My ten biggest influences in comedy | Jonny Collins

Contributed by Jonny Collins

Earlier this year, I was reflecting on an old, scrapped YouTube project of mine, which was all about who I considered to be the biggest influences on my comedy. It was a little arrogant to think that less than two years into stand-up, with no paid gigs under my belt that anyone would have cared. But I put a lot of work into drafting the list, and just never got around the recording it.

It got me thinking about how inaccurate that list would be applying it to 2022 Jonny, featuring comedians who I either don’t find funny anymore, respect but haven’t watched in years, or have since been outed as utter pieces of shit. Graham Linehan and I think Louis CK must’ve been on there at some point.

So I thought now that at least 20 odd people seem invested in my art, it would be interesting to re-do this list, noting where comedians appeared on my original list, as a neat way to show my development as a comedian, and also shout out some comedians who you may or may not be aware of to check out.

Some of these comedians I have had the pleasure of working with, others retired or died long before I began stand-up. But all of them are significantly important to my writing, performance, and work ethic. They’re also mostly men and all white – which I assure you I am very ashamed of. To clarify, this isn’t a list of my favourite comedians of all time, but they are the ones I think you would have if you were to distil my current stand-up work to its essences.

10) Mitch Hedberg

Mitch would not have been on my original list as I only heard of him half way through uni. Truthfully I debated whether or not to put him here, as I only know the odd joke of his, having not really deep dived into his work. However inevitably every conversation I have with comedians, I find myself bringing up his name or at least one of his jokes and talking about how I wish I could write his kind of jokes.

Definitely not the only person to incorporate weird anti-humour into his work, but definitely one of the best, and the one my mind immediately jumps to. Any time you hear a sentence from me that sounds like it should be a joke but isn’t, that’s Mitch’s influence seeping through. Successfully or otherwise.

That being said – if you’ve ever tried to watch his special, audiences often did not get him. I don’t know if it’s just the jaded comedian in me, but that is both tragic, and also one of the funniest things in the world. I’m the kind of person – that if I’m watching a comedian no one else is laughing at, but I find funny, I will be in fits of uncontrollable laughter within minutes. It sounds sarcastic but it really isn’t. The fewer people that find something funny, the funnier it is. (Only if it is actually funny though – right wing comics appear to have taken this idea too literally.)

I can’t justify putting him any higher on the list, as I am probably less familiar with him than any other person on this list – but his best jokes are easily up there as some of my favourite jokes of all time.

I like the escalator, man. Because the escalator cannot break. It just becomes stairs.

I’m sick of following my dreams, man. I’m just going to ask them where they’re going, and hook up with them later.

I like to walk, because if I didn’t, I’d just be in one place.”

I was in a Death Metal band…People either loved us or they hated us. Or they thought we were OK.

I saw this wino, he was eating grapes. It’s like, ‘Dude, you have to wait.’

9) Lee Evans

Lee Evans is a weird one, as I have not watched his specials in years. His last one was very meh, and none of his style is reflected in my work.

That being said, like many people my age, his Arena tours were the first exposure I had to stand-up comedy. I caught Wired and Wonderful on Channel 4 about 12 hours before I got on an overnight plane to New Zealand – and I was transfixed. I desperately needed to sleep, but I couldn’t stop watching. I’d never seen anything like it before.

Lee Evans is one of those people that makes stand-up look easy. It seems to come so naturally to him. And if you analyse his material, objectively it’s nothing spectacular. But my god does he sell it.

Evans is the embodiment of “You can sell a sub par joke with a great performance, but you can’t sell a good joke with bad performance” – a mantra that has stuck with me throughout my working history. There are plenty of criticisms to have of his work, but I do think that he might be one of the greatest stand-up performers of all time.

Despite just being a gateway into comedians I draw from a lot more – the fact is Lee Evans did introduce me to the idea of stand-up, so even if my work isn’t much like his, his background influence will always be there in my work by definition.

8) George Carlin

I have a very mixed relationship with George Carlin.

On the one hand, his work has been co-opted by the far right as a champion of Free Speech (which he kind of was, just not in the way they’re pretending) and you could argue indirectly responsible for the rise of new atheism, and by extension modern anti-feminist and neo-Nazi movements.

But if you watch any of his work – it’s very clear that he is not at all that person himself. While I’m sure if he were alive today, it’s very possible we’d clash on a lot of issues, he would very much also be decried by the anti-woke brigade for at least half of his specials.

While you could watch Carlin’s golden years and come away that it’s just Old Man Yells At Cloud, I’d argue that’s a very surface level reading of it. Yes one of his most famous routines is about how words aren’t offensive, context is – but you’re ignoring equally great bits about rape culture/victim blaming, organized religion and its impact on corrupt governments, nationalism, the rich elite & class warfare.

Carlin was by all metrics a leftist, and tackled a lot of leftist and anti-authoritarianist themes. Even in interviews, he does not shy away from confronting right wing pundits on their bullshit, bringing up racial and class inequality – and even being called Karl Marx by someone for suggesting that poor black Americans have things much worse than rich white ones.

I do not blame any leftist who has no interest in Carlin, as some of his work is dated (as you’d expect from a comedian whose prime was in the 80s and 90s). But I refuse to let the right try and reclaim him as a conservative hero.

I’ll never know for sure how he’d still be if he were still alive today. It is very possible he would have been suckered into the culture wars as part of the anti-woke brigade. But all his material and recorded thoughts suggest he was far more nuanced than that.

Carlin is particularly special to me as he was a huge part in my own abandonment of my Christianity (although I find his copycats tiresome in 2022). Unlike someone like Gervais, it doesn’t feel like Carlin is taking cheap shots at religion, rather deconstructing how its used as a tool for oppression and corruption. Of all the comedians who tackle religion, no one did it like he did.

Carlin’s influence may have actually been somewhat detrimental to my development, as a lot of his best routines are very light on jokes, and are instead immaculately crafted speeches, with hints of poetry, and were basically anarchistic political speeches. I cannot pull that off – but I do think his influence really did let me know that comedy could be about something, and a tool for spreading activist messages. May very well be one of the reasons anyone is even reading this, as maybe I wouldn’t’ve been someone who would’ve started Blizzard without him.

7) Andy Field

This one is much closer to home, and someone who I have had the pleasure of working with on multiple occasions.

You might not know Andy Field yet, and you are missing out if that is the case. Similar to Mitch Hedberg’s work, Andy is one of those comedians that absolutely never fails to make me laugh, no matter the context. A genuinely bonkers joke writer whose content is deceptively simple on the surface, but in a way that you both wonder why you didn’t come up with it, and wonder why he bothered coming up with it. And I mean that with love.

Whether it’s creating characters based on tenuous one liners such as Row-Boat Cop (who’s like Robocop, but is in a Row-Boat) or my personal favourite William the Concurrer (Who’s like William the Conqueror, but he just agrees with everyone). Or sincere anecdotes about poop and drugs, to just pure performance art deliberately undermined with his own deadpan weirdness.

Andy is a true artist, I’d call him a king of alternative comedy but even that feels like selling him short.

He definitely isn’t a comedian everyone will get, but he is the comedian we all deserve.

6) Lee Mack

This one might be another curveball – but I feel I owe yet another comedy Lee a shout out for the impact he had early in my ambitions.

In this case, Lee Mack was the first comedian I ever saw live in a theatre. The first comedian I ever saw live in any capacity was Milton Jones – who ended up doing a gig at my old Church growing up weirdly. Milton was a very close contender for this list, but I digress.

Lee Mack has a couple of gags that haven’t aged amazingly – but on the whole seems like a lovely chap, and moreover is one of the wittiest people alive. Whether you go to see him live, watch him on TV agonizing David Mitchell on Would I Lie to You, or anything else he may guest on, he always comes across as the funniest person on any given line-up.

Not just his wit either, but his crafted jokes – if you’ve taken the time to watch any of his full stand-up shows – are nothing to sneer at either. Lee Mack is one of the few comedians going today that could’ve also held his own in pretty much every era of British Comedy on TV. His jokes were classics from the moment they were written, yet also the opposite of hack and predictable.

Does his influence come across in my work? I don’t think so. I don’t think I’ve ever written or ad-libbed a line that’s even close to the worst of Mack’s work. But did he show me what comedy could be and inspire me to strive to be better with every show? Absolutely.

5) John Robertson

Where do I start with the John Robertson praise? I actually love this man.

From an improv background he is one of the best solo performers I have ever seen, with no two shows being alike, and each of them being a blast. A comedian who delves into dark and sinister subject matter expertly without ever punching down or crossing the lines. A man who pumps so much good and joy into the world and largely inspired my comedy attitude over the last few years of aggressive inclusivity in all that I do.

It’s no surprise that John adapted to Twitch so well, possibly better than any other comedian on there (and loads of comedians are doing some really cool stuff on there!) as all he’s had to do is bring the chaos of his live shows onto Twitch. It translates beautifully, with so much more scope for interactivity.

I loved John from the moment I first saw him. Getting to work with him was honestly a dream come true, absolute hero of mine, and even having him shout out Blizzard and myself in his Twitch a few times has been lovely. He’s so supportive of what we’re doing, and enthusiastic about all the new and exciting things going on in the leftist shitposting comedy world.

We need more Johns in the world, but he is also one of a kind, and beautiful. I know for a fact my shows will never reach the heights he’s achieved. Not only is he much more skilled in those areas, he has a lot more patience with tech than I ever would!

But as someone who’s influenced my overall attitude to performance, gotten me more comfortable going off script even if it’s not a hugely common thing for me, and inspires me to look after myself and that I matter on a pretty much daily basis. My life has improved greatly since discovering him, and he makes the world we live in an objectively better place. Absolute hero.

4) Daniel Sloss

Daniel Sloss is an interesting one, as I haven’t actually kept up with him a great deal lately – but he’s arguably part of the reason I even started comedy when I did.

For those of you who didn’t know, before Daniel became an international superstar of comedy, he started stand-up at 16, and made his first TV appearance at 19. This is where I saw him, either on Live at the Apollo or McIntyre’s Roadshow or something like that.

And suddenly, comedy didn’t seem so impenetrable.

Watching stand-up as a teenager, I didn’t actually realize it was a thing people could do. I assumed comedians were just a different breed of human and were born that way, and that nobody could become a comedian, they just existed from day 1 as a comedian. It sounds silly now, but I felt like that about all TV really. In my head I knew they were all people, but it’s easy to forget that they (usually) worked really hard to get on TV in the first place and it is as viable as a career goal as any other.

Now that I have loads of friends who’ve done TV, I feel silly for ever feeling that way, but the first thing that broke my illusion is seeing Daniel Sloss, aged 19, absolutely killing it on TV. I must’ve been 15 or so at the time, and knowing that people my age were doing comedy actually got me to seriously think about the logistics of doing it. I don’t know if I’d’ve done my first gig at 16 if it weren’t for seeing him.

This is how powerful representation is. If I, a white AMAB middle class person, can feel so much empowerment from representation from another white AMAB person, imagine how important it is to pretty much any other demographic, who are vastly underrepresented. Representation matters so much.

I haven’t worked with Daniel, I did bother him in Edinburgh once though and then try to add him on Facebook.

Still waiting for him to accept.

I was starstruck – and hugely embarrassed. Idk what I thought was gonna happen, he’d accept and we’d poke each other forever and never talk probably.

3) Tony Law

I established earlier that I was into stand-up comedy since about 2008 when I first saw Lee Evans and I liked a lot of TV comedy over those years. It wouldn’t be until about 2011 that I discovered alternative comedy, and my gateway to that was Tony Law by way of Russell Howard’s Good News Extra.

Say what you want about Russell Howard, but in the 2010s he did wonders for platforming great alternative acts who rarely got TV opportunities. Doc Brown was another great act I discovered through this method.

If Lee Evans taught me what stand-up was, Tony Law taught me how to break it apart and make it interesting. He was very much to me what Stewart Lee was to a lot of my generation (another close contender, but I didn’t want to be basic).

Lee Evans taught me that you could make people laugh through observations and physical performances.

Tony Law taught me you could make people laugh by yelling Gok Wan for 5 minutes. To this day, that is my preferred method.

It took me a while before I applied my Law love to my own comedy, and I am thrilled that I have managed to work with him now as well.

I don’t think that if I hadn’t discovered Tony Law that I would be a more by the books comedian, but I do think that his weirdness inspired a lot of the weirdness I brought into my own works, and definitely my shouty bollocks delivery – that’s textbook Law work.

2) Andrew O’Neill

Ugh, okay, here’s the one everyone saw coming.

I first discovered Andrew O’Neill, because a man by the name of Tom Mullen who is now a dear friend saw me gig once, and recommended them to me as my set reminded him of them.

Immediately after that I was hooked, and not in a healthy way. I was absolutely obsessed. If Daniel Sloss had shown me that people my age could do stand-up, Andrew O’Neill was the proof that genderqueer metal nerds could.

Unfortunately, Andrew was by far and away my biggest influence for years, and it showed. At the beginning I could claim that it was a coincidence as I’d never seen them before. But into my late teens and early 20s it was too much, and I was getting tired of the comparisons.

None of that is their fault of course – they are an expert in their brand of comedy, and are probably this generations definitive alternative comedian, in every sense of the word. Doesn’t just write good jokes, but finds interesting ways to deliver them that double on the humour, explores concepts that aren’t really talked about in the mainstream, has a very clear place in their niche, but also broad appeal and a knack for club sets that I’ve still not worked out.

I definitely tried to emulate them, but the fact that I already looked like them, and that we shared a lot of the same influences, including Harry Hill, Bill Bailey, Bill Hicks, and one more who will still be on this list, really didn’t help.

Despite my mixed feelings on my own work at the time when I was their biggest fan – it would be remiss not to give them a shout out, as they very clearly are and were a huge influence and inspiration for me. Not to mention their band frequently goes on our playlists, god they’re good.

1) Eddie Izzard

And to NO ONE’S SURPRISE number 1 is the O.G. genderqueer comic hero, Izzard herself.

Lee Evans was the comedian that got me into comedy, Lee Mack was the first comedian I saw live, but Eddie Izzard is the first comedian that I was a dedicated fan of. Got her box set one Christmas with 6 of the best stand-up specials of all time to date, and quickly filled in the missing gaps to complete my collection, including a VHS only release because I’m that dickhead who’ll track stuff like that down.

Each special has its own quirks and tones – but they all fit together cohesively, and you can tell when bits have been reworked and built upon between specials, making it really exciting to binge them and think you know where a bit is going only to be taken in a completely different direction.

This is something that I have since applied to my own writing – often expanding on existing material and eventually detaching it from the source when it’s complete enough on its own as my main method of writing new material.

It was a little bit of a double edged sword being so into Eddie. In my very early stand-up writing attempts I would try to copy the beats and tone of her work without really understanding why they were funny, which resulted in stuff that might’ve been whimsical, but not actually very well constructed – which is really the sweet spot she has nailed. Probably the most accessible alternative comic we’ve ever seen, solidified by her international superstar status.

It wasn’t just her comedy that hit me though.

There was a documentary released about her, which became an essential viewing experience for me before every gig. Seeing her journey, seeing her painstaking crawl to the very top, seeing the way she tried to emulate Monty Python and other big names of the day, and specifically trying to get into Cambridge to follow their route to stardom, only to fail, but succeed in other ways. She even got me interested in street performing with some of the grinding she did with that for a while. I never attempted it, but that’s how much her story inspired me.

Her story is one that made me want to follow in her footsteps – and to this day is a much needed source of inspiration when I’m stuck.

Finally getting to see her live in 2013 was a dream come true. I can’t think of any other gig where I’ve been quite so excited for it to start in my life.

Not to mention being a formative part of my self-discovery identity wise, even if the language was different and my understanding was a way off from what it is now. Eddie didn’t kickstart my urge to wear skirts and dresses, but she was the only representation I had in the public image of someone who could do that and it not be a part of the joke (or if it was, very much on her terms). It was just a part of her look, sexy, rock ‘n’ roll, and a stark contrast to 2 hours of inane but hysterical ramblings on everything from religion to recorders.

I don’t actually think I’m very similar to Eddie as far as my content goes. But taking into account every single comedian I’ve ever enjoyed, she is probably the one who is most important to my own personal and professional development.

So that’s the 10. I’m actually pleasantly surprised that the list hasn’t changed all that much – I think John Robertson, Andy Field and Mitch Hedberg were new, replacing some of the less savoury names on it previously – but all the others have remained constant.

That being said, I do have a large number of honourable mentions which are much more different than they would’ve been 10 years ago:

Robbie, Connor, Aaron and Adam: My friends who really pushed me into actually doing stand-up for the first time. I don’t talk to some of them now, and the ones I do I don’t talk to a lot. But I owe them a lot for supporting, believing, constructively helping and allowing me a safe space to grow and really break into the hobby.

Bethany Black: Beth very nearly made the top 10. The only reason she didn’t is that I decided to exclude any acts I’d booked for Blizzard. To be honest, I could do a top 100 acts who inspire me that I’ve worked with on Blizzard, and still have to leave out some very deserving people. If I’d discovered Beth a bit younger I’ve no doubt she’d’ve had Andrew O’Neill’s level of impact on my comedy, but I actually hadn’t seen her until I’d already found myself. She is still a huge inspiration despite being past my main growth years. (I say now, maybe in 5 years I’ll look back on today and say I was still very much in that growth period, but I feel more rounded now than I did back in 2017, so I think that counts for something.)

Regardless, the first time I saw her I was instantly hooked, and along with John Robertson her streams have largely kept me going throughout lockdown. Intelligent, polished and fucking brilliant comedy.

Bec Hill: Bec is an important one for me, as she MC’d my second ever gig – which was the first gig that I have any remaining video evidence of. She was already pretty successful on the circuit when I first saw her, but seeing her grow, make specials and TV appearances, it’s a joy. One of the loveliest people on the circuit, and I don’t think many people deserve praise and success more than her. Seriously watch “I’ll be Bec” on NextUp comedy – it’s only a slight exaggeration to say it changed my life.

James Ross: Once again has only missed out on the top 10 due to guesting on our streams a couple of times – but James is arguably my biggest influence that I’ve met and worked with on many occasions.

Firstly, he has given me some genuinely invaluable advice on both running nights and performing – including basically being the template for Blizzard itself with his own night. Secondly, his 2015 hour is one of my favourite solo shows ever – and helped some stuff click into place with my own work. Like with John, his aggressive inclusivity was a missing piece of my persona, which he helped me find. And thirdly, my first Quantum Leopard appearance marked a turning point in my career, being the first competition I won, and really the point that I feel I broke into whatever weird level of the circuit I’ve been coasting on ever since. Which I’m happy with tbh.

Kiri Pritchard-McLean: Kiri taught stand-up to us in my third year of uni, at which point I was already 4 years in. However resetting to square one and learning from her was a much needed experience for me. I developed a lot based on her workshops and teaching and her influence in my work cannot be overstated.

Josh Jones: I remember meeting Josh at Uni and him not really being interested in stand-up – and how he’s easily the most successful stand-up out of my year who actually graduated (Jamali Maddix is fucking smashing it, but he left after first year, and … fair tbh, he clearly didn’t need it).

Josh is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met, and despite getting into stand-up after me, was an immediate natural and has only skyrocketed since then. Our styles of comedy aren’t that similar, but working together on numerous occasions and watching how he masterfully owns the stage is hugely inspiring to see.

Tom Short: Similar to Kiri – Tom ran the comedy society in my first year. Whilst I only went to a couple of workshops, I have happily worked with him many times since. Like Josh he is one of the loveliest people on the circuit, is constantly looking for ways to reinvent himself and is one of those few comedians who genuinely has a love for the art, which is refreshing to see.

Tony Basnett: I remember being intimidated by Basnett the first time I saw a Trapdoor show. Since I met him and gigged with him on many occasions however, I’ve realized he’s just a big nerd. But a big nerd with a genuine talent for engagement and performance, and someone who has built one of the greatest comedy nights in Manchester – so obviously I owe basically all of Blizzard’s success to him.

Genuinely though, terrific MC and performer all round, and an asset to the circuit.

And despite not being a stand-up It would be rude not to shout out Kirstie on this list – a person without whom Blizzard itself would not exist. Kirstie has always been a beacon of support and enthusiasm for everything I’ve done, and having that constant for the majority of my adult life has been genuinely essential in shaping not only the comedian but the person I am today.

This is too many pages already, so I’m going to stop wanking off all my friends now – but rest assured this list could go on and on. If this were simply a list of my favourite comedians, everyone on the Blizzard booking list would be on here multiple times.

At a time in my life where comedy is more and more difficult to enjoy because comedians are the worst, I want to thank the named people here especially for making the circuit better.

Get this piece – and lots of other cool content – as part of our July 2022 zine here.