were few and far between Linda chose to go down the road of political comedy with a capital P, on the alternative comedy circuit. Her jokes were sardonic, hilarious and politically astute whilst retaining a very accessible style that everyone could identify with. She shone particularly brightly onThe News Quiz. At one point she won Wittiest Person On Radio 4, voted for by the listeners, remarkably pipping Stephen Fry to the post. Linda died in 2006 and I miss her.

Anna Morris on Victoria Wood

As dramatic as it sounds, if it wasn’t for Victoria Wood I wouldn’t be a comedian. At 8 years old my parents showed meAs Seen on TV – her iconic TV series and I was hooked. I recorded all of them (on VHS of course – with a label saying ‘DON’T RECORD OVER!!) and watched them repeatedly. I could quote her classic one and most of Acorn Antiques. Though the industry was dominated with men, Victoria’s visibility gave us girls something to aspire to. She was a comedy genius and I wish she was still here now to make us smile.

Chris McCausland on Eddie Izzard

As well as being hilarious, groundbreaking and madder than a badger with a gun, Eddie Izzard challenged preconceptions by talking about being a transvestite (as she identified at the time) in a way that was present but not the focal point of the comedy. Eddie always kept that funny and interesting and left audiences wanting to hear more. This is the approach I strove to emulate when incorporating my blindness into my own comedy, because there is much more that makes you you, more than just the one thing that many might assume is your primary defining attribute. Eddie Izzard has never ceased to entertain and inspire me in equal measure and remains my favourite comedian of all time.

Stephen Buchanan on John Mulaney

John Mulaney is consistently brilliant in everything he does. Whether he’s writing sketches for Saturday Night Live or voicing horny teens on animated sitcom Big Mouth, he never fails to make me howl with mirth. All four of his stand-up specials are hilarious, packed from start to finish with his unique brand of offbeat observations, masterful storytelling and killer punchlines. His third special The Comeback Kid is one of my favourite stand-up shows of all time and his opening routine about the struggles of making a Happy Birthday sign, is one of those jokes that make me both giddy with laughter and sad that I never wrote it.

Kiri Pritchard-McLean on Maria Bamford

Maria Bamford is clever and silly and she paints a world so vividly you can’t help but be drawn inside. Her ability to inhabit characters wholly, with the chew of a nail or the clasp of a hand, is so masterful. Her face is a living sketch show. I spent hours watching her web series when I worked the Saturday shift answering phones at The Frog and Bucket Comedy Club (sorry guys, I promise I still took bookings). She made me realise you can talk about heavy and important subjects whilst being hilarious. One joke in particular, about plastic surgery, made me vow to try and write jokes I thought were as funny as they were important. Still trying.

Darren Harriott on Patrice O’Neal

Patrice O’Neal, he was like a comic’s comic. He passed away in November 2011. He just had the level of honesty I adored, he spoke openly and candidly about his failings and illnesses. He was a 6ft 4, 300lb black guy who had high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity; who never held back on his thoughts, no matter what the consequences of that. And he never wanted to owe anyone in the business, which was why he turned down a lot of TV work, fearing it would somehow mean he would have to tone down his live act.

Rachel Fairburn on Victoria Wood

Every so often a tedious article is written raising the question: “Are women funny?” Yes, we are and, in a world where we have been lucky enough to have had a talent like Victoria Wood it’s insane that the question even continues to be asked. Wood’s sketches, characters, songs and monologues were rich with killer lines, vivid descriptions, sometimes surreal comedy and perfect turns of phrase. She gave us relatable, realistic female characters and was masterful at depicting the nuances that can make a person hilarious. An incredible writer and performer, and Northern too. Perfect.

Jason Manford, Dane Baptiste, Darren Harriott, Jo Brand, Kiri Pritchard-Mclean and Chris McCausland feature in the Funny Festival live, nightly on BBC Two from Sunday March 7; Dane Baptiste’s show Bamous is on BBC iPlayer ; Anna Morris: Kid-Life Crisis is available on BBC Sounds; Eleanor Tiernan’s Success Without A Sex Tape, is available on BBC Sounds; Fern Brady’s Power & Chaos airs on BBC One, Friday 12th March, 11:35pm; Stephen Buchanan: Talking Shop is on Radio 4 on Sunday March 7 at 7.15pm