The infamous line, listed in various polls as the funniest ever in film, uttered by Brian Cohen’s mother, Mandy to the gathering crowd, after her son, born on the same day as their neighbour Jesus, is subsequently mistaken for the Messiah in the cult 1979 religious farce MONTY PYTHON’S LIFE OF BRIAN.
Regarded as the British comedy troupe’s masterpiece, and by a number of critics as the best comedy film of all time, the cutting-edge, controversial movie was banned in Ireland, Norway and several parts of Britain, securing its a place in cinematic history. It was directed by the late Python, Welsh genius Terry Jones, who also appeared as Mandy, as well as various other roles including a saintly passer-by, and an alarmed crucifixion assistant.
Sadly we lost Terry last January at the age of 77. In early 2016 he directed the world premiere of JEEPERS CREEPERS , Robert Ross’ play about the life of comedian Marty Feldman at the Leicester Square Theatre in London. After drawing this quick portrait sketch of Terry and as Mandy Cohen, I caught up with him at the venue during rehearsals, where he was happy to sign.
Described by the Guardian as ‘a stand up gem’, Portsmouth-born comedian Suzi Ruffell is regarded as one of the finest acts on the comedy circuit, winning the Chortle Award for Best Club Comic last year. After starting her career at the end of 2008, Suzi went full time in 2012. She has had three sell-out runs at the Edinburgh Festival with the BBC recording and screening her show KEEPING IT CLASSY, a clip from which attracted over 16 million views on Facebook.
A regular on the BBC, Suzi has also appeared on TV shows such as LIVE AT THE APOLLO, MOCK THE WEEK, ROAST BATTLE, STAND UP CENTRAL and COMEDY CENTRAL AT THE COMEDY STORE. Since 2015 she has co-hosted the podcast LIKE MINDED FRIENDS with fellow comic Tom Allen and this year started OUT WITH SUZI RUFFELL.
I met Suzi at the BBC studios after she appeared on Radio 4’s LOOSE ENDS on 7 March this year where she signed my portrait sketch.
Award-winning British comedian Zoe Lyons was God for a short period last Winter… more on that later. Born in Wales, Zoe’s family moved to Ireland then to Surrey and on to Glasgow, where she got her first job in a jam factory. After graduating with a degree in Psychology from the University of York, Zoe’s comic career escalated after a stint on ITV’s reality game show SURVIVORS in 2001, later appearing on such popular TV favourites as MOCK THE WEEK, QI and a regular panellist on THE WRIGHT STUFF, among others.
Back to the Almighty. Zoe appeared as the supreme being in the European premiere of Emmy Award-winning writer David Javerbaum’s AN ACT OF GOD at London’s subterranean venue The Vaults, below Waterloo Station from late October last year until January. It originally opened on Broadway with Jim Parsons in the title role. As Zoe’s adjusted slogan said, ‘God is back… and she has a lot to say!’
I managed to get my sketch signed with a bit of divine intervention, when Zoe took a break between matinee and evening performances on the final Saturday of the season.
“Pam Ayres is absolutely essential to British humour, reminding us all to be tickled by the small joys and ridiculousness of everyday life,” wrote the Daily Mail in 2018. Considered one of England’s living treasures, the poet, comedian and songwriter was inspired by Bob Dylan to write poetry based on simple everyday subject matter.
Her idiosyncratic delivery is enhanced by a distinctive North Berkshire accent. She is one of the few authors who has had books in the Sunday Times bestseller charts in almost every decade since the 1970’s. In 2004 she received an MBE from the Queen.
Pam was a guest on Graham Norton’s BBC Radio 2 show last September, where she signed my sketch for me.
One of the breakout film performances of 2019 was Roman Griffin Davis’ impressive acting debut as the twelve year old Hitler Youth member with his imaginary friend Adolf, Johannes ‘Jojo’ Betzler in Tamika Waititi’s Oscar-winning JOJO RABBIT. He received six award nominations, including a Golden Globe, a Screen Actors Guild and a Critic’s Choice Award which he won. Roman’s twin brothers, Gilby and Hardly also featured in the dark comedy as Hitler Youth clones.
His follow up film is the festive-themed dark romance about an extended family gathering, SILENT NIGHT (working title) opposite Keira Knightley, written and directed by his mother, Camille Griffin. It’s been described as LOVE ACTUALLY with a killer sting. Filming started in February, and managed to finish ‘by the skin of their teeth’ before the coronavirus-induced lockdown.
Roman signed my drawing at the Soho Hotel in London as he left to attend the BAFTA Awards at the Royal Albert Hall in February.
I have many favourite American comedians. Bob Newhart is among them. Known for his deadpan, slightly stammering delivery, Bob came to prominence with his 1960 album of comedic monologues entitled THE BUTTON-DOWN WORLD OF BOB NEWHART, which went to No.1 on the Billboard pop album chart. It still remains the 20th best-selling comedy album of all time. He won two Grammy Awards and another one for the follow-up album THE BUTTON-DOWN MIND STRIKES BACK! While primarily known as a TV star and stand-up comic, Bob has appeared in notable films such as Mike Nichols war satire CATCH 22 and ON A CLEAR DAY YOU CAN SEE FOREVER.
In 1996 TV Guide published the 50 Greatest TV Stars of All Time, listing Bob at 17th. His self-titled TV hit THE BOB NEWHART SHOW ran from 1972-1978, playing dry Chicago psychologist Dr. Robert Hartley, followed by his role as Dick Loudon, a Vermont innkeeper and talk-show host in NEWHART during the 1980s. Surprisingly it wasn’t until 2013 that Bob won his first Primetime Emmy Award as Professor Proton in six guest appearances in THE BIG BANG THEORY.
One of Bob’s signature routines was his improvisational, one-sided telephone conversations, which appeared in the opening shot of the original TV series and in almost every episode. I incorporated this in my sketch, which I sent to Bob, who is now 90, which he kindly signed and returned it to me.
Comic genius and car collector Jerry Seinfeld returned to London last week to perform four shows over two nights at the Hammersmith Apollo. He is listed as the 12th Greatest Stand-up Comedian of All Time by Comedy Central with his ‘observational comedy’. A couple of examples to remind us of his brilliance, “It’s amazing that the amount of news that happens in the world every day always just exactly fits the newspaper” or “Make no mistake about why these babies are here-they are here to replace us.”
In collaboration with Larry David, he created and wrote the self-titled sitcom SEINFELD, in which he plays a fictional version of himself, a mild germaphobe and neat freak, minor celeb, stand-up comedian with his best friend George (Jason Alexander), friend and former girlfriend Elaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and the neighbour across the hall, Cosmo Kramer (Michael Richards), set in a Manhattan apartment building on New York’s Upper West Side.
SEINFELD ran for nine seasons from July 5, 1989 – May 14, 1998, collecting 41 major awards, including 10 Primetime Emmys and three Golden Globes. It is regarded as one of the greatest and most influential sitcoms ever, and ranked the best TV show by Entertainment Weekly, Rolling Stone and TV Guide among others. The dialogue incorporated ‘Seinfeldian’ code words and recurring phrases, often referred to as ‘Seinlanguage’ that have become cemented in popular culture such as ‘Hello, Newman!’, ‘Not that there’s anything wrong with that’, ‘It’s not a lie if you believe it’….’Yada, yada, yada.’
Jerry also has an impressive collection of 150 cars, including 43 Porches, housed in a three-story, $1.4m Manhattan garage with it’s own dedicated fleet management team. Some of the vehicles appear in his talk show, COMEDIANS IN CARS GETTING COFFEE.
Jerry very kindly dedicated and signed my sketch for me at the Apollo.
One of the most recognisable faces on British TV is Irish funnyman Dara O Briain, although the London-based comic and presenter says he’s only recognised once a day. Described as one of the most charismatic, intelligent, fast-talking and downright funny performers working today, ‘Britain’s favourite Irishman’, who studied maths and theoretical physics at Dublin’s University College was voted the 16th greatest stand-up comic on Chanel 4’s 100 Greatest Stand-Ups.
On stage he has the ‘aristocratic bearing of someone esteemed in almost every household in the land,’ according to Guardian reviewer Brian Logan. The ‘craic dealer’ is a regular fixture on the telly, hosting the hugely popular MOCK THE WEEK, plus STARGAZING LIVE, ROBOTWARS, GO8BIT and THE APPRENTICE: YOU’RE FIRED! among others. He is also a frequent guest on QI and LIVE AT THE APOLLO, reminding us that ‘nostalgia is heroin for old people’ and ‘stop taking it literally – it’s only the Bible, it’s not gospel!’ His favourite word is ‘defenestration’, which is a form of political assassination where people are thrown out of a window. His most overused one is ‘fuck’, which he justifies -“it’s a solid word,” When asked what extinct thing he would bring back, he said, the fountain pen. Write so!
It was great to finally meet Dara earlier this year when he signed my sketch at the London Palladium stage door in February when he arrived for the 100 HEARTS NIGHT OF COMEDY charity evening.
The 100 Hearts Night of Comedy at the London Palladium last week gave me an opportunity to catch some more of my favourite comics, including Greg Davies. The sold-out evening raised money for the Brompton and Harefield Hospital charity.
The English comedian is technically from Wales. Davies is a clue. While living in the West Midlands of England, his Welsh father drove his mother, across the border to ensure Greg was born in Wales… in St Asaph, Flintshire to be precise, fifty years ago.
TV viewers will know Greg from a number of small screen appearances, including Mr Gilbert, the archetypal misanthropic and permanently bitter comprehensive school teacher in THE INBETWEENERS, who treats his pupils with utter contempt with biting wit and sarcasm. In another classroom role Greg played Dan, a teacher who hates his job. Thirteen years teaching Drama and English, prior to his comedic career change would have given Greg plenty of material.
He is currently in his BAFTA-nominated role as Ken Thompson in the fifth episode of the popular BBC/Netflix sitcom CUCKOO. Other high profile appearances on the telly include LIVE AT THE APOLLO, MOCK THE WEEK, WOULD I LIE TO YOU? and the host of the panel game show TASKMASTER. I was waiting at the Palladium’s impressive new stage door for the talent to arrive.
You can’t miss Greg. He is literally one of the biggest comedy stars, standing 2.03 metres, (that’s 6’8″ in the old money). I presented my sketch of Greg as a suitably harassed teacher and his friend asked, “Who’s that?” “That’s me!” he replied, which is always a good sign when they recognise themselves in a drawing, which he was pleased to sign.
Considered one of Britain’s national treasures; comedian, actress, writer and now pantomime Queen, Dawn French at the age of ‘oh-never-mind’ has finally become part of that other British phenomenon, the Christmas Pantomime, making her debut over the festive season in SNOW WHITE at the London Palladium. Dawn played the wicked Queen Dragonella, a hiss-boo baddie. All agreed, The VICAR OF DIBLEY star’s natural, impish comic persona lends itself perfectly to the madcap genre.
Writing about Dawn’s performance in his Telegraph review, Dominic Cavendish said, “She amazes with a fiendish tongue-twister, she bumps and grinds in an inappropriate cougar fashion, lip-synching to pop hits as she tries to hit on the young prince, and she delivers a wonderfully Dibley denouement.”
Dawn signed off after the final show last weekend on Twitter,”It’s been a blast. OH YES IT HAS!” She also signed my sketch at the stage door.