COMEDIAN OF THE YEAR : Is there a comic in the house?

The most popular film-maker in history got into history, and stayed popular. Glyndebourne rose again, handsomely. Pop ate itself, but survived. Steve Coogan was everywhere, and so was Hugh Grant; only one of them is praised here. The theatre had a thin time, but television drama serials made up for it. People defined themselves on Mondays at 9pm: were you for `Cracker' or `Chuzzlewit'? And again on Saturdays at 8pm: did you really believe that a 14m-1 shot would win?(Or did you do it for love of the arts?) It wasn't the best of years, but it had its moments. And here they are, in the fourth annual `IoS' Awards
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The Independent Culture
"WHY DO the squirrels bury the acorns? It's just what the oak trees want." For doctor turned humourist Harry Hill, no mountain was high enough; even in a year when Coogan & Co's TV apotheosis threatened to overshadow the achievements of those sti ll foraging for pine nuts on the live circuit. Hill somehow managed to exploit all the opportunities that crowd in on the modern-day comedian - radio, TV, print, extended theatrical shows - without compromising the integrity of his stand-up persona.

It's Sunday night on Shaftesbury Avenue a couple of weeks back, and Hill's "Pub Internationale" pageant is intoxicating the Lyric Theatre. In the audience, Bob Mortimer is sitting in the row behind Ronnie Corbett. Both have cause to look tense - Mortimerbecause Hill's vaudeville surrealism, high and low culture at the same time, owes a fair bit to him and Reeves; Corbett because Harry's "three-year-old adopted son" Matt Bradstock is at the centre of a restricted-growth gag repertoire that puts his own in the shade - but both are laughing, if not like drains, at least like urinals.

Like Billy Connolly and Eddie Izzard, two established comic giants who both showed their mettle this year in the course of record-breaking theatrical engagements, Hill has the precious knack of being able to make a whole room happy. His bumbling demeanour - the flapping collars, the top-pocket full of pens - only sets a razor wit in sharper relief. "I went to a restaurant the other day called A Taste of the Raj. The waiter hit me with a stick and got me to build a complicated railway system."

Among those less rigorous about the need to divide up small-screen and live-performance personas, Jo Brand and Jack Dee dragged their high-powered TV sets up and down the country with tour itineraries to daunt Ffyona Campbell. Meanwhile, pawing the ground in the "most likely to" paddock: Alan Davies has honed his single-white-male routine to a hazy peak of perfection, and it will be fascinating to see how the inspiringly unpredictable Glaswegian Phil Kay reacts to his surprise Best Stand-Up coup at the British Comedy Awards.

Previous winner: 1993 Lee Evans (this award did not begin until 1993).

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