Stewart Lee

For the English cricketer, see Stewart Lee (cricketer).
Stewart Lee

Lee in 2008
Born Stewart Graham Lee
(1968-04-05) 5 April 1968
Wellington, Shropshire, England
Alma mater St Edmund Hall, Oxford
Occupation Stand up comedian, Columnist, Author
Known for Fist of Fun (1993–1995)
This Morning with Richard Not Judy (1998–1999)
Jerry Springer: The Opera (2001–2005)
Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle (2009–2016)
Spouse(s) Bridget Christie (2006–present)[1][2][3]
Children 2

Stewart Graham Lee (born 5 April 1968) is an English stand-up comedian, writer, director and musician. He made his name in the mid-1990s as one half of the radio duo Lee and Herring, alongside Richard Herring, a success followed through with extensive touring to build up a live following. He co-wrote and co-directed the mock Broadway hit Jerry Springer: The Opera, a critical success that sparked a backlash from Christian groups who staged a series of protests outside its early stagings.

After a return to the live circuit, and through BBC and Channel 4 specials and series, Lee has rebuilt an audience and a reputation as an anti-populist comedian.

Lee remains a significant draw in UK stand up. In recent years, Lee has been successful in selling out large venues including the ICC in his home city of Birmingham as well as larger venues in London. In December 2011 he won British Comedy Awards for best male television comic and best comedy entertainment programme for his series Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle.[4]

A 2009 article in The Times referred to him as "the comedian's comedian, and for good reason" and named him "face of the decade".[5] In June 2012 Lee was placed at number 9 in the Top 100 Most Influential People in UK Comedy.[6] His stand-up features frequent use of "repetition, call-backs, nonchalant delivery and deconstruction", a device he often self-consciously refers to on stage.[7]

Lee has written music reviews for publications including The Sunday Times.[8] Through the early 2000s he was a regular presenter on Resonance FM.[9] Asked in 2003 what his favourites were, he said "Most of my favourites are still going like The Fall, Giant Sand and Calexico. I listen to a lot of jazz, 60s and folk music but I really like Ms. Dynamite, and The Streets".[8]

His debut novel, The Perfect Fool, includes an 'audio bibliography' – a list of recommended listening. Lee mentions that it was his love of the band Giant Sand that first attracted him to visit the Southwestern United States.[10]


Lee was born in Wellington, Shropshire.[11] He was adopted as a child and grew up in Solihull in the West Midlands.[12] He attended the historic public school Solihull School on a part scholarship.[13] As a teenager he suffered from ulcerative colitis.[14]

He is married to fellow comic Bridget Christie, with whom he has two children.[15][16] He is a supporter of the British Humanist Association,[17] an Honorary Associate of the National Secular Society[18] and a member of The Arts Emergency Service.[19] His influences include Ted Chippington, Simon Munnery, Kevin McAleer, and Johnny Vegas.[20][21]


1989–1993: Stand-up and radio

While studying English at St Edmund Hall, Oxford, in the 1980s, he wrote and performed comedy in a revue group called "The Seven Raymonds" with Richard Herring, Emma Kennedy, and Tim Richardson, but did not perform in the well-known Oxford Revue, though he did write for and direct the 1989 Revue. Having moved to London and begun performing stand up comedy after university, he rose to greater prominence in 1990, winning the prestigious Hackney Empire New Act of the Year competition.

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, Lee and Herring did not remain with the group when On The Hour moved to television as The Day Today and their material was excised from an official release of the radio show in the mid-'90s (though a 2008 CD release would see it reinstated).

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), followed by three series of Lee and Herring. Throughout the late nineties he continued performing solo stand-up (something that has always been a mainstay of his career – even whilst in the double act with Herring) and has collaborated with, amongst others, Julian Barratt and Noel Fielding of The Mighty Boosh. Indeed, though Barratt and Fielding had worked together in the past, the first seeds of the Boosh were sown while working as part of Lee's Edinburgh show King Dong vs Moby Dick in which Barratt and Fielding played a giant penis and a whale, respectively. Lee returned the favour by going on to direct their 1999 Edinburgh show, Arctic Boosh, which remains the template of all their live work.

2000–04: Quitting stand-up

In 2001, Lee published his first novel, The Perfect Fool; it was republished in 2008.[22] In the same year he performed Pea Green Boat, a 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. This would later be condensed to focus mainly on the poem itself, and a 15-minute version aired on Radio 4. In 2007, Go Faster Stripe released a 25-minute edit on CD & 10" Vinyl.

During late 2000 and early 2001, Lee "gradually, incrementally and without any fanfare – or even much thought – gave up being a stand-up comedian",[23](p2) and 2001 became the first year since 1987 that he did not perform at the Edinburgh Fringe.[23](p28) While Lee found himself gradually performing less and less standup and moving away from the stage, he continued his directorial duties on television. Two pilots were made for Channel 4, Cluub Zarathustra and Head Farm, but neither was developed into a series. The former featured 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 Lore Lixenberg, in their guise as "Kombat Opera".

At the 2003 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Lee directed Johnny Vegas' first DVD, Who's Ready For Ice Cream?. In 2004, he returned to stand-up comedy[24] with the show Standup Comedian, which earned him a Tap Water Award in Edinburgh and was released on DVD in October 2005.[5]

2005: Jerry Springer: The Opera

In January 2005, Jerry Springer: The Opera, a satirical musical/opera based upon The Jerry Springer Show, was broadcast on BBC Two, following a highly successful West End run for several years, and as a prelude to the show's UK Tour. Christian Voice led a number of protest groups who claimed that the show was blasphemous and highly offensive. In particular, they were angered by the portrayal of Jesus Christ.

Disputes arose, with supporters claiming that most of the protesters had neither seen the show nor knew of its actual content. Others supported the right to freedom of speech. Several Christian groups protested at some of the venues used during the UK Tour. The show was broadcast with a record number of complaints prior to its transmission. In total, the BBC received 55,000 complaints.[25] A private court case brought by Christian Voice against Lee and others involved with the production for blasphemy was rejected by a Magistrates' Court.

2009: Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle and If You Prefer a Milder Comedian, Please Ask for One

Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle, a new six-part comedy series featuring standup and sketches, began a six-episode run on 16 March 2009. The executive producer was Armando Iannucci and the script editor was Chris Morris.[26] The first episode received positive reviews from The Independent[27] and The Daily Mirror.[28] Lee himself wrote a negative review of the show in Time Out in which he described himself as "fat" and his performance as "positively Neanderthal, suggesting a jungle-dwelling pygmy, struggling to coax notes out of a clarinet that has fallen from a passing aircraft".[29]

The Guardian named Comedy Vehicle as one of its top ten television highlights of 2009, commenting that it "was the kind of TV that makes you feel like you're not the only one wondering how we came to be surrounded by so much unquestioned mediocrity".[30] One of the show's few negative reviews came in the Sunday Mercury, which stated: "His whole tone is one of complete, smug condescension".[31] Lee subsequently used this line to advertise his next stand-up tour.[32] Lee frequently uses negative reviews on his posters in order to put off potential audience members who are unlikely to be fans of his comedy style.[33]

The first episode was watched by approximately one million viewers,[34] though the figure rose by 25% when BBC iPlayer viewings were factored in and, uncharacteristically, viewing figures rose over the series.[35] The series was the BBC's second most downloaded broadcast during its run. In May 2010, the series was nominated for a BAFTA TV Award for best comedy programme.[36] The series would go on to win a BAFTA TV Award for best comedy programme in 2012.[37] After four seasons on BBC2, Lee announced that the BBC would not be renewing the show for a fifth season.[38]

Lee also had a show at the 2009 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, named Stewart Lee: If You Prefer a Milder Comedian, Please Ask for One in which he performed his own version of the song "Galway Girl".[39] In December 2009 Lee was beaten to the title of Best Live Stand-Up by the comedian Michael McIntyre at the British Comedy Awards ceremony.[40][41]

Style and material

Lee's stand up sets comprise topical and sometimes observational comedy, touching on religion, feminism and life in multicultural London. However, he also employs metahumour,[42] and sometimes describes the structure of the set using technical terminology such as "callback".

In an ironic manner he often criticises the audience for not being intelligent enough to understand the joke, preferring the more simplistic material, or enjoying the work of more mainstream "arena" comedians such as Michael McIntyre or Lee Mack.[43] Lee will often contrast his critical success with other comics' more commercial success.

Lee has a reputation for being "politically correct" and of the "liberal elite", and will often exploit the claims and the related trope of "political correctness gone mad" for comic effect.

Lee caused controversy on his If You Prefer a Milder Comedian tour with a routine about Top Gear presenter Richard Hammond. Referring to Hammond's accident while filming in 2006, in which he was almost killed, Lee joked, "I wish he had been decapitated". The Daily Mail termed this an "extraordinary attack"[44] and, having been doorstepped by a Mail journalist, Lee quoted the routine by replying "It's a joke, just like on Top Gear when they do their jokes".[45] Lee subsequently explained the joke:

The idea of what's acceptable and what's shocking, that's where I investigate. I mean, you can't be on Top Gear, where your only argument is that it's all just a joke and anyone who takes offence is an example of political correctness gone mad, and then not accept the counterbalance to that. Put simply, if Clarkson can say the prime minister is a one-eyed Scottish idiot, then I can say that I hope his children go blind.
Stewart Lee[15]

In an Observer interview, Sean O'Hagan says of the Hammond joke that Lee "operates out in that dangerous hinterland between moral provocation and outright offence, often adopting, as in this instance, the tactics of those he targets in order to highlight their hypocrisy".[15]

Selected works


Stand-up DVD releases

Title Released Notes
Stand Up Comedian 2005 2 entertain
90s Comedian 2006 Go Faster Stripe
41st Best Stand Up Ever 2008 Real Talent
If You Prefer a Milder Comedian, Please Ask for One 2010 Comedy Central
Carpet Remnant World 2012 Comedy Central

Television releases

Title Released Notes
Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle – Series One 2009 2 entertain
Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle – Series Two 2011 2 entertain
Fist of Fun – Series One 2011 Go Faster Stripe
Fist of Fun – Series Two 2012 Go Faster Stripe
The Alternative Comedy Experience – Season One 2013 Comedy Central
Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle – Series Three 2014 2 entertain
The Alternative Comedy Experience – Season Two 2014 Comedy Central
Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle – Series Four 2016

Audio releases

Solo Edinburgh Fringe / touring / stand-up shows

See also


  1. "Comedy profile: Bridget Christie", The Guardian, 26 March 2010. Accessed 15 April 2013
  2. Hanning, James (9 March 2014). "Stewart Lee: Beware - this man may be only joking". The Independent on Sunday.
  3. Logan, Brian (19 August 2014). "Take my husband: Stewart Lee, Bridget Christie and the rise of comedy couples". The Guardian.
  4. "Stewart Lee and Victoria Wood among 2011 comedy winners". BBC News. Retrieved 17 December 2010.
  5. 1 2 Maxwell, Dominic (22 December 2009). "The decade in comedy". The Times. London. Retrieved 5 May 2010.
  6. Clark, Tim (22 June 2012). "The Top 100 most influential people in comedy: 20 – 1". Such Small Portions. Retrieved 24 June 2012.
  7. McAlpine, Emma (10 December 2009). "Stewart Lee live review: If You Prefer A Milder Comedian Please Ask For One". Spoonfed. Retrieved 5 May 2010.
  8. 1 2 Pearce, Rebeckah (19 January 2003). "I don't feel a pressure to be funny offstage or onstage". Drowned in Sound. Retrieved 20 May 2010.
  9. Quinton, James (2006). "Interview: Stewart Lee". Open Wide Magazine. Archived from the original on 7 July 2007. Retrieved 220 May 2010. Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  10. Lee, Stewart (2001). The Perfect Fool. London: Fourth Estate. ISBN 1-84115-365-6.
  11. Richardson, Andy (21 October 2009). "Getting a laugh out of disappointments" (PDF). Shropshire Star. p. 8. Retrieved 5 May 2010.
  12. Hall, Julian (11 August 2007). "The Saturday Profile: Stewart Lee, King of the Fringe". The Independent. London. Retrieved 5 May 2010.
  13. "How I Escaped My Certain Fate". The Times. Archived from the original on 24 May 2012. Retrieved 2 December 2012.
  14. 1 2 3 O'Hagan, Sean (6 December 2009). "Interview: Stewart Lee". The Observer. Retrieved 5 May 2010.
  15. Saner, Emine (23 June 2011). "Stewart Lee: 'Things going badly is a big part of what I do'". The Guardian. Retrieved 2 July 2011.
  16. "Stewart Lee". British Humanist Association. Retrieved 5 May 2010.
  17. "Stewart Lee". National Secular Society. Retrieved 1 June 2011.
  18. "Media Diversity UK". Retrieved 2013-10-25.
  19. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  20. Stewart Lee website, July 2005 Archived 7 July 2007 at the Wayback Machine.
  21. "Book deal for Stewart Lee: Writing about his stand-up". Chortle. 3 February 2010. Retrieved 23 August 2010.
  22. 1 2 Lee, Stewart (2010). How I Escaped My Certain Fate: The Life and Deaths of a Stand-Up Comedian. London: Faber and Faber. ISBN 0-571-25480-2.
  23. Armstrong, Stephen (15 March 2009). "Stewart Lee on his Comedy Vehicle". The Sunday Times. Retrieved 20 May 2010.
  24. Akbar, Arifa; Morgan, Harry (2 August 2010). "Edinburgh: Cradle of shows that conquered the world". The Independent. Retrieved 2 August 2010.
  25. "Toilet Books". Retrieved 18 March 2009.
  26. Viner, Brian (17 March 2009). "Last Night's Television – Keep taking the mic". The Independent. Retrieved 18 March 2009.
  27. Simon, Jane (17 March 2009). "Pick of the Day: Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle – BBC2, 10pm". Daily Mirror. Retrieved 18 March 2009.
  28. "Stewart Lee returns in 'Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle'". Time Out. 17 March 2009. Retrieved 18 March 2009. |first1= missing |last1= in Authors list (help)
  29. Dean, Will; Meer, Malik; Vine, Richard (19 December 2009). "Pop culture 2009: The year in lists". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 5 May 2010.
  30. Laws, Roz (29 March 2009). "Stewart Lee is a condescending snob". Sunday Mercury. Retrieved 5 May 2010.
  31. Sommers, Jack (8 October 2009). "Stewart Lee: Protests cost me millionaire status". Get Hampshire. Retrieved 5 May 2010.
  32. Kettle, James (26 August 2010). "Paste masters: the art of the Edinburgh fringe poster". The Guardian. Retrieved 26 August 2010.
  33. Dowell, Ben (17 March 2009). "TV ratings: Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle draws just 1 million". The Guardian. Retrieved 18 March 2009.
  34. "Marsha Meets... Stewart Lee". Marsha Meets... 24 December 2009. Xfm. Retrieved 11 May 2010.
  35. "John Hurt gets Bafta nod for Quentin Crisp role". BBC News. 10 May 2010. Retrieved 20 May 2010.
  36. Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle - Comedy Programme Winner. BAFTA. 27 May 2012. Retrieved 11 May 2016.
  37. "Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle cancelled by the BBC". The Telegraph. 7 May 2016. Retrieved 11 May 2016.
  38. "Stewart Lee: If You Prefer a Milder Comedian, Please Ask for One | Edinburgh Festival Guide". 15 July 2009. Retrieved 17 November 2009.
  39. "British Comedy Awards 2009: Nominations". cheaptelevision. Retrieved 24 October 2010.
  40. "British Comedy Awards: 2009 Winners". britishcomedyawards. Archived from the original on 19 October 2010. Retrieved 24 October 2010.
  41. "Opinion: What's The Meta With Stewart Lee?". Beyond The Joke.
  42. "Stewart Lee: Beware - this man may be only joking". The Independent.
  43. Tapper, James (30 August 2009). "What prompted comedian's tirade against old schoolmate Richard Hammond?". Daily Mail. Retrieved 5 May 2010.
  44. Donaldson, Brian (25 February 2010). "If You Prefer a Milder Comedian Please Ask for One – Stewart Lee interview". The List. Retrieved 5 May 2010.
  45. "TV Comedian: Stewart Lee: Books". 16 March 2017. Retrieved 2014-03-02.
  46. "Evans The Death : Catch Your Cold". Slumberland Records. Retrieved 2014-04-08.
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