Opinion: How Important Are Funny Faces In Comedy?

John Kearns

Here is a picture of Foster’s Award winner John Kearns pulling a comical face. I don’t know if it was his choice or if the photographer coaxed him into it, but it feels like the kind of thing that comedians have to do sometimes to earn a crust. You never get politicians being asked to gurn like a loon during a photoshoot.

I enjoyed reading a recent article by Harry Deansway about John Kearns’ early years of struggle on London is Funny this week. Deansway explained that he managed Kearns for a while. He signed him up because he had a “do they look funny in their picture?” booking policy. It had previously, he points out, worked for Pappy’s, Tim Key, Nick Helm, Cardinal Burns and Dave Hill among others.

Which got me thinking. Alan Davies recently suggested comedians can be divided into two groups, golfers and self-harmers. I think you can currently divide them into the serious face brigade and the comic face brigade. In the old days a funny face seemed obligatory. Think Eric Morecambe, Tommy Cooper, Tony Hancock, Vic Reeves.

Yet these days it seems that you don’t have to look like you are on day release from the asylum when you go onstage. David Baddiel doesn't have a particularly humorous face. Nor does Stewart Lee. Nor do Thom Tuck or John-Luke Roberts. Watching Thom Tuck at This Is Your Trial the other night I briefly thought he was more convincing as a barrister than a clown. But then Tuck is also a straight actor so I guess he is something of a chameleon.

Of the modern arena gang John Bishop doesn’t have a funny face until he opens his mouth and illuminates the enormodomes with his teeth. Michael McIntyre’s face is definitely odd, but I don’t know if I’d call it funny. Lee Evans has a certain simian similarity. I’m surprised more monkeys don’t buy tickets for his gigs.

I have a theory that being good looking can hold you back as a comedian. I bet Chris Martin (pictured) would be more successful if he looked less like a male model and more like a gargoyle. It was once said that one of the secrets of Marlon Brando's success was his bashed up hooter. Producer Irene Selznick once said “that broken nose made his fortune. He was too beautiful before.”  

This year’s Foster’s Awards shortlist was a particularly good one for funny faces. Kearns has a comical appearance even without his false teeth and monk’s wig, hence the comparisons with Hancock. Sam Simmons could only ever have a career in comedy with a mugshot like that. Weedy James Acaster looks like the platonic essence of every skinny kid that ever got bullied at school. Alex Horne when bearded looks like he has just failed an audition to be the face of Player's Navy Cut cigarettes because he smirked too much. Only Romesh Ranganathan, Liam Williams and Sara Pascoe looked slightly serious. 

So if you want to get ahead in comedy it is not essential but perhaps it helps to have a funny face. Maybe Harry Deansway was onto something. But then again he also wanted Kearns to change his name to John Curtains, so what does he know?


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