Dan Leno, “The Funniest Man on Earth”


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.


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.


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



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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