Every now and again a new thinker bursts upon the scene and overturns everything we knew. The latest to revolutionise human thought is TV philosophress Philomena Cunk with her illuminating segment “Moments of Wonder” on Charlie Brooker’s BBC4 series Weekly Wipe.
Wandering through museums and sites of scientific discovery while wearing the expression of a confused and slightly mardy faun, Cunk explores the big themes of time (“What is clocks?”), evolution (“It can’t be seen so it’s hard to believe in, like electricity or skeletons”) and policing (“One in 20 people has been a victim of crime… which means that 19 out of 20 people are criminals”). Cloaking her dimness with the sort of mock profundity that’s all over TV now, she’s the funniest thing on an already funny show.
A spoof on the awed-up school of documentary presentation as pioneered by Professor Brian Cox, Philomena makes her yapping-head co-star Barry Shitpeas seem like Alain de Botton. And she is fast becoming a cult figure.
Now people stop Bolton comic actress Diane Morgan, who plays Philomena, in the street for photos. “They want me to Cunk it up, so I have to practice looking a bit thicker,” say Morgan. “Sadly, it’s not that difficult.”
Daytime TV repeats of Laurel and Hardy and the great physical comedian Harold Lloyd hooked Morgan on comedy before she even went to school. Later, after her dad widened her comedy horizons, she became obsessed with Tony Hancock. “It got a bit creepy,” she says. “All my friends were into Bros and I was quoting Hancock lines from 1961.”
Drama teachers tried to steer Morgan to conventional theatre so she quit, picking up bits of work such as a role in Phoenix Nights before taking the leap into stand-up. Her “very miserable” style also powers her incredibly dry double act Two Episodes of Mash with fellow stand-up Joe Wilkinson. An antidote to the slick, high-energy, eager-to-please comedy that surrounds them, TEOM perform sketches as if they’re tedious ordeals. This of course makes them even funnier. “I think people might enjoy our laziness and boredom,” she says. “But I might be wrong.”
Philomena Cunk appeared as a foil for Barry Shitpeas, himself a spoof on the nano-celebrity rentaquotes who used to populate shows like I Love 2003. “She’s basically me if I had the nerve to stop pretending to be clever,” says Morgan. “She’s my braver, stupider twin. None of us want to admit that we don’t really understand the news or science or anything much really. We’re all just winging it. The difference with Philomena is, she doesn’t pretend.”
Weekly Wipe ended this month but there’ll be more Philomena in future, Morgan hopes. Before that she’ll appear in the next series of Utopia and as a psychotherapist in The Mimic both on C4. For now, read on for more of Philomena Cunk’s wisdom, exclusive to Esquire Weekly.
Philomena Cunk: Her Funniest Moments
“Fashion works by making people feel bad about themselves but it’s done in such a fun way that nobody minds. Fashion people make money by telling us that we should be wearing lilac or whatever, but actually by the time you can afford their expensive lilac fashion and have lost the weight to fit into them, lilac is ‘last season’ and now you’re a prick if you’re not wearing brown. Fashion works by using this thing called osmosis. Its like brainwashing but more expensive.”
On Social Media:
“With your normal friends it’s harder to get rid of them when they’re being annoying, but with Twitter or Facebook you can just block them out of your life. Real friends get really upset when you do this. I did this with my mate Tanya last year. I decided I didn’t like her so I slowly cut her out of my life but it took ages and she was really upset about it. But with Twitter, people often don’t realise you’ve stopped following them until they try and direct-message you but by then its too late and they’re already dead to you. There are a lot more man-hours involved with normal friends.”
“If we didn’t have a government it would be bedlam. They’re a bit like the police but posher and less inclined to do something if things kick off. Governments make up rules like how many years you get for giving someone you work with a ‘1970s cuddle’.
“Governments are in charge of the money, too. They’re the ones who decide that poor people can’t handle the responsibility of being able to afford loads of drugs and only give them a tiny amount every week so that they don’t overdose. Which is really sensible and kind."
“Every 15 years we have an election and have to decide who are the least obnoxious out of all the men. Then one gets in and they age really quickly. Which is always fun to watch.”
“I love listening to adverts. I think they’re amazing but with Spotify If you want to hear adverts back to back for free, you have to put up with all this music. It sort of gets annoying after a while. Like, I had to listen to Bananarama’s full back catalogue just to get to my favourite double glazing advert. At least it’s free though and Bananarama must be chuffed.”
On Artificial Intelligence
“Who’s to say the Queen isn’t already a robot? She’s got proper roboty hands and stuff and when she does her speech at Christmas it sounds a lot like a posh C3PO. I wouldn’t mind if she was, because it must be a pain if you’re a human and you have to go abroad and sit through hours of natives dancing. Actually she probably is a robot because you never see her in the rain.”
This article first appeared in Esquire Weekly, our new iPad-only edition. Containing 100 per cent new and original content, it’s published every Thursday on the Apple Newsstand.