Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Biography 11: Jo Brand

In our penultimate focus on QI panellists, we bring you the fabulous “ladygirl” that is Jo Brand.

Josephine Grace Brand was born on 3rd May 1957 in Hastings, East Sussex. At school, she took piano lessons and had a bad experience with playing the violin. By the age of 16, she was going out with a heroin addict and, after being told by her family to get her act together, she soon left home. She had been slim up until this point, but not long after, the weight crept on; she made up with her parents, ditched her boyfriend and moved to London.

Brand's mother was a social worker, and Brand herself worked as a psychiatric nurse in her late 20s at the South London Bethlem and Maudsley Hospital. Three things spurred her to begin a career in stand-up comedy: her weight, the lack of female comics on the circuit at the time, and her agent Malcolm Hardee, whom she was romantically linked with for a while. Acquiring the stage name "The Sea Monster", she soon became central to the British alternative comedy movement, working London alternative comedy clubs, and appearing initially on the Saturday Live television show in the early 1980s.

In 1993, she began her transition into mainstream comedy when she hosted her own series on Channel 4, Jo Brand Through the Cakehole, co-written with comedy writer and partner Jim Miller, who by then was already her main stand-up writer. Around this time, she was living in the Elephant and Castle area of London. Though it was a rough estate, many comedians, when the London Comedy Circuit has closed down for the night, would often venture there for after hours drink and drug-fuelled sessions of board games. Such comedians included Mark Lamarr, Jeff Green, and Alan Davies.
More recently her humour has softened and she has been a guest on such television shows as Have I Got News For You and Never Mind The Buzzcocks. She has had several solo television series, and presented shows such as Jo Brand's Commercial Breakdown. In 2003, she was listed in The Observer as one of the 50 funniest acts in British comedy.

In 2004, Jo appeared in a special episode of What Not to Wear, where fashion gurus Trinny Woodall and Susannah Constantine gave her a makeover. As a fan of Countdown, she achieved an ambition when she was asked to appear in the show's Dictionary Corner as the celebrity guest. She later became a friend of host Richard Whiteley. Following his death in 2005, she attended his memorial service at York Minster. She appeared again on Countdown in "Dictionary Corner" in February 2007.

Jo has a close association with Comic Relief. Perhaps against her better judgement, she took part in the first celebrity version of Comic Relief does Fame Academy and then in 2007 in Comic Relief Does The Apprentice.

On 25 March 2007, Brand appeared on reality television show Play It Again where she was required to learn how to play the organ in just four months. This was in preparation to perform at the Royal Albert Hall on the largest pipe organ in the British Isles.

Despite rumors to the contrary she turned out not to be a lesbian but after reading it in the newspapers for so long, she started to believe it. She has described men as "fantastic – as a concept". Brand is a big fan of Crystal Palace Football Club, and has sponsored the match ball for games in the past. She also once delivered a guest lecture on the subject of Psychiatric Nursing for the University of Derby Psychology Society. The lecture was reportedly highly ironic.

As the only regular female panellist on QI, Jo has had to compete with the men for laughs, but has still flourished with her self-deprecating humour. She has thoroughly deserved her place as the most frequent guest on the show. Jo will return on several occasions for series E.

No comments: