Johnny Vegas Profile

He's the self-proclaimed "18 stone of idiot", but anyone who's able to convince Neil Hamilton to step inside a glass box and have fish thrown at him on TV is surely some kind of genius.

Johnny Vegas

Johnny Vegas was born Michael Joseph Pennington - but don't go calling him Michael in an ingratiating attempt to make him think you're a close friend, as even his best buddies call him Johnny. Michael was raised in a staunchly Catholic household in Merseyside, and at the age of 11 he decided to take it a step further and actually become a priest. His proud parents duly sent him to a private seminary school, where the young Vegas realised just what he'd let himself in for. It was in his words a "totally Victorian place" where everyone was up at 7am for a communal wash before embarking on a day of frequent prayers and long, wordless study periods. Eventually it all got too much and Johnny returned to normal state education. It wasn't a big deal, though. As Johnny later recalled, "God wasn't that fussed."

Johnny wasn't exactly the world's most dedicated student, and he left school without much of an idea of what he wanted to be. He therefore took a job at Argos - where they didn't have a uniform quite big enough to fit him, which meant customers regarded him as a complete weirdo whenever he offered to help them bag their purchases.

He decided to do some A-levels on the side, and one of his teachers steered him towards pottery - for which he developed a highly unlikely passion. He even went onto study ceramics at university, specialising in creating "abstract female forms". Unfortunately, his avant-garde pottery didn't impress his tutors (the philistines), and he graduated with a Third. Johnny was deeply unamused by this grade, and decided to go to the pub. Where he stayed for a bit longer than was frankly healthy. By his own admission, Johnny wasted quite a lot of time in various boozers before he suddenly realised it was time to pull himself together and sort out some kind of career-type thing. Inspired by his success as a comedy club heckler (Johnny was every stand-up's worst nightmare), he thought he'd become a comedian himself.

Years of gigging in cities like London and Glasgow followed, but he was never very comfortable with his material. The truth was, he didn't particularly enjoy telling jokes on stage. And it was only after he accepted this fact that the Johnny Vegas persona was born: a drink-fuelled creature of sarcasm and self-loathing, spouting surreal stories while performing incredible feats of pottery on stage. Anything this peculiar really shouldn't have worked, but somehow it did - and in 1997 he took the Edinburgh Festival by storm. Vegas had arrived.

In just a handful of years, Johnny whipped up so much critical acclaim that he acquired the status of national treasure. And then he had to go and make the 2004 film Sex Lives of the Potato Men. Critics fell all over themselves in the rush to condemn this bawdy gross-out comedy as one of the worst films ever made - but Johnny and the rest of the cast proudly defended it as a hilarious and deliberately vulgar examination of the modern British male. (As far as we're concerned, any film with the line "Bees invented honey - that's how they became famous" can't be all that bad.) Still, the Potato Men controversy didn't put Johnny off acting - he's since starred alongside Johnny Depp in The Libertine, played Bottom in the updated TV version of A Midsummer Night's Dream, and has had critics pour praise on him from all sides for his bittersweet sitcom Ideal.

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