Johnny Vegas

Johnny Vegas (born 11 September, 1971 as Michael Joseph Pennington) is an English actor and comedian. He is known for his random rants, portly figure, husky voice, loyal support of rugby league (particularly St Helens RLFC) and avid consumption of Guinness. More recently he has made a successful move into dramatic acting.

Early life

He was born in St Helens, Lancashire as the youngest of four siblings to Laurence and Patricia Pennington, having two older brothers (Robert and Mark) and an older sister (Catharine). At the age of eleven, he attended a boarding-school seminary to train for the priesthood, but came back homesick after four terms.

Life before fame

For a time Vegas was a Butlin's Redcoat. He studied art and ceramic design at Middlesex University for three years and attempted to forge a career in pottery, but became disillusioned when he received a third class degree. His passion for pottery continues, however, to this day. He returned to St Helens, became a live-in barman and drank heavily.

Vegas made his TV debut as a contestant on Win, Lose or Draw in the UK under his real name of Michael, but made references to the fact he wanted to be a comedian and that his stage name was "Johnny Vegas". His appearance was briefly shown during Channel 4's 100 Greatest Stand-Ups.

In the mid-nineties he spent some time living in London and Glasgow with the declared intention of becoming a stand up comedian. In London, he was mentored by 'comedy godfather' Malcolm Hardee.


Early performances

Before his success in the late 90s, Vegas was a compère of many comedy nights at the Citadel Arts Centre in St Helens where he developed his character's stage performance; in London, Malcolm Hardee repeatedly booked him at his Up The Creek comedy club in Greenwich.

His career took off when he won the Festival Critics' Award at the 1997 Edinburgh Festival, and was the first newcomer to be nominated for the Perrier Award. Vegas also won the Leicester Mercury Comedian of The Year Competition in 1997.

His early shows The Johnny Vegas Gameshow and The Johnny Vegas Show contained elements such as Butlins style sing-a-longs, onstage pottery, verbal abuse of the audience, and drunkenness. He was accused of sexism. Audience members report great variation in the quality of the shows - on occasion the talent for ad-libbing seems to desert him to be replaced by a shambolic, fragmentary performance.

The pathos in these shows is often remarked upon as it is often hard to identify how much of the apparent disintegration of Vegas is performance and how much is a genuine, guileless display of personal pain.

Major projects

He appeared as "Al" in a series of adverts for ITV Digital around 2001/2002 with a knitted monkey (voiced by Ben Miller), whose name was simply Monkey. These adverts made Vegas a household name, though Vegas now has to fend off remarks about the failure of ITV Digital as an enterprise.

Vegas gave an award-winning performance as Charlie in 2001's Happiness, marking his transition from stand-up comedian to actor.

In 2003 Vegas wrote and starred in a DVD-only film, Who's Ready For Ice Cream? in which he played himself. The plot centred around Vegas's fame and success having resulted in the decline of his stand-up ability and the resulting efforts to regain it. The film was directed by Stewart Lee.

He starred in the 2004 film Sex Lives of the Potato Men. He has displayed unshaking pride in the venture, despite very poor reviews, some going so far as to label it one of the worst films ever.

He wrote and starred in a BBC Radio 4 sitcom Night Class, seemingly heavily autobiographical, about an ex red coat, pottery teacher called Johnny Vegas.

In 2004, he co-starred in Dead Man Weds written by and co-starring Dave Spikey.

He starred as 'Moz' in the 2005-present comedy-drama Ideal, as a shut in drug dealer.

Later in 2005, he appeared in straight acting roles on BBC One, first in their high-profile adaptation of the Charles Dickens novel Bleak House (as Krook), and then as Bottom in an updated, modern-language version of William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream.

In 2005, he was the host of 18 Stone of Idiot on Channel 4, an attempt by Vegas to 'make a programme that wouldn't be recommissioned', something that he achieved, as due to the content, Channel 4 has no intention of doing so.

In 2005, he appeared in a supporting role as 'Sackville', a poet and member of Charles II court in the film The Libertine, starring Johnny Depp.

In February 2006, he topped the bill at London's Hackney Empire in a 5-hour tribute show to comedy club owner Malcolm Hardee, who had drowned the previous month.

In January 2007 PG Tips, a popular brand of tea in the UK, reunited Johnny Vegas and the Monkey character in a new advertising campaign. They are emotionally reunited over the product, with Johnny notably cleaner and more sober than his characteristic appearance, presumably as PG Tips has always promoted a wholesome image and for many years used chimpanzees as humorous characters. Johnny and the Monkey had been mentioned in a show over the 2006 holiday period documenting really bad decisions (ITV Digital's moribund launch, particularly buying the rights for the lower division football).

Other notable appearances

In 2002 he appeared on the Channel 4 comedy Black Books, playing an unscrupulous landlord. In March 2006 Vegas was a guest on the Channel 4 show TV Heaven, Telly Hell hosted by Sean Lock. In the show Vegas voiced his opinions on various television programmes, including Sex and the City, shopping channels such as QVC, (Vegas has also previously parodied QVC and shopping channels in general in a sketch from Shooting Stars). On May 2nd Johnny appeared in the Irish talk show The Podge and Rodge Show along with Jodie Marsh.

Vegas appeared on the BBC Two series The Comedy Map of Britain broadcast on 26 April 2008. In the programme, dedicated to comedy-related locations in Scotland, Vegas and comedy promoter Karen Koren revisited the former site of Koren's comedy club The Gilded Balloon in Edinburgh, where Vegas appeared in his early days as a stand-up. The producers provided a potter's wheel at the site, the building itself having been demolished after damage in the 2002 Cowgate fire, so that Vegas could recreate his early pottery routine.


Having achieved fame in entertainment Vegas received belated plaudits for his ceramic work. Ceramic Review praised him, leading to a role in Pot Shots (collaborating with Roger Law), a film made for an international gathering of potters . This led to his work being acquired for a collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum and a commission from Old Spice to design a bottle for their aftershave.

In 2005 he participated in the celebrity special edition of The Generation Game demonstrating how to make a pot, before judging the participants' attempts.

Personal life

Vegas married Kitty Donnelly in August 2002 and sold pictures of the wedding to Viz magazine for £1. Their son, Michael Junior, was born shortly before the couple separated in 2004. They reunited briefly (twice) in 2005. In October 2007 Vegas was reported to have upset hotel guests in a drunken rampage in holiday town Benidorm, Spain. Vegas and Donnelly were finally divorced by agreement on 11 March 2008 after having lived apart for more than two years.

Vegas reported on Friday Night with Jonathan Ross in May 2008 that he has been losing weight after being diagnosed with gout.


External links

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