Though occasional appearances in American feature films (Muppet Treasure Island, Shrek 2) and sitcoms (Roseanne) highlight her resumé, the hyperkinetic and overmodulated British comedian Jennifer Saunders is indelibly associated with two English series programs: the sketch comedy/variety show French & Saunders and the wild sitcom Absolutely Fabulous, which skewers mercilessly the decadent pretension of British haute couture.
Born July 6, 1958, in Sleaford, Lincolnshire, England, to a father stationed in the RAF, Saunders, like many children of military families, acquired and honed a sharp sense of humor at a tender age, perhaps as a way to cope psychologically with being constantly shuttled from town to town. In the late '70s, Saunders enrolled as a student in London's Central School of Speech and Drama, where she met and befriended lifelong collaborator Dawn French while studying to become a drama teacher. French suggested that they respond to an advertisement placed in Stage magazine for aspiring comedians, and the success of that audition yielded a regular on-stage sketch-comedy gig at The Comic Strip Club -- alongside Peter Richardson, Rik Mayall, Nigel Planer, and many other established talents. As this list suggests, the preponderance of comedians at that time were male, which set French and Saunders apart from the pack and placed them in Britain's then-burgeoning "alternative comedy" niche. When the Comic Strip team graduated their skits to the eponymously titled BBC program The Comic Strip Presents... in 1982, French and Saunders moved with them; the original run of that program lasted until 1988, with four- and three-year revivals in 1990 and 1998, respectively.