Born in St Helens (a town just a few miles east of Liverpool) with the name Michael Pennington, Johnny Vegas1 has, in recent years, become one of the most prolific and talked-about comedians in Britain.
He started out doing stand-up in 1996, quickly becoming known as the first comedian to mix pottery with heart-wrenching pathos. Indeed, if he felt the show was starting to run a bit slow at any point then he would pull his potter's wheel onto the stage and start to create something. Fortunately, he studied Ceramics at Middlesex University, so he does know what he's doing. However, the most noticeable thing about Mr Vegas2 is his voice, which is irreparably damaged (he claims from singing too much as a child), making him sound strained and out of breath all the time.
The bulk of Johnny Vegas' act revolves around a character that drinks too much, smokes too much, and is a useless pathetic jobless waster who still lives with his parents3. Such is the calibre of his stage show that he has received several unique accolades: he won the Festival Critics' Award, and was simultaneously nominated for the Perrier Award at the 1997 Edinburgh Festival - the first person ever to do so at their first Festival appearance. And in February, 2000, he was the first comedian ever to do a set at the Victoria and Albert Museum - he was booked purely on the basis that the show would feature pottery.
The first significant piece of television exposure that he had was as a regular pundit on BBC Two's I Love...[insert decade or passing fad of years gone by] nostalgia nights. A job he got, so he claims, simply because his friend Stuart Maconie was the producer of many of these shows.
Viva Johnny Vegas
Johnny's public profile was substantially raised when he starred in a series of advertisements for the now-bankrupt ITV Digital alongside a knitted-wool puppet monkey called Monkey4. Though these adverts may not have saved ITV Digital, they were very popular and regarded as possibly the single best thing the company ever did. Advertising gurus even went so far as to create a test-card featuring Vegas and Monkey posing the positions of the old girl-at-blackboard-with-toy test-card that used to feature on the BBC.
During the last few months of Channel 4's early morning show The Big Breakfast, Johnny had his own regular section on the show, known as JVTV. It looked as if it was filmed in his parents' house; most of the show coming from their living room, with the running order spelled out in magnetic letters on the fridge door. Johnny took the opportunity to settle an old score in this slot.
He had entered a talent competition organised by The Big Breakfast several years earlier, in which he displayed his talent for making Hawaiian guitar sounds by flicking his nose (for which he was famed at his college). Johnny was beaten on that occasion by a five-year old with a feeble shop-bought magic trick. On JVTV he brought that boy (now a teenager) back, and harangued him for five minutes, blaming most of his (Johnny's) failures of the previous ten years on this boy, and finally finishing off with a repetition of his nose flicking act.
Later, he appeared in Paul Whitehouse's bleak comedy Happiness as Paul's friend Charlie. The character, which was written for him, being that of a heavy drinking, heavy smoking, jobless waster. To which his friends reportedly commented 'That's not acting, that's your life'. In March, 2002, he won Royal Television Society's Best Newcomer award for the part.
He maintained a regular part on Vic Revees' and Bob Mortimer's celebrity panel show Shooting Stars; his persona of half-drunk northerner being the perfect counterpoint to Vic and Bob's manic humour. Witness this one exchange:
Bob: 'Do you think that drinking is clever?'
Johnny: 'Not in my experience.'
Johnny's recent work includes a radio comedy (co-written by himself with Tony Burgess and Tony Pitts) called Night Class5. In the show, Vegas played a Butlins redcoat, who had been temporarily laid off because of renovations to the camp (or so he was told), then returned to his home town (St Helens) and was forced to take a job at the local college teaching pottery to a night class. As with many Vegas projects, it is hard to figure out how much is fiction and how much autobiography.
He is also currently reported (at the time of writing) to be working on The Virgin of Liverpool, a film centred around a young girl's attempts to save a statue of the Virgin Mary.
Johnny recently married Catherine Donnelly while on a visit to America. The occasion took place in a registry office in San Franciso. Not Las Vegas, unfortunately, but then that would have been too clever.
For totally up-to-date information (and clips) visit Johnny's own site.Johnny Vegas Test-Card SpoofJohnny Vegas Profile