Jo Brand

Jo Brand

Brand at the BBC Magazines
Awards for Excellence, 2007
Birth name Josephine Grace Brand
Born (1957-07-23) 23 July 1957
Wandsworth, London, England
Nationality British
Years active 1986–present
Spouse Bernie Bourke (m. 1997)
Children 2

Josephine Grace "Jo" Brand (born 23 July 1957)[1] is an English comedian, writer and actress. Starting 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, Have I Got News for You and Would I Lie to You?. She is currently the presenter of The Great British Bake Off: An Extra Slice.

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

Early life

Brand was born in Wandsworth, London.[2] Her mother was a social worker and her father was 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 working 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]



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 in the mid-1980s, and appearing initially on the Saturday Live television show. She shared a flat with fellow comic and comedy club owner Ivor Dembina.[7]

During 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 Brand 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.[8]

Jo Brand in 1994 in Belfast

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.

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.

Brand played the Demon Dinner Lady in the 2011 British live-action film Horrid Henry the Movie. She also provided a voiceover for the Lyric Hammersmith Theatre's 2011 pantomime Aladdin.

In August 2015, Brand judged the first ever Class Clowns competition at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, she also announced the winner at the Gilded Balloon on the night.

Brand has written a feature-film adaptation to her novel The More You Ignore Me. She will also star in the film.


In 1993, Brand became a resident panellist, along with Tony Hawks, on BBC monologue show The Brain Drain. Her transition into mainstream television continued when she starred in 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. Brand 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 34 episodes. As a fan of Countdown, Brand 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 2004, Brand appeared in a special episode of What Not to Wear, where fashion gurus Trinny Woodall and Susannah Constantine gave her a makeover.

On 25 March 2007, Brand appeared on 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.[9]

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. 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, Brand took part in a special Comic Relief series of The Great British Bake Off.

Brand has been a fill-in host on The Paul O'Grady Show and The One Show. Brand co-created, co-wrote and co-starred in the BBC Four sitcom Getting On opposite Joanna Scanlan and Vicki Pepperdine, for which she won the 2011 Best TV Comedy Actress BAFTA award. The series, directed by Peter Capaldi and Sue Tully, is a gritty and realistic satire on the current state of the NHS, set in a geriatric ward.

In April 2009, Brand was as a judge with John Amaechi and Jeremy Stockwell on the BBC Two series The Speaker, charting the search for "Britain's Best Young Speaker".[10]

In 2011, Brand presented Jo Brand's Big Splash, a television programme where she performed a stand-up routine and visited people with a love of water and it was produced by her production company, What Larks! Productions.[11][12]

In January 2013 and 2014, Brand was a judge with Andy Banks and Leon Taylor on the ITV show Splash! .

On 14 January 2014, Brand presented an episode of The Great Sport Relief Bake Off on BBC Two, a charity version of The Great British Bake Off. In February 2015, she also presented an episode of The Great Comic Relief Bake Off.

She is the host of the BBC Two series The Great British Bake Off: An Extra Slice, which premiered on 8 August 2014.[13] A second series aired from 7 August 2015 and a third from 26 August 2016.

In 2014, Brand co-wrote and starred as Rose in a comedy pilot for Sky Arts called Damned. The show was commissioned for a full series by Channel 4, airing in 2016.


Non fiction

Personal life

Brand at Bonkers Fest 2007

Brand married Bernie Bourke, a psychiatric nurse, in 1997[2] in Shropshire.

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.

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 who were then on trial in Iran.[15]


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

In November 2014, Brand was a part of Gareth Malone's All Star Choir,[17] who released a cover version of "Wake Me Up" to raise money for the BBC's Children in Need.[18]

On 28 January 2016, Brand completed a 150-mile walk across Britain, in aid of Sport Relief, in Liverpool. Brand crossed the finish line at the Albert Dock at 7.30pm, having set off from the banks of the River Humber on 22 January.[19] Her efforts were shown in a 60-minute documentary which aired on 17 March 2016, called Jo Brand's Hell of a Walk for Sport Relief.[20]


Brand is a staunch supporter of the Labour Party.[21] She was still a contributor to and supporter of the party in 2012.[21][22] Brand is a patron of the National Self Harm Network (NSHN), International Animal Rescue, and the Prader-Willi Syndrome Association, as well as London Nightline. She is the president of the Ectopic Pregnancy Trust.[23]

Brand introduced and spoke at the celebration of Michael Foot's life at London's Lyric Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, on 8 November 2010.[24] She is also a republican. In January 2012 she gave the South Shields annual lecture at Harton Technology College alongside the MP for the town, David Miliband.

In August 2014, Brand was one of 200 public figures who were signatories to a letter to The Guardian opposing Scottish independence in the run-up to September's referendum on that issue.[25]

Brand is a supporter of the Women's Equality Party.[26]

Awards and honours

On 17 July 2007, Brand was awarded an honorary doctorate for her work as a psychiatric nurse from the University of Glamorgan (now the University of South Wales). Professor Donna Mead, Dean of the School of Health, Sport and Science, 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."[27]

In December 2007 she received a Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing Lifetime Achievement Award, an award associated with the Eileen Skellern Memorial Lecture. At this event she was praised for making mental health nursing more visible to the general public.[28]

In January 2014, Brand was awarded a second honorary doctorate from Canterbury Christ Church University, for her work in raising awareness of mental health issues and challenging the stigma surrounding such illnesses.[29]


Year Title Role Notes
1990 Up Yer News Herself 2 episodes
1992— Have I Got News for You Regular panellist/guest host 18 appearances
1995 Absolutely Fabulous Carmen 1 episode
1993–1996 Jo Brand Through the Cakehole Presenter
2003— QI Regular panellist 36 appearances
2009, 2013 The Paul O'Grady Show Stand-in presenter 2 episodes
2009 The Speaker Judge
2009–2012 Getting On Kim Wilde Also written by Brand
2011 Jo Brand's Big Splash Presenter
Show Me the Funny Guest judge 1 episode
2013–2014 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)
2014, 2016— Damned[30] Rose 1 special (2014) and 6-part series (2016)
2014— The Great British Bake Off: An Extra Slice Presenter
2015 The Great Comic Relief Bake Off Presenter One episode (25 February)
2016 Jo Brand's Hell of a Walk for Sport Relief Herself One-off episode (17 March)
2016— Going Forward Kim Wilde Also written by Brand
TV guest appearances
Year Title Role Notes
1999 Human Traffic Reality
2011 Horrid Henry: The Movie Greasy Greta/Demon Dinner Lady
2017 The More You Ignore Me Sandra

Stand-up DVDs

Awards and nominations


  1. 1 2 Brand, Jo (2009). Look Back in Hunger: The Autobiography. Headline Book Publishing. ISBN 0-7553-5524-5.
  2. 1 2 3 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. 1 2 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. Brand, Jo (2010). Can't Stand Up for Sitting Down. London: Headline Review. ISBN 978-0755355266.
  8. "Jo Brand is one funny woman", BBC interview, 26 October 2005 (viewed 9 July 2009)
  9. Play it Again BBC Television
  10. Fighting the Fear, The Speaker, BBC Television
  11. "Big Splash". What Larks! Productions. Retrieved 20 June 2012.
  12. "About Us". What Larks! Productions. Retrieved 20 June 2012.
  13. "Jo Brand to front Bake-Off spin-off : News 2014 : Chortle : The UK Comedy Guide". Chortle. 2014-07-23. Retrieved 2014-07-29.
  14. "The digested read: Sorting Out Billy by Jo Brand". The Guardian. London. 14 June 2004. Retrieved 6 August 2009.
  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. "Gareth Malone forms an all-star choir for the Official BBC Children in Need single". BBC. 2014.
  18. "Gareth Malone to form All-Star Choir for official BBC Children in Need single 2014". BBC. 24 September 2014.
  20. 1 2 Dipper, Andrew (23 January 2012). "Interview: Jo Brand". Giggle Beats.
  21. Thorpe, Vanessa (14 February 2010). "Parties in pre-election battle to sign up stars". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 6 May 2010.
  22. "Ectopic – Who we are". 2013-10-25. Retrieved 2014-01-30.
  23. "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.
  24. "Celebrities' open letter to Scotland – full text and list of signatories | Politics". 2014-08-07. Retrieved 2014-08-26.
  25. Catherine Mayer (host), Jo Brand (guest) and Rosie Boycott (guest) (3 April 2016). Jo Brand & Rosie Boycott @ 5x15 - Women's Equality Party (Video). 5x15 Stories via YouTube. Retrieved 28 April 2016.
  26. "Glamorgan Honours" University of Glamorgan, 17 July 2007 (viewed 15 July 2011)
  27. Skellern lecture 2007
  28. Warren, Gerry (2014-01-29). "Comic Jo Brand honoured with honorary doctorate at Christ Church University in Canterbury". Retrieved 2014-01-30.
  30. 7.45pm – 8.45pm (2014-08-13). "Tipping Point: Lucky Stars Episode 8 | presscentre". Retrieved 2014-08-26.
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