Jo Brand

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Jo Brand
Jo Brand Award.jpg
Jo Brand at the BBC Magazines Awards for Excellence
Birth name Josephine Grace Brand
Born (1957-07-23) 23 July 1957 (age 56)
Wandsworth, London, England
Medium Stand-up, television, film
Nationality British
Years active 1986–present
Genres Observational comedy
Subject(s) Marriage, Politics
Spouse Bernie Bourke (m. 1997)

Josephine "Jo" Grace Brand (born 23 July 1957)[1] is a BAFTA-winning English comedienne, writer and actress. Commencing her entertainment career with a move from psychiatric nursing to the alternative comedy stand-up scene and early performances on Saturday Live, she went on to appear on The Brain Drain, Channel 4's Jo Brand Through the Cakehole, Getting On and various television appearances including as a regular guest on QI and Have I Got News for You.

In 2003, she was listed in The Observer as one of the 50 funniest acts in British comedy.

Since January 2013, Brand has appeared on the ITV celebrity diving show Splash! as a judge alongside Andy Banks and Leon Taylor. She is a regular stand-in host on the teatime chat show The Paul O'Grady Show and the nightly magazine programme The One Show.

Early life[edit]

Brand was born in Wandsworth, London.[2] Her mother was a social worker and her father a structural engineer. Brand is the middle of three children, with two brothers.[3] When she was about four, the family moved to the village of St Mary's Platt near Sevenoaks in Kent,[4] and a year later to Benenden.[4] Brand was educated at St Mary's Platt Primary School, Benenden Village Primary School, Tunbridge Wells Girls' Grammar School until the age of 16, Hastings High School for Girls and Bexhill College.[1] After work in a pub, for Barnardo's and as a nursing assistant in a residential unit for adults with learning difficulties she took a joint social science degree with a Registered Mental Nurse qualification at Brunel University. She then worked as a psychiatric nurse for ten years, at the South London Bethlem, Cefn Coed Hospital in Swansea and Maudsley Hospital in South London.[5][6]

Comedy career[edit]

Brand was persuaded by agent Malcolm Hardee to begin a career in stand-up comedy, where she acquired the stage name "The Sea Monster". She was part of the British alternative comedy movement, working in London alternative comedy clubs, and appearing initially on the Saturday Live television show.

At her first gig, she faced "an audience from hell" and, waiting to perform last, drank seven pints of lager. She thus faced her first live audience with a bursting bladder. As she ascended the stage, a male heckler started shouting, "Fuck off, you fat cow" and kept up the abuse until her performance finished. There was no applause at the end of her act.[2]

Brand's early style involved her delivering jokes in a bored monotone, one line at a time, with pauses in between. It drew heavily from pop culture and the media, with many jokes containing references to well-known celebrities and public figures. With her Doc Marten boots, her large size, and her short hair, her image remained the same for most of the 1980s and 1990s. Her appearance and material led to false rumours that she was a lesbian.[7]

Jo Brand in 1994 in Belfast

In 1993, she became a resident panellist, along with Tony Hawks, on BBC monologue show The Brain Drain. Her transition into mainstream television continued when she obtained her own series on Channel 4, Jo Brand Through the Cakehole, co-written with comedy writer Jim Miller, who was already her main stand-up writer. She has had several solo television series, and presented shows such as Jo Brand's Commercial Breakdown. She had a cameo appearance in a 1994 episode of Absolutely Fabulous entitled "New Best Friend", and also appeared on Star Spell, a spin off from Hard Spell in 2004. Her television success continued with guest appearances on shows such as Have I Got News for You and QI, to the extent where she became the most frequently appearing guest on the latter, appearing in a total of 29 episodes. As a fan of Countdown, she achieved an ambition when she was invited to appear in the show's "Dictionary Corner" as the celebrity guest. She later became a friend of the host, Richard Whiteley, and after his death in 2005 attended his memorial service at York Minster. She has since appeared on Countdown several more times.

In 2007, Brand narrated Laughter & Tears: The Les Dawson Story, a documentary tribute to Les Dawson, which was broadcast on BBC Radio 2 in October 2007.

Brand took part in the first celebrity version of Comic Relief Does Fame Academy. In 2007, she appeared as a celebrity contestant on Comic Relief Does The Apprentice, again to raise money for Comic Relief. In 2009, she participated in Let's Dance for Comic Relief, another Comic Relief fundraiser, dancing as Britney Spears, reaching the final. She has also been a judge on the show. In January 2013, she took part in a special Comic Relief series of The Great British Bake Off.

Brand appeared as a judge in the BBC2 series The Speaker in April 2009. She offered advice, along with John Amaechi and Jeremy Stockwell, in the series charting the search for "Britain's Best Young Speaker".[8]

Brand co-wrote and starred in the BBC Four sitcom Getting On alongside Joanna Scanlan and Vicki Pepperdine, for which she won the 2011 Best TV Comedy Actress BAFTA award. The series was directed by Peter Capaldi and is a gritty and realistic satire on the current state of the NHS, set in a geriatric ward.

In 2010, Brand took part in Channel 4's Comedy Gala, a benefit show held in aid of Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital, filmed live at the O2 Arena in London on 30 March.

In 2011, Brand presented Jo Brand's Big Splash, a television programme where she performs a stand-up routine and visits people with a love of water. Big Splash is produced by Brand's production company, What Larks! Productions.[9][10]

Brand played the Demon Dinner Lady in the 2011 British live-action 3D family comedy film Horrid Henry: The Movie.She also provided a voiceover for the Lyric Hammersmith Theatre's 2011 Pantomime Aladdin.

Other work[edit]

In 2003, she was listed in The Observer as one of the 50 funniest acts in British comedy. In 2004, Brand appeared in a special episode of What Not to Wear, where fashion gurus Trinny Woodall and Susannah Constantine gave her a makeover.

Brand is known to be a big fan of Crystal Palace Football Club, and has sponsored the match ball for games in the past.[citation needed]

Brand appeared on the 25 March 2007 episode of Play It Again where she was required to learn how to play the organ in just four months. This was in preparation to perform Johann Sebastian Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor for an audience of 8,000 people at London's Royal Albert Hall on the second largest pipe organ in the United Kingdom. In order to practise her performance, she played Dear Lord and Father of Mankind - a favourite hymn of hers at a church service in her former village church in Benenden, Kent, and accompanied dancers at Blackpool Tower. Prior to this, her only experiences with musical instruments had been childhood piano and violin lessons.[11]

Since January 2014, Brand has appeared on the ITV celebrity diving show Splash! as a judge alongside Andy Banks and Leon Taylor.

On Tuesday 14 January 2014, Brand made a guest appearance in The Great Sport Relief Bake Off on BBC Two. This programme is a fun version of The Great British Bake Off whose purpose is to help raise money for the Sport Relief charity. Brand's role was as guest host in place of Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, the resident presenters of the main show. The contestants were Jane Horrocks, Kirsty Young, Jason Gardiner and Greg Rutherford.


Brand has written a number of commercially successful books:

Sorting Out Billy and The More You Ignore Me deal with socially dysfunctional behaviour and draw on her experience in psychiatric nursing. It's Different for Girls looks at growing up in a one-horse seaside town.[12]

Personal life[edit]

Brand at Bonkers Fest 2007

Brand married Bernie Bourke, a psychiatric nurse, in 1997[2] in Shropshire. She has two daughters, Maisie and Eliza.[13]

Brand delivered a guest lecture on the subject of psychiatric nursing for the University of Derby Psychology Society in 1997 in return for a donation to Derby Rape Crisis. Also in 1997 she opened, at Lambeth Hospital in South London, the first major exhibition of The Adamson Collection since the death of Edward Adamson, the pioneer of Art Therapy, in 1996.

On 17 July 2007, Brand was awarded an honorary doctorate for her former work as a psychiatric nurse from the University of Glamorgan. Professor Donna Mead, Dean of the School of Health, Sport and Science at the University of Glamorgan who read Brand up for the award commented, “Jo incorporates much of her experience working in the field of mental health into her current work as a comedian. This has increased awareness of the work done by nurses in the mental health field. She has also used her experiences of working with individuals with conditions such as Alzheimer’s to promote awareness of and raise funds for the Alzheimer’s Society.” [14]

In February 2009, Brand was among a group of British entertainers who wrote an open letter to The Times of London in support of the Bahá'í leaders then on trial in Iran.[15]

She is a supporter of the charity ActionAid and has taken part in fundraising events for the organisation.[16]

In January 2014, Brand was awarded a second honorary doctorate, this time from Canterbury Christ Church University, for her work in raising awareness of mental health issues and challenging the stigma surrounding such illnesses.[17]

Brand was one of the celebrities, including Tom Hiddleston, Benedict Cumberbatch, E. L. James and Rachel Riley, to design and sign her own card for the UK-based charity Thomas Coram Foundation for Children. The campaign was launched by crafting company Stampin’ Up! UK and the cards were auctioned off on eBay during May 2014.[18]


Brand is a staunch supporter of the Labour Party.[19] She was still a contributor to and supporter of the party in 2012.[19][20] Brand is a patron of the National Self Harm Network, otherwise known as NSHN, yet in a 2014 interview with Chat Politics she appeared to be unaware of the charities she officially supports, saying: "For all I know, I’m not a patron of the National Self Harm Network and you could be having me on here." She is also a patron of International Animal Rescue and the Prader-Willi Syndrome Association, as well as London Nightline. She is the president of The Ectopic Pregnancy Trust.[21] Brand introduced and spoke at the celebration of Michael Foot's life at the Lyric Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, on 8 November 2010.[22] She is also a republican. In January 2012 she gave the Annual South Shields annual lecture at Harton Technology College alongside the MP for the town, David Miliband.


Year Title Role Notes
1992— Have I Got News for You Regular panellist/guest host 14 episodes (to date)
1995 Absolutely Fabulous Carmen 1 episode
1993-96 Jo Brand Through the Cakehole Presenter
2003— QI Regular panellist 33 episodes (to date)
2009, 13 The Paul O'Grady Show Stand-in presenter Two episodes
2009 The Speaker Judge
2009-12 Getting On Kim Wilde Also written by Brand
2011 Jo Brand's Big Splash Presenter
2013— Splash! Judge
2014 The Great Sport Relief Bake Off Presenter One episode (14 January)
The One Show Stand-in presenter Two episodes (17-18 March)
TV guest appearances

Year Title Role Notes
2011 Horrid Henry: The Movie Greasy Greta/Demon Dinner Lady

Awards and nominations[edit]

Stand-up DVDs[edit]

  • Barely Live (24 November 2003)


  1. ^ a b Brand, Jo (2009). Look Back in Hunger: The Autobiography. Headline Book Publishing. ISBN 0-7553-5524-5. 
  2. ^ a b c McSmith, Andy (2009-02-07). "Jo Brand: A softer brand of humour". Retrieved 2014-01-30. 
  3. ^ Vincent, Sally (8 May 2004), "Kicking off the bovver boots", The Guardian (London: Guardian Media Group), retrieved 4 May 2010 
  4. ^ a b Geear, Jo (23 August 2005), "Jo Brand: a Kentish maid", BBC Kent (BBC), retrieved 4 May 2010 
  5. ^ Atkins, Tom (25 February 2008), "20 Questions With ... Jo Brand", What's On Stage (Bandwidth Communications Ltd), retrieved 4 May 2010 
  6. ^ Rob Brydon's Annually Retentive, BBC website
  7. ^ "Jo Brand is one funny woman", BBC interview, 26 October 2005 (viewed 9 July 2009)
  8. ^ Fighting the Fear, The Speaker, BBC Television
  9. ^ "Big Splash". What Larks! Productions. Retrieved 20 June 2012. 
  10. ^ "About Us". What Larks! Productions. Retrieved 20 June 2012. 
  11. ^ Play it Again BBC Television
  12. ^ British Library </ ; Amazon UK [1]. Both accessed 4 July 2010.ref> "The digested read: Sorting Out Billy by Jo Brand". The Guardian (London). 14 June 2004. Retrieved 6 August 2009. 
  13. ^ Rick Fulton (2011-09-19). "I didn't expect to become a mum - but having children is fab, says comedy star Jo Brand". Retrieved 2014-01-30. 
  14. ^ "Glamorgan Honours" University of Glamorgan, 17 July 2007 (viewed 15 July 2011)
  15. ^ "Stand up for Iran’s Baha’is" Open letter to The Times, 26 February 2009 (viewed 9 July 2009)
  16. ^ "Jo Brand, Meera Syal, and Nicholas Owen join Clive Anderson for Call My Wine Bluff". ActionAid UK. 23 September 2011. Retrieved 20 April 2012. 
  17. ^ Warren, Gerry (2014-01-29). "Comic Jo Brand honoured with honorary doctorate at Christ Church University in Canterbury". Retrieved 2014-01-30. 
  18. ^ Rebecca Pocklington (6 May 2014). "Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hiddleston, Jo Brand and more celebrities design and sign cards for UK's first children's charity". Mirror Online. Retrieved 7 May 2014. 
  19. ^ a b Dipper, Andrew (23 January 2012). "Interview: Jo Brand". Giggle Beats. 
  20. ^ Thorpe, Vanessa (14 February 2010). "Parties in pre-election battle to sign up stars". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 6 May 2010. 
  21. ^ "Ectopic - Who we are". 2013-10-25. Retrieved 2014-01-30. 
  22. ^ "Friends and supporters of the late Labour leader Michael Foot paid tribute to "a great leader" at a memorial service in his honour.". Retrieved 14 February 2011. 

External links[edit]