Monday, 14 November 2011



I had intended to write about two comedians as well as two scientists, prompted by the current excellent exhibition at the National Portrait GalleryThe Comedians: from the 40s to Now. It includes a witty and endearing portrait of a nude Jimmy Vegas, commissioned by The Guardian, Kaul’s tribute to the famous photograph by Annie Liebovitz of a pregnant Demi Moore, which appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair.

I would also have included Annie Liebovitz’s startling portrait of John Cleese hanging upside down from a branch like a fruit bat. It took a 60ft crane to haul him into position. It’s an elaborate, theatrical, eccentric response to what must be a tough question: how do you convey the essence of a comedian? Props would be a cliché. Comedians use fleeting shards of words, movements – and silence - in a way which outwits our expectations and takes us by surprise. Not easy to picture.

The disappointing news was that I couldn’t use these photographs for copyright reasons. (But you can see Jimmy on  The good news is that the collection is on show until January 8th and the brochure says it’s in collaboration with partner museums in Sunderland, Sheffield and Plymouth, so I hope it’s going there sometime too..

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