A public school education has rarely been a barrier to self-confidence. And few professions demand more guts than stand-up comedy. But while past generations of comics have played down a privileged past, the latest ones incorporate their poshness into their gags.
A fresh-faced crop of Tarquins has bounded onstage at the Edinburgh Fringe, including Tom Palmer and Tom Stourton – son of ex-Today programme presenter "posh Ed". The duo, who attended Eton at the same time as Prince Harry, have made their accents an object of satire in their show. "It's an inherently silly accent," says Stourton, "and part of our comedy is lancing that."
Others include Jack Whitehall, who attended Marlborough College with Pippa Middleton. While friends say he adopted a coarser accent to present Big Brother's Little Brother, his Edinburgh show is a double act with his father Michael, in which his privileged middle-class upbringing is central to the routine. They don't come much posher than current TV favourite Miranda Hart, who is a Downe House girl, while Oakham-educated Miles Jupp, star of Rev and The Thick of It, jokes about his voice in his opening line. "I'm privileged," he says. "Not just to be here but in general. No, I really do sound like this."
Private schools have churned out many of our greatest comedians, including Harry Enfield, Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie. But more recent talents, such as Al Murray (Bedford, Oxford) have adoped less grand personas. Murray is best known as the ignorant, xenophobic Pub Landlord.
Benet Brandreth, son of teddy bear-loving ex-MP Gyles, describes himself as "a living cliché – public schoolboy (St Paul's), Cambridge, Footlights, ex-Army, father was a Tory minister". His show, The Brandreth Papers, is unashamedly clever as well as funny, full of literary and classical allusions. "The best comedy comes from being yourself," he said. "I like history and read philosophy at Cambridge, so those are my reference points."
Other public-school comics on the Fringe include Alex Horne (Lancing College – he did a show on the joys of Latin), Matt Kirshen (Merchant Taylors'), Diane Spencer (Bruton), Josh Howie (Mill Hill) and Caroline Mabey (St Paul's Girls).
Mabey agrees that comedy has gone upmarket. "There do seem to be a lot of well-spoken young men emerging who have an unshakeable sense of entitlement," she said. "That confidence gives you a head start."Reuse content