My Comedy Hero: Katy Brand on Caroline Aherne, Victoria Wood and Gilbert & George
The stand-up, character comedian and actress picks two funny females who died in 2016 and the Morecambe & Wise of British art among her comic icons
The first one I'd choose is Caroline Aherne. I got into comedy in my late-teens and started to self-consciously look for role models on TV and she was on there a lot at the time. In The Fast Show and on some late-night spots, she wasn't doing straight-forward observations about popular ideas of 'what it's like to be a woman'; she would do these fully-formed characters who were proper people, very specific and very funny. For me, Denise Royle was her finest creation; it could so easily have been done over the top, but it's so perfectly observed and underplayed, which was very skilful.
Next is Lisa Kudrow, mainly for The Comeback which I think is one of the best TV comedy series of all time. The second series was commissioned years after the first one and I remember reading that she was very proud of the first series but it didn't go anywhere because people tuning in thought it was actually a reality TV series. But now everyone knows what she's laughing at: people at the end of their careers trying to reinvent themselves on reality TV and it all going horribly wrong and being stitched up by it.
She plays this aging sitcom actress Valerie Cherish who sees herself as the girl about town finally getting her second chance at fame, but you see through the eyes of the network that it's all about trying to make her look stupid and desperate. Again, there's a sense of underplaying it and also not going for the obvious things. And it was all so unexpected; I knew she had a background in improv but I didn't expect The Comeback to be so sharp.
Third one is a slightly weird guy called David Hoyle who used to do a character 30 years ago called the Divine David, a gothic diva type act. Imagine Liza Minnelli being dragged around a field and put through a combine harvester. He had a very late night spot on Channel 4 where he'd host these strange video clip shows and was foul and vile and very funny. He still does live work now as David Hoyle; he retired the Divine David though it was always slightly hard to tell between them.
He will describe himself as a performance artist but he's incredibly funny and one of the most outrageous live acts I've ever seen: jawdroppingly rude and really out there. What I remember most about him as the Divine David on Channel 4 was that it was so different to anything else I was watching comedy-wise and it made me think you could really do anything. Half the time it wasn't clear whether he was trying to be funny or not.
Everyone in their right mind would have Victoria Wood among their comedy heroes. She's the first person I remember laughing at and thinking I understood an adult joke. We were watching 'Acorn Antiques' as a family and I got the joke and felt very proud of myself; it gave me a window into what adults were laughing at. I understood that it was a spoof of a daytime soap and why it was funny.
I did meet her a couple of times and she was quietly supportive; there was something very dignified about her, and she wasn't flashy. She booked me for a live show she did, The Angina Monologues, for women's heart disease care, and I didn't realise until later that she had handpicked the lineup. She made it clear to me that I was there because she wanted me to be there. I was walking on air for a month after that. She said something really unprepossessing like 'keep at it'. And from Victoria Wood, that's enough.
The final one is a bit of a wild card and maybe pretentious, but I have always found Gilbert & George very funny. Artists and comedians can share a lot. They were on a Jonathan Ross chat show, sitting side by side and talking very earnestly about one of them creating a diversion in the newsagent's so the other one can steal a Kit Kat. There was just something very subversive in this very British way about them. When you work in comedy, especially when you do TV and radio, you are used to working to a brief and having loads of notes that you need to act on even if you don't agree with them. That's very collaborative, but Gilbert & George are very much their own men. It's good to remember people like that who just go their own way.
Katy Brand: I Was a Teenage Christian is on tour from Tue 2 May–Sat 24 Jun.