Dan Leno, “The Funniest Man on Earth”

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This legendary music hall artist was a major influence on all subsequent British comedians. Born George Galvin in 1860, he made his stage debut at age 4. He became a star of the English panto in such productions as Jack and the Beanstalk (Surrey Theatre, 1886) and Babes in the Woods (1888, Drury Lane). In the 90s, he became a solo artist in music hall. His act would usually involve a little song followed by a character monologue.

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He was great at pantomime dames, as when he portrayed this gossipy female:

You know Mrs. Kelly?…You know Mrs. Kelly?…don’t you know Mrs. Kelly? Her husband’s that little stout man, always at the corner of the street in a greasy waistcoat…good life, don’t look so stupid, don’t – you must know Mrs. Kelly!…Don’t you know Mrs. Kelly? Well, of course, if you don’t, you don’t – but I thought you did, because I thought everyone knew Mrs. Kelly. Oh, and what a woman – perhaps it’s just as well you don’t know her…oh, she’s a mean woman. Greedy. I know for a fact – who’s got the sore eyes, he came over and told me – she had a half dozen oysters, and she ate them in front of the looking glass, to make them look a dozen. Now that’ll give you an idea what she is.

In 1897, he played his only American vaudeville date, at the Olympia Music Hall, where he stayed for 4 weeks. In 1901, he appeared before King Edward, and thenceforth he billed himself as “The King’s Jester”. His brilliant career was cut short in 1903, when he was committed to a mental institution. He died the following year. While he died too young to have made any film appearances, he recorded several phonograph cylinders, allowing us to hear his vocal artistry a century later.

Check it out! You can actually hear the Mrs. Kelly bit:

To find out more about these variety artists and the history of vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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To learn more about slapstick comedy please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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One Response to “Dan Leno, “The Funniest Man on Earth””

  1. […] in the late 90s were French chanteuse Yvette Guilbert, England’s greatest music hall comedian Dan Leno (no relation to Jay), Italian quick-change artist Leopoldo […]

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