Locked-down comic exhibits paintings of his comedy idols

Barbara Windsor 

Barbara Windsor - Credit: John Korn

When the comedy clubs closed during lockdown, Crouch End funnyman John Korn - alias Otiz Cannelloni - turned his talents to painting his idols.

And the brightly coloured oils, depicting the likes of Tommy Cooper, Barbara Windsor, and Tony Hancock, caught the eye of Lauderdale House director Katherine Ives, who offered him an exhibition.

Korn has performed numerous family gigs at the Highgate arts centre and appeared there in a double act with John Hegley - but this is his first art show.

Tommy Cooper Oil Painting by John Korn

Tommy Cooper was the first portrait created by John Korn who shows his paintings of famous comics at Lauderdale House next month - Credit: John Korn

"The exhibition wasn't planned," he explains. "It was a new hobby that filled the days, and kept me keep me busy, creative and sane-ish when I couldn't go out and do my job. I was stuck here and did some paintings of life in lockdown with my son's oil paints. I moved onto a Tommy Cooper portrait. A fan posted it online and people started liking it so I did a couple more and it snowballed from there. I ended up painting five hours a day and slowly got slightly better at it."

John Korn with his painting of Max Wall

John Korn with his painting of Max Wall - Credit: Courtesy of the artist

Painting from photographs and using bright colours "to make it as vibrant as possible," Korn has also captured Yootha Joyce of George and Mildred fame, American comic Phil Silvers, Carry On stars Bernard Bresslaw and Fenella Fielding, and Are You Being Served actress Mollie Sugden.

"As I paint I hear their voices and remember routines and sketches I have seen them in. Comics are always being asked who are your influences. Well all of these have a minor role in the cultivation of my sense of humour."

Korn, who has lived in Crouch End for 30 years, says his Lauderdale House gigs are "some of the most fun I have ever done". 

Mollie Sugden

Mollie Sugden - Credit: John Korn

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"I've played there many times but it was quite a shock to see how enormous the walls are when you have to fill them."

He started out in the mid-80s at The Comedy Store with alternative comics like Rik Mayall, Ade Edmondson, Neil Mullarkey and Mike Myers. There he "struck up a friendship" with Hegley, which led to double act The Brown Paper Bag Brothers.

"I was always a performer. I'm an identical twin and we were always doing routines together to make our family laugh. I did a lot of plays at school and went to drama college. Then, when I started teaching drama, it was the beginning of alternative comedy and I started to write and perform."

Oliver Hardy

Oliver Hardy - Credit: John Korn

He recalls tiny Archway Road veggie restaurant the Earth Exchange, and The Hackney Empire were early venues.

"When we started there were virtually no clubs, just tiny rooms above pubs or cafes. Backstage there was a pretty good bonhomie, but on stage it was gladiatorial. The comedy might start after the strip show and the audience was well-oiled blokes in suits and lots of heckling. It was trial by fire, unless you were Alexei Sayle who would have a right go.

"More clubs opened and we rode the wave. People were enjoying themselves, experimenting, no one knew what they were doing, we were just trying not to do mother-in-law jokes and write our own material. There was a big variety of acts on the bill, musicians, poetry, jokes, jugglers. Before it narrowed to just stand up and became more professional, people didn't see it as a career move or have a five year plan."

Phil Silvers

Phil Silvers - Credit: John Korn

Like his friend Hegley, Korn still loves performing live - especially family shows.

"Entertaining children and adults at the same time is a brilliant trick to pull off."

His alter ego Otiz is: "Quite deadpan".

"I'm a bit of a bumbling buffoon. I say daft things and can't understand why the audience is laughing. The live show is the best thing about the job, there's nothing so good as writing a joke, doing it and it tickles people. It's a brilliant feeling."

A Comedian's Comedians runs at Lauderdale House Highgate from February 16 until March 14. https://www.lauderdalehouse.org.uk/whats-on/comedians-comedians-john-korn