Karen Dunbar is one of Scotland’s best-known comedy actors. Born in Glasgow and brought up in Ayr, Karen was a popular and talented DJ and karaoke host before she attended The Comedy Unit’s open auditions in 1997. The company were so impressed by her that they immediately put her to work on their BBC Radio Scotland sketch show Chewin’ the Fat with Ford Kiernan and Greg Hemphill. Karen had a key role in the radio show which transferred to television in 1999. A further three series followed as well as the phenomenally popular Hogmanay Specials.
Hailed as Scotland’s funniest female, Karen went on to star in four series of her own show, The Karen Dunbar Show which received two coveted Golden Rose nominations for Best Comedy Show and Karen herself two personal nominations for Best Comedy Performance.
A compelling voice on radio, Karen has presented BBC Radio Scotland series such as Karen Dunbar’s Beautiful Sunday and Karen’s Summer Supplement as well as being Team Captain on the quiz show Step Back in Time.
Her original and spirited rendition of Tam O’Shanter has established Karen as a favourite at Burns Suppers throughout Scotland and she can be both heard and seen performing Tam and other poems on the new BBC website dedicated to the works of Robert Burns at www.bbc.co.uk/robertburns
Karen has also made a huge impact with her live stand-up act which sold out for three years running at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and for two years at the Glasgow International Comedy Festival and also took her to the New York Comedy Expo and The Adelaide Comedy Festival.
Karen is in great demand for after-dinner speaking and hosting engagements, both in the corporate sector and also generously for many Scottish based charities by hosting their lunches and charity auctions.
In 2004 Karen recorded an album ‘At This Moment’ on Neon Records produced by Rab Noakes at CaVa Studios, Glasgow. The fourteen track disc includes covers of Tom Waits’ Ol’ 55, The Doors’ Roadhouse Blues, Neil Young’s Harvest Moon, and the title track, Karen’s own standout version of the Billy Vera classic At This Moment; highlighting Karen’s range and versatility as a singer and performer.
In 2008 Karen performed the Denise Mina monologue A Drunk Woman looks at the Thistle at both Oran Mor Theatre in Glasgow and then again during the Edinburgh Festival, receiving a nomination from The Stage for Best Solo Acting Performance. She has also appeared in The Vagina Monologues at Edinburgh Playhouse and Theatre Royal, Glasgow.
In 2009 she was seen alongside Ford Kiernan in the BBC comedy series Happy Hollidays and also starred as The Sergeant of Police in The Pirates of Penzance in Richmond and Glasgow for Carl Rosa Opera Company.
In 2010/2011 Karen made her debut at the National Theatre in London playing Mrs Harris in Josie Rourke's critically acclaimed production of Men Should Weep and also performed a one-woman show Stand Up Drunk at Oran Mor for two weeks over Christmas and in 2011 Karen performed a late night show Looser Women at the Gilded Balloon for the Edinburgh Festival.
2012 saw Karen play Rose Ouimet in The Guid Sisters, directed by Serge Denoncourt, a co-production between The Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh and the National Theatre of Scotland. She also played a guest role, Arme Gonnerssen, in the popular television series M.I. High.
In 2013 Karen played Martha in Can’t Forget About You in the Studio at the Lyric Belfast, directed by Conleth Hill.
2014 was a bumper year for Karen, she filmed a documentary for Hopscotch Films for BBC Scotland called I Belong to Glasgow, which was nominated for a Scottish Bafta. She returned to the Lyric Belfast for a revival of Can’t Forget About You in the Main House and then opened the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow with John Barrowman to an estimated worldwide audience of 1 billion. She then went on to join Phyllida Lloyd’s all female production of Henry IV at the acclaimed Donmar Warehouse in London, which received glowing reviews and also generated the release of ‘Daddy’s Gone’ on iTunes in support of Clean Break and Justice for Women
2015 saw Karen play Winnie in Samuel Beckett’s iconic Happy Days as part of Mayfesto at the Tron Theatre, Glasgow. Her performance was critically acclaimed as ‘mesmerising’ in The Times and ‘remarkable’ in the Herald Scotland. She returned to the Tron in June to reprise her role as Martha in Can’t Forget About You and then headed to Brooklyn to open the new St Ann’s Warehouse in the Donmar’s Production of Henry IV. Karen was also named ‘Role Model of the Year’ at the First Icon Awards in Glasgow before playing the role of Shirley in Priscilla Queen of the Desert The Musical, at the Edinburgh Playhouse over Christmas.
2016 has seen Karen perform with Witsherface: Funny How…? As part of the Glasgow International Comedy Festival at St Luke’s. She is currently appearing in Phyllida Lloyd's 'SHAKESPEARE TRILOGY' for the Donmar Warehouse which will play at the new King's Cross Theatre, before it transfers to St Ann's Warehouse in Brooklyn in January 2017 playing until Mid February 2017.
Karen has become a firm favourite in the King’s Theatre, Glasgow’s prestigious pantomimes, starring in six since 2007: Nanny Begood in Sleeping Beauty (2007 and again in 2011), Fairy Godmother and Wicked Stepmother in Cinderella (2008) to huge critical acclaim: “Her singing voice is worth the price of the admission alone.” Widow Twanky in Aladdin (2009), Karen created the role of Mrs McConkey in Cinderella (2012) and played The Slave of the Ring in Aladdin (2013).
2014 COMMONWEALTH GAMES OPENING CEREMONY: Kingdom of the Scots [Jack Morton Worldwide for BBC]
Dirs. David Zolkwer and Andrew Panton
M.I. HIGH: PRISON BREAK [Brown Eyed Boy] ‘Arme Gonnerssen’ Dir. Richard Senior
HAPPY HOLLIDAYS [Effingee Prods] ‘Joyce Mullen’ Dir. Douglas MacKinnon
AN AUDIENCE WITH BURNS (Tam O’Shanter) [BBC Scotland] 2007- Presented by Gordon Kennedy
INVOLUNTARY [Comedy Unit Pilot/ BBC Scotland] ‘Ella’ Dir. Paul Holmes
THE KAREN DUNBAR SHOW 2002 > 2005 [4 series for The Comedy Unit for BBC Scotland] Dirs. Ron Bain (S 1 + 2) & Iain Davidson (S 3 & S4)
(2 coveted Rose D’Or nominations for Best Comedy & 2 personal nominations for Best Comedy Performance)
CHEWIN’ THE FAT S1-4 1999 > 2002 [Comedy Unit for BBC Scotland] Dirs. Colin Gilbert (S1) /Brian Horsburgh (S2) / Michael Hines (S3& 4)
CHEWIN’ THE FAT - 4 HOGMANAY SPECIALS 1999 > 2004 – [The Comedy Unit for BBC Scotland] Dirs. Brian Horsburgh (S1) / Michael Hines (S2, 3, & 4)
INTRODUCING KAREN DUNBAR [Mocumentry] [BBC Choice] Dir. Tim Franklin
RAB C. NESBITT 2 Eps [BBC TV] Dir. Colin Gilbert
I BELONG TO GLASGOW [Hopscotch Films for BBC] ‘Presenter’ Dir. John MacLaverty
Nominated Best Features/Factual Entertainment Programme, British Academy Scotland Awards 2014
WHEN KAREN DUNBAR MET DENISE MINA [Artworks Scotland for BBC2 Scotland] Prod. Andrew Lockyer
PRESENTER - 2008 ROBERT BURNS WORLD TOUR OF SCOTLAND [BBC Scotland]
Dir. John Smith/Prod.Tony Followell
BRITAIN’S GOT MORE TALENT [ITV2] ‘Celebrity Panel’
CALEDONIAN MacBRAINS S1 & 2 [BBC Scotland] ‘Team Captain’
SHAKESPEARE TRILOGY Dir. Phyllida Lloyd
The Tempest ‘Trinculo’ [Donmar Warehouse/ St Ann’s Warehouse, New York]
Henry IV ‘Vernon/Bardolph’ [Donmar Warehouse]
Julius Caesar [Donmar Warehouse]
WITSHERFACE: FUNNY HOW…? [Glasgow International Comedy Festival at Saint Luke’s]
PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT THE MUSICAL ‘Shirley’ Dir. Simon Phillips/ Jason Capewell [David Ian Productions Ltd/ Edinburgh Playhouse]
HENRY IV ‘Vernon/Bardolph’ Dir. Phyllida Lloyd [St Ann’s Warehouse, New York]
CYRANO DE BERGERAC ‘Minder’ Dir. Gerry Mulgrew [Edinburgh Book Festival/ Communicado Theatre Co]
CAN’T FORGET ABOUT YOU ‘Martha’ Dir. Conleth Hill [Lyric Theatre, Belfast at the Tron Theatre, Glasgow 2015]
HAPPY DAYS ‘Winnie’ Dir. Andy Arnold [Mayfesto - Tron Theatre, Glasgow]
HENRY IV ‘Vernon/Bardolph’ Dir. Phyllida Lloyd [Donmar Warehouse]
CAN’T FORGET ABOUT YOU ‘Martha’ Dir. Conleth Hill [Lyric Belfast] - 2013 Studio Production, 2014 Main House Production
THE GUID SISTERS ‘Rose Ouimet’ Dir. Serge Denoncourt [NTS at Lyceum, Edinburgh and Kings Theatre, Glasgow] - Nominated Best Ensemble, Critics’ Awards for Theatre in Scotland 2012 - 2013
MEN SHOULD WEEP [2010/2011] ‘Mrs Harris’ Dir. Josie Rourke [National Theatre, London]
STAND UP DRUNK Stand-Up Act and A Drunk Woman [Òran Mór]
THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE ‘Sergeant of Police’ Dir. Peter Mulloy [Richmond Theatre & Theatre Royal, Glasgow]
THE VAGINA MONOLOGUES Dir. Timothy Sheader [Edinburgh Playhouse]
A DRUNK WOMAN LOOKS AT THE THISTLE by Denise Mina Monologue Dir. Alison Peebles
[Oran Mor, Glasgow & The Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh]
THE VAGINA MONOLOGUES Dir. Timothy Sheader /Asst Dir. Paul Foster [Theatre Royal, Glasgow]
HA HA HA by Tom Tabori ‘Bungle’ Dir. Liz Lochhead [Oran Mor]
CHEWING THE FAT LIVE!  Dir. Brian Horsburgh [Kings Theatre, Glasgow]
STAND-UP ACT Venues including CC Blooms,Edinburgh; New York Comedy Expo; Kings Theatre and Citizen’s Theatre Glasgow; Edinburgh Fringe Festival [2006-2008] ; The Gilded Balloon, Edinburgh; Glasgow Comedy Festival (2 years); Adelaide Fringe Festival
ALADDIN [2013/14] ‘Slave of the Ring’ Dir. Jimmy Chisholm [FFE/ The King’s, Glasgow]
CINDERELLA [2012/13] ‘Mrs McConkey/Fairy Godmother’ Dir. Tony Cownie [FFE at Kings Theatre, Glasgow]
SLEEPING BEAUTY [2011/12] ‘Nanny Begood’ Dir. Tony Cownie [FFE at Kings Theatre, Glasgow]
ALADDIN [2009/2010] ‘Widow Twankey’ Dir. Tony Cownie [FFE at Kings Theatre, Glasgow]
CINDERELLA [2008/09] ‘Fairy Godmother / Wicked Stepmother’ Dir. Tony Cownie [FFE at Kings Theatre, Glasgow]
SLEEPING BEAUTY [2007/08] ‘Nanny Begood’ Dir. Tony Cownie [FFE at Kings Theatre, Glasgow]
RICE PAPER STARS [Tartan Shorts] ‘Auntie’ Dir. Andy Goddard
BREAKING THE NEWS [BBC Radio Scotland] ‘Panellist’ Prod. Paul Carlin
KAYE ADAMS PROGRAMME FROM THE EDINBURGH FESTIVAL [BBC Radio Scotland] ‘Co-host’
THE LEGEND OF THE HOLYROOD VAMPIRES by AL Kennedy (4 Parter) [Comedy Unit for BBC Radio Scotland] ‘Madame MacLaverty
NO. 92 TO STOCKBRIDGE (Monologue) [Comedy Unit for BBC Radio Scotland] ‘Norah’
STEP BACK IN TIME [BBC Radio Scotland] ‘Team Captain’
KAREN’S SUMMER SUPPLEMENT [BBC Radio Scotland]
KAREN DUNBAR’S BEAUTIFUL SUNDAY [BBC Radio Scotland]
CHEWIN’ THE FAT Series 2&3 [BBC Radio Scotland]