‘Few things are as fleeting as a joker’s reputation,’ wrote an early biographer of Samuel Foote, Georgian London’s most successful and edgy comedian. Hardly anyone has heard of Foote today, and his star was falling even at the time of his death in 1777, his name in ruins after two shocking sex scandals. The funeral took place at night and was sparsely attended. Foote had been too brilliant a satirist and impersonator to inspire much trust, perhaps, and too fond of intrigue, bad company and litigation to endear himself to anyone for long.
His career was fuelled by scandal and publicity. He came to fame in the 1740s by exploiting what most people might have tried to cover up: the murder by one of his uncles of another aboard a ship in the Bristol Channel. Foote was a law student at the time,