Josephine Grace "Jo" Brand (born 23 July 1957) 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. In 2003, she was listed in The Observer as one of the 50 funniest acts in British comedy.
Jo Brand was born 23 July 1957 in Wandsworth, London. Her mother was a social worker and her father a structural engineer. Brand is the middle of three children, with two brothers.When she was about four, the family moved to the village of St Mary's Platt near Sevenoaks in Kent, and a year later to Benenden. 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.After work in a pub, for Barnardo'sand 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.
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.
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.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 the 1994 episode of Absolutely Fabulous, "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 onCountdown several more times.
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 more recently 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 eight-part series charting the search for "Britain's Best Young Speaker".
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 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.
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. In March 2006, Jo appeared on Parkinson with Daniel Day-Lewis and Jane Fonda. Brand is known to be a big fan of Crystal Palace Football Club, and has sponsored the match ball for games in the past.
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.
Brand married Bernie Bourke, a psychiatric nurse, in 1997 in Shropshire. She has two daughters, Maisie and Eliza.
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 July 17, 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.”
She is a supporter of the charity ActionAid and has taken part in fundraising events for the organisation.
Brand is a staunch supporter of the Labour Party. She was still a contributor to and supporter of the party in 2012. She is a patron of International Animal Rescue and the Prader-Willi SyndromeAssociation, as well as the National Self Harm Network, otherwise known as NSHN, and London Nightline. She is the president of The Ectopic Pregnancy Trust. Brand introduced and spoke at the celebration of Michael Foot's life at the Lyric Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, on 8 November 2010.She is also a republican. In January 2012 she gave the Annual South Shields annual lecture at Harton Technology Collegealongside the MP for the town, David Miliband.