British sketch comedy is not the typical starting point for a Hollywood career. It’s a good thing, then, that Hugh Laurie — who stars as the brilliant, misanthropic doctor in House — is not your typical actor.
Laurie, who was born June 11, 1959 in Oxford, England, studied anthropology at Cambridge University. His career, though, was determined not by fossils but by Footlights — that is, the university’s Footlights Revue. In his last year at Cambridge, Laurie was elected Footlights president, with Emma Thompson (yes, that Emma Thompson) as vice-president. The troupe’s comedy revue The Cellar Tapes, co-written by Laurie and Stephen Fry, won the Perrier Award at the 1981 Edinburgh Fringe Festival and helped put all three actors on the map.
After graduating in 1981, Laurie worked on various comedy projects for British television. Fans of Blackadder may remember him as George, Prince of Wales or Lt. the Honorable George Colhurst St. Barleigh. Laurie also starred for four years as the clueless aristocrat in Jeeves and Wooster (a character as far from Gregory House as you can get), and acted in and co-wrote A Bit of Fry and Laurie.
Even when Laurie branched out beyond the BBC, he tended to choose character parts rather than typical leads. Among his movie roles were Jasper, one of the thieves in 101 Dalmatians, Mr. Palmer in Sense and Sensibility, and Mr. Little in the two Stuart Little movies. Laurie’s American TV career began with another sketch comedy, Tracey Takes On…. He also appeared on a two-part episode of Friends, and played Vincente Minnelli in the TV movie Life with Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows.
Laurie worked in television dramas in England, but it was an American drama, House, that made him a household name on this side of the Atlantic. In 2005 he received an Emmy nomination for his work in the series, and a year later won a Golden Globe. Despite not receiving an Emmy nomination in 2006, Laurie will have at least one more shot at winning one; recently, his contract for House was extended one more year, and he received a nice raise in the bargain, to $300,000 per episode. Not bad at all for a guy who started out with sketch comedy.