Dan Leno

Today started with the discovery of an old book. I was looking at a quote from the great Victorian comedian Dan Leno.

ah! what is man? wherefore does he why? whence did he whence? whither is he withering?

Dan Leno
Dan Leno. Comedy genius.

It comes from his autobiography Hys Booke first published in 1899. I was intrigued and found a website that specialises in the publication of out of print books called forgotten books. They have most of the book available to read for free, though after speed reading the pages I ordered a copy for my own shelves.

What struck me was how funny was finding Dan Leno’s writing. This is a text over 120 years old and most of it read like any modern comedy book. I know Dan Leno is considered to be the greatest comedian of his time, however, his influence on comedy today is so apparent. Not just in the way he single-handedly change pantomime to the style we see today, but the level of his wordplay and metafiction is something I was not expecting to find.

I first became aware of Dan Leno thanks to the stageplay Naturally Insane! written by David Slattery-Christy and starring Britain’s Got Talent finalist Steve Royle (who shares an uncanny likeness to the music hall genius). The play is stunning and I can highly recommend it should you ever get the chance to go. The late, great Rud Hull was an expert on the life of Dan Leno. He actually wrote the foreword for a reprint of Hys Book when it was reprinted in 1969. He was also due to start in David Slattery-Christy’s play before his untimely passing during the pandemic.

I am now a fan of this comedic trailblazer. A hero in his time, an inspiration in ours.