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Culture
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Oxonian Comedy’s Brightest Stars

Given the culture, creativity and sheer intelligence that exists amongst Oxford, it’s unsurprising that our city and university have produced some of the most celebrated comedians the world has ever seen
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"Jerry Springer: The Opera led to the BBC receiving 55,000 complaints."

Some of the following comedy figures you’ll definitely have heard of, some you may have not known went to Oxford, and some may be entirely new to you, but all have enjoyed illustrious careers making people laugh after spending years amongst the dreaming spires.

Rowan Atkinson

Attended: Queen’s College

Best Known For: Blackadder and Mr Bean

One of the most instantly recognisable faces of British comedy, Rowan began his career in a double act with Angus Deayton (who also went to Oxford), before getting his first break on the BBC as part of Not the Nine O’Clock News.

The satirical sketch show was a huge success, and led to Rowan’s casting as Edmund, Duke of Edinburgh in The Black Adder (later restylised as just Blackadder). Mr Bean came later in 1990, and was hugely successful, leading to several well-received episodes, spinoffs, and guest appearances in character including the 2012 London Olympics opening ceremony. His film appearances include Four Weddings and a Funeral and his James Bond parody Johnny English.

Armando Iannucci

Attended: University College

Best Known For: The Thick of It

One of the country’s most well-respected satirists, Glasgow-born Armando Iannucci read English literature at University College before returning north of the border to make radio shows for BBC Scotland. His first well-known venture came as the producer for On The Hour on Radio 4, which made the transition to TV as The Day Today. In 2000, he produced the 8-part Armando Iannucci Shows, before devising, directing and writing The Thick of It, which ran until 2012. His first feature film In The Loop premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2009 and was given rave reviews by critics.

Al Murray

Attended: St Edmund Hall

Best Known For: The Pub Landlord

Al Murray began as a stand-up comedian alongside peers including Harry Hill and Farnk Skinner, winning the Edinburgh Comedy Award in 1999. Allegedly, Al first created his famous “Pub Landlord” character after deeming an existing character to have not worked, and so opened his Edinburgh Fringe show by claiming that the talent could not make it and had been replaced by the venue’s barman. Since then, the character has been a runaway success and Al has presented several TV programmes in character, including quiz show Compete for the Meat, where the winning contestants go home with a frozen chicken and the runner-up wins sausages.

Stewart Lee

Attended: St Edmund Hall

Best Known For: Jerry Springer: The Opera

Stewart Lee was writing and performing comedy acts in The Seven Raymonds group whilst at Oxford in the 1980s. He worked with Armando Iannucci writing for On The Hour after winning the Hackney Empire New Act of the Year competition, then went on to write and perform for a number of BBC radio series. In 2005, he co-wrote the hugely controversial musical Jerry Springer: The Opera, which infuriated Christian groups for its depiction of Jesus, and led to the BBC receiving 55,000 complaints. No action was taken against Stewart or the musical, and in 2009 he returned to mainstream comedy with Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle on BBC2.

Michael Palin

Attended: Brasenose

Best Known For: Travel documentaries, Monty Python

Beginning his career in comedy early, Michael Palin began writing comedic material whilst still studying at Brasenose College, performing at university parties and in the Oxford Revue. Along with fellow Oxonian student Terry Jones, Michael wrote for various BBC programmes, during which time he worked with future Monty Python members John Cleese, Eric Idle and Graham Chapman. The Python powerhouse was born shortly after, resulting in possibly the most famous and respected British comedy title ever produced. Michael then used his fame to launch a series of excellent travel documentaries, including Around the World in 80 Days and Hemingway Adventure.

 

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