No public posts in this group. You must register or login and become a member in order to post messages, and view any private posts.
From the early days of Fist Of Fun through to Comedy Vehicle, Stewart Lee has done more for comedy over the past two decades than almost any other live comedian.
Most of Lee's early career is still umbilically linked to his original creative partner Richard Herring. Lee first performed with Herring while he was studying at Oxford. Together they formed part of The Seven Raymonds with Emma Kennedy, Michael Cosgrave, Richard Canning and Tim Richardson which in 1987 performed at the Edinburgh Fringe.
Though Lee wrote for the Oxford Revue's Edinburgh show the following year he was backpacking when the show was performed at the Fringe, he read a review in the Independent while in Turkey.
After a number of years trying stand-up and interesting press shots in 1990 Lee won the Hackney Empire New Act Award. During the same year both he and Herring found themselves freelancing for Radio 4. It was here that they met Armando Iannucci and worked on On The Hour, which Lee describes as a project which would ‘ensure them a small footnote in the history of British comedy’. The duo were dropped unceremoniously from the TV version The Day Today, but by 1992, Lee and Herring write their first show for Radio 4 called Lionel Nimrod's Inexplicable World.
The first series of Fist of Fun aired on Radio 1 in 1993, and with it both Lee and Herring earned themselves cult status among comedy fans. While Fist of Fun was turned into a TV programme, the radio show itself was followed by Lee and Herring in 1994 and 1995.
By 1994 Lee had developed a habit of smoking in almost every publicity shot, but while he headed up to Edinburgh with his first solo show he also continued to work with Herring their next creation: This Morning With Richard Not Judy, a chat show which was recorded in front of a live audience and revolved around Herring's obsessions as well as featuring Kevin Eldon in various guises.
This Morning With Richard Not Judy run for two series on BBC2 before being cancelled by the channel's controller Jane Root – a move which seems to have baffled Lee.
However though his TV work had been cut once again, Lee had already started working with what would be the next generation of comedy performers - directing the Mighty Boosh’s first solo Edinburgh show, Arctic Boosh – which was nominated for an Edinburgh Comedy Award.
By the turn of the millennium Lee was already dubbed the 5th best stand up of his generation (we found the flyer saying as much on his website) and had worked with Kevin Eldon, Simon Munnery as well as give the Mighty Boosh, Al Murray and Harry Hill a helping hand. However though he never quite gave up comedy, he did become disillusioned with the comedy genre at this time.
Lee’s first real taste of major mainstream notoriety was with Jerry Springer The Opera. Lee worked with Richard Thomas to help direct and write the show which opened at The Battersea Arts Centre in 2003 before heading to the Edinburgh Festival.
The show became a huge success, picked up four Laurence Olivier Awards, had runs at the National Theatre and Cambridge Theatre in 2003 – and even headed to Vegas where it played the MGM Grand before it was picked up by the BBC.
The show caused a proper tizzy with the Christian Right; with campaign group Christian Voice leading a backlash which cowed the BBC into a full-scale stampede over what to do with their critically acclaimed but controversial show.
The broadcast attracted 55,000 complaints, street vigils, numerous attempts to sue, and prosecute anyone from the shows creative team to BBC Director General Mark Thompson, and even the BNP waded into the debate.
The JSTO tour was initially cancelled after Christian Voice wrote to theatre managers saying that the show would damage the reputation of any theatre which showed it and threatening prosecution for anyone thinking of staging the show.
Lee wrote a diary for The Guardian in 2006 about what it was like to direct a play amid pickets and religious riots, which gives an insight into the different types of pressure, both political and economic, which the campaign group employed to crucify JSTO. The campaign managed to convince Sainsbury’s and Woolworths pulling the sales of DVD’s for the show.
The episode remains one of the most stressful of Lee’s career, and he makes no secret of the fact that a Christian pressure group derailed his first chance to make a decent living. Lee revisited the Jerry Springer The Opera show years later in an interview with the Observer.
Life after Springer included new stand-up shows such as ‘90s comedian, which was filmed for DVD release in Cardiff by GoFasterStripe, and fronting a show on Channel 5 about religious censorship.
In 2007 Lee was named by Channel 4 at number 41 on a list of The 100 Best Stand-Up Comedians, a title which Lee played with, titling his tour Stewart lee: 41st Best Stand-up Ever. The show which was so successful it ran for six weeks at the Soho Theatre as well as over 80 dates around the country.
On his website Lee states that: “I never want to tour for this long again. Two car breakdowns, hundreds of motorway meals, too many Travelodges, a weight gain of nearly two stone.”
The turn of the decade saw Lee regain his slot on the BBC with Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle, which was executively produced by Armando Iannucci, and has been well received by the critics and public alike.
Thankfully the BBC commissioners now have enough sense to keep Lee on air and Comedy Vehicle has run for two series, with another two scheduled to appear in 2014 and 2015. It may seem like a long way away for Lee fans, but for such as prolific comic there will be ample chance to see him in action.
Lee may not enjoy the media attention as much as some of his contemporaries but he clearly cares enough for his genre to speak out, and when he does speak people listen.
He is akin to a one-man comedy punk band, forever rallying against selling out within the genre, with notable comments on the Foster’s sponsorship Edinburgh Comedy Awards and Mark Watson's Magners advert the most prominent in our minds.
Lee’s rant against the Fosters-sponsored public poll to find the best stand-up from the last 30 years led to a campaign promoting the obscure Japanese variety act Frank Chickens – who were nominated for the award in 1985. Frank Chickens won the public vote after the campaign went viral – and were crowned the ‘Comedy God’ of the Edinburgh Fringe.
It was an accidental win for Lee, who admitted that he hadn’t meant to start a campaign. Speaking to the BBC he said: "I literally sent one e-mail when I was annoyed by the competition.
"Then it kicked off and thousands of people have been voting for Frank Chickens as all-time comedy god."
The whole issue helped highlight exactly why Lee is such an influential figure in British comedy, both as an inspiration to other younger comedians, and on the genre itself. It seems apt that in the last couple of years he has finally been recognised as such.
- Commissioners and TV executives
- The Top 100 most influential people in comedy: 20 - 1
- Edinburgh Fringe 2012 picks: Free Fringe and free gigs
- Stewart Lee: "I don't think a 16-year-old me would want to be a comedian"
- The Top 100 most influential people in comedy
- The Top 100 most influential people in comedy 60 - 41
- Danny Dyer film Run For Your Wife takes £747 at box office
- The Top 100 People In Comedy 80 - 61
- The Top 100 most influential people in comedy: 100 - 81
- Edinburgh Fringe 2012 picks: First Hours