He later returned as a travelling peg salesman, and attempted to grab any unfortunate woman to take back to his circus to be his wife.
Despite originally only appearing in one episode, the character became very popular and, as a result, appeared in a third series episode, in which he used more elaborate methods to capture men and women alike, and imprison them inside the animals in his circus. He also has important supporting roles in the Christmas special and in The League of Gentlemen's Apocalypse.
He has three diminutive helpers, called Simba, Pebbil and Tiktik. He collects wives, often by pretending to be a humble peg-seller then breaking into their homes and talking gibberish (Gippog) at them until they hand over their wedding ring, which works surprisingly often.
He has a book of wives - all of whom he calls "Dave" - some of which have been photographed on polaroid, but some of which must have lived over a century ago. Upon his first visit to Royston Vasey, he collected some wives, performed his show, then moved on when the audience's noses started bleeding simultaneously. When he returned, it was in the guise of a Keith Drop, an actor. He used the makeup tips he had gleaned from his wives to effect a very convincing transformation. As Keith, he got a job at the charity shop. This led to his discovery when the real husband of one of his wives found some of her jewellery among Keith's donations. Lazarou evaded capture, however, and simply imprisoned all of his wives and anyone who tried to follow him in his circus animals.
Gippog is the Gibberish language that Papa Lazarou speaks. In the first episode of the second series, it is revealed by his "Wife" that the language is entirely made up as he goes along, which leads soon-to-be-stolen housewife Mary Hobbs into a new life with Papa.
His face really is black and white like a minstrel, and he has to paint over it with make up to appear normal.
His hair is black and frizzy, and bears a notable resemblance to Jeremy Dyson's hair, who unlike the others, does not appear as any regular characters. His teeth are yellow, and his hands are white, and covered in rings - the wedding rings of his 'wives'.
Despite being one of the more bizarre characters in the series, Papa Lazarou was actually based on a real person, Mr. Papalazarou who was a landlord who owned a flat in which Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton lived. When he called, he would only ever ask for "Steve" (Pemberton), and would refuse to talk to Shearsmith. When calling, he would say "Hello Steve? Is that Steve?"; when Shearsmith informed him that Pemberton was not present he would persist, "O.K., is Steve there?". When Shearsmith said that he was not present but that he could take a message, Mr. Papalazarou would just say "No, I wanna talk to Steve." Both this, and the landlord's other saying, "This is just a saga now", were adapted into Papa Lazarou's character.
Also, he would say, "I've got a hoover Steve... BeLOOONGING to you...". This also found its way into the series, except 'hoover' became 'pegs' - Papa Lazarou's trade as a cover for his true purpose: collecting wives.
Mark Gatiss: "People are always banging on about how dark it is and we always say, 'Oh, come on…'. And then we watch it again and sometimes I’m quite taken aback by all that’s going on. The thing that I always think is really something is Papa Lazarou kidnapping Bernice’s mother in the Christmas Special. That’s absolutely terrifying."
"I love doing Papa Lazarou because he is almost iconic now. I just saw in Kerrang magazine this week, there was some rock band talking about how he’s their favourite weird character. It’s weird that kind of crossover he’s made into like goths and the heavy-metal world, it’s great."
Mark Gatiss: "There was a funny moment when we were filming by the sea and the doubles for Tubbs and Edward and Papa Lazarou were all having a fag. Actually, I filmed it because it was really quite creepy."
Mark Gatiss: "Marilyn Manson keeps dressing up as Papa Lazarou". Steve Pemberton: "We had our photo taken, and this guy said 'I was doing a photo shoot with Marilyn Manson, and as I was doing it, I said "Do you realise that this look you've got is from a British tv show?".' He didn't know so someone got him the DVD and showed it to him. He offered to change his look, because he didn't want to step on our toes."
Reece Shearsmith: "Things shock you because you don’t expect characters to do certain things, but you’re never thinking, 'Oh, that can’t happen.' With Papa Lazarou coming through, that’s normal, you’re watching that thinking, 'Oh wow, that’s brilliant, this crazy circus is coming to town.'"
One of the oddest aspects of the character is how he has managed to become a figure in popular culture. The magazine 'Bizarre' featured Papa Lazarou on its front cover, as if he were a real person. Various people have noted him as their favourite character, and he has numerous fan sites.
Papa Lazarou was a key element in their publicity material for the League of Gentlemen's live tour.
"Marilyn Manson ... blacked up with hollow white eyes, an image that would probably inflame and enrage a little more if it wasn't so reminiscent of the League Of Gentlemen's Papa Lazarou!"