MANY OF the big-name comics to have toured this year - Victoria Wood, Paul Merton, Lenny Henry, Ben Elton, Jack Dee, Newman and Baddiel, Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson - are television stars slumming it on the circuit for a bit (well, a lot) of pocket money between adverts and the chance to road-test material for the new series. Lee Evans, however, is a comic star born and bred in front of a live audience: his father was a musician in the Northern clubs and Evans followed him there, before graduating to the alternative, or as he prefers to call it the 'creative', circuit. His highly physical, Perrier Award-winning act is an enthralling mix of gymnastics and gags. A former boxer, he plays the role of a nave, nervy stand-up, dopily following instructions from a How to Be a Comic LP, blurting out such random cliches as 'My wife's fat' and miming to 'Bohemian Rhapsody'. Catch him before he too is lost to the bright lights of telly.
Another to have thrived without massive televisual exposure - he loathes the medium - is Eddie Izzard. The gently surreal cross-dresser proved that if you're good enough, you're big enough to do without your own series on Channel 4 - he occupied the Ambassadors Theatre in the West End for a monstrous three months. Lea de Laria has also prospered on the word-of-mouth principle: the formidable professional lesbian-cum-blues singer is currently doing well at the Drill Hall in London for a six-week run, despite a party-piece which involves making the men in the audience stand up and chant 'I am a lesbian'. Finally, a special round of applause for the veteran jokesmith Barry Cryer. Forget the old chestnut about comics as the new rock stars; it doesn't matter how old you are, or what you wear, as long as you're funny. Cryer is.