Cartoonist Jo Sandelson went on holiday to a Greek island and came back with a whole new comedy career. Jaine Blackman reports

If you'd have told me three months ago I’d be on stage at the Oxford Playhouse, I’d have said it was someone else of the same name,” says Wolvercote mum Jo Sandelson.

But that’s exactly what she did - albeit under her stage name Jeff - last week.

Performing stand-up comedy to hundreds of people is a far cry from Jo’s usual work as a cartoonist and children’s author, working alone from her home studio.

Her new direction is one she clearly loves, though.

“It seemed to go really well,” she says of her second ever gig. “I had lots of compliments... and my friends are the sort of people who would tell you if they didn’t like it.”

It was a friend who, last year, set Jo on the path which would lead to her stage appearances and leave her considering a profession career as a comic.

“She thought we needed a holiday,” says Jo, 48, who after “10 years of being a mum and not going away” agreed, looking forward to having a good catch-up with her old friend.

But rather than just lazing in the sun or seeing the sights, her friend suggested taking part in a comedy course being held in Greece with professional funnyman Arthur Smith.

Jo, who created the first ever daily topical strip cartoon to appear in The Times called On The Record, co-founded an animation company called Cutting Lines and has also had her work featured in The Observer, The Financial Times and The Listener, thought she might pick up some ideas and tips.

“But principally it was about having a holiday,” says Jo, who is married to architect David Hyams and has a 10-year-old son.

So it was off to Skyros for workshops, courses and a lot of laughs.

It turned out to be “pretty much the best holiday I can remember without any horizontal dancing or taking my kit off,” jokes Jo, who has a cartoon blog, Heir Raising, which takes a wry look at bringing up children.

To her delight, Jo discovered she could be funny off the page, as well as on it.

“I did a couple of stand-up skits that went down well,” says Jo, whose routines included a take-off of Arthur and an impersonation of the Queen talking about the Scottish referendum (the course was last September when it was particularly topical).

“I got quite a lot of confidence because of the feedback.”

On the last day, participants were asked what they imagined they would be doing in six months’ time.

“I said I would like my cartoons to be more animated and brought to life and was told ‘you want to perform’,” says Jo. “It had never occurred to me before then.”

Back in England, Jo kept in touch with Arthur and meeting for a coffee in November he asked her if she’d like to join him on some tour dates - the first in just a week’s time in Islington.

It went off so well that Jo, whose act is observational and topical featuring impersonations and quickly drawn cartoons, that she agreed to future dates in Oxford, Durham and London.

“The thrill of performing and getting a fantastic response from the audience and my friends as well as Arthur made it all worthwhile,” says Jo, who shared the bill in Oxford with comics Hall Cuttenden, David Witney and duo Shirley and Shirley, magician Pete Heat and 70s band Slapper, as well as Mr Smith in his show The House Of Fun.

Oxford Mail: Cartoonist and stand-up comic Jo Sandelson  Picture: Damian Halliwell
Jo Sandelson with her mentor and teacher on a comedy course in Greece Arthur Smith

On stage, Jo is billed as Jeff Sandelson.

“The reason I got called Jeff is because on the comedy workshop in Greece, Arthur asked us all for five unusual things about ourselves to tell the others,” she explains.

“A couple of the facts had to be false so I said that the name Jeffrey had been passed down for generations to the women in my family.

“From that moment on, I was known as Jeff.”

For the future, Jo will be incorporating more stand-up into her life, as well as keeping up her cartoon blog and working on the follow-up books to The Barmies, a children’s tale she wrote and illustrated. It is the first of the Cattleford Tales series and tells the story of a boy whose pushy parents want him to become a world leader while he has a more congenial future in mind.

And she’s certainly caught the bug for performing comedy.

“I never thought I’d be doing anything like this – having been pathologically shy as a child. But it feels inevitable. It’s like having two careers,” says Jo happily.

Jo, or rather Jeff - will be appearing at The Camden Head, Islington, London on Wednesday February 11.

Jo’s cartoon blog is at

  • Do you want alerts delivered straight to your phone via our WhatsApp service? Text NEWS or SPORT or NEWS AND SPORT, depending on which services you want, and your full name to 07767 417704. Save our number into your phone’s contacts as Oxford Mail WhatsApp and ensure you have WhatsApp installed.