Stewart Lee (born April 5, 1968 in Solihull) is an English stand-up comedian, writer and director probably best known for being one half of the 1990s comedy duo Lee and Herring, and for co-writing and directing the successful and controversial stage show Jerry Springer - The Opera. He grew up in Solihull in the West Midlands, where he attended Solihull School.
Career to 2000
While studying English at St Edmund Hall (University of Oxford) in the 1980s, he wrote and performed comedy in a revue group called "The Seven Raymonds" with Richard Herring, Emma Kennedy, Michael Cosgrave and Tim Richardson.
With Herring, Lee wrote material for BBC Radio 4's On The Hour (1991), which was anchored by Chris Morris and was notable for the first appearance of Steve Coogan's celebrated character, Alan Partridge, for which Lee and Herring wrote much early material. After a disagreement with the rest of the cast, On The Hour was released with all his and Herring's material edited out. In 1992 and 1993, he and Herring wrote and performed Lionel Nimrod's Inexplicable World for BBC Radio 4, before moving to BBC Radio 1, for one series of Fist of Fun (1993). This was followed by three series simply entitled Lee and Herring. These shows mixed sketches with live links and music, in a format that Radio 1 seemed to favour at the time (other classic examples of such include Chris Morris, Armando Iannucci, and Simon Munnery in his guise as "Alan Parker: Urban Warrior").
Fist of Fun moved to television for two BBC Two series, and was followed in 1997 by This Morning With Richard Not Judy, in a similar vein but notable for being broadcast live in a Sunday morning slot.
A change in BBC management after the second series of the latter effectively brought his partnership with Herring to an end (at least, for the time being). Throughout the late nineties he has collaborated with Julian Barratt and Noel Fielding of The Mighty Boosh. Their first performance was as part of his Edinburgh show King Dong vs Moby Dick in which Barratt and Fielding played a giant penis and a whale.
Stewart returned the favour by going on to direct many of their subsequent shows.
In 2001, Lee published his first novel, The Perfect Fool, and performed Pea Green Boat, a more ambitious stand-up show which revolved around the deconstruction of the Edward Lear poem The Owl and the Pussycat and a tale of his own broken toilet.
In 2002 Lee played the role of Carey in the Doctor Who webcast Real Time, together with Richard Herring as Renchard and Colin Baker as the Doctor, and accepted an offer from the composer Richard Thomas to contribute ideas to the fledgling production, Jerry Springer - The Opera.
Whilst Lee found himself moving away from the stage, he continued his directorial duties, this time on television. Two rejected pilots were filmed for Channel 4, Cluub Zarathrustra and Head Farm. Neither went to series. The former, however, would feature all the ingredients that would later appear in Attention Scum, a BBC2 series fronted by Simon Munnery's League Against Tedium character, which also featured the likes of Kevin Eldon, Johnny Vegas and Roger Mann, as well as Richard Thomas and opera singer Lori Lixenberg, in their guise as "Kombat Opera".
At the 2003 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Lee directed Johnny Vegas's first DVD, Who's Ready For Ice Cream?, a move away from the traditional "stand-up comic releases a DVD" format, involving a plot in which Vegas loses his comedy "mojo" and has to track it down via a journey of personal discovery. That said, there is a full version of Johnny's stand-up set featured as an extra on the DVD.
In 2004, Stewart Lee returned to stand-up comedy with the show Standup Comedian, which earned him a prestigious "Tap Water Award" in Edinburgh and has been released on DVD in October 2005. This features extra footage of performances from his earlier career. In 2005, Lee tackled the subject of the religious hatred he felt he experienced after the broadcast of Jerry Springer - The Opera in his standup show, 90s Comedian. This show earned him some of the best reviews of his career, and a recording was made in Cardiff in March 2006. However, because of the commercial failure of the Standup Comedian DVD, there are currently no plans to release the 90s Comedian recordings commercially. Furthermore, Lee will not be appearing at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2006 because of the commercial unviability of stand-up.
All the while, however, the theatre piece Jerry Springer - The Opera had been evolving. From its humble beginnings as a scratch piece at Battersea Arts Centre, it achieved its finished form at London's National Theatre via hugely successful performances at the 2002 Edinburgh Fringe. The show is now touring nationally.
He appears in Armando Iannucci's newest television programme, Time Trumpet, as a himself thirty years in the future looking back and commentating on the present day. The show began on BBC2 on 3 August 2006 and is currently showing on Thursdays at 10 pm.
In January 2005, Jerry Springer - The Opera, a parody of The Jerry Springer Show, was broadcast on BBC Two. There was an outcry from many Christians, who tried to prevent it from being aired. As well as objecting to the constant strong language, they believed it to be blasphemous and claimed it ridiculed Jesus Christ. Their campaign allegedly forced some BBC executives into hiding temporarily. While not directly targeted themselves, Lee and Thomas were out of the eye of the storm in any case, putting the final touches to their latest project in Germany. This project, Stand Up, was an opera set in a British stand-up club, but written and performed entirely in German, for a German audience.
Stewart Lee is noted for his diverse musical taste. He once said that the only band he liked that anyone else has heard of was R.E.M.. He has written music reviews for The Sunday Times since 1995. Lee is also a regular presenter on Resonance FM 104.4.
In 2002 Lee's first book, The Perfect Fool, was published. It attracted a degree of critical acclaim as a debut novel, but this was not matched in sales figures.