World of Books talks to Stewart Lee about his life, his career, and his new stand up tour
Born in Wellington, Shropshire, Stewart Lee began stand-up at the age of 20 in 1988, winning the Hackney Empire new act of the year award in 1990. In the 90’s he contributed to various BBC Radio comedy shows, including Fist of Fun and On The Hour, with Steve Coogan and Chris Morris, performed as a stand-up almost nightly on the London circuit, and co-created four series for BBC2 with Richard Herring. Stewart directed the Mighty Boosh’s breakthrough Edinburgh show, Arctic Boosh (1999), Simon Munnery’s Golden Rose Of Montreux nominated BBC2 show, Attention Scum, (2000), and a revival of Eric Bogosian’s Talk Radio (Underbelly 2007). Stewart’s subsequent three stand-up shows, 2004’s Stand-Up Comedian, 2005’s 90’s Comedian and 2007’s 41st Best Stand-Up Ever, gradually built his live audience and contributed to BBC2’s decision to commission his 2009 series, Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle. This was followed by a new stand-up show, If Your Prefer A Milder Comedian Please Ask For One (2009), and a new series of Comedy Vehicle hit our screens last year. Stewart is also the author of a novel, The Perfect Fool, the stand-up treatise How I Escaped My Certain Fate, and the theatre pieces Pea Green Boat, What Would Judas Do?, Johnson and Boswell, Late But Live, and Interiors. Stewart is a patron of the arts radio station Resonance 104.4 FM, and has written on music for The Sunday Times, The Wire, Bucketful Of Brains, and Mojo.
Thank you for agreeing to talk to us today, as huge fans of yours here at World of Books, it’s a real treat.
Q: So, a nice easy one to start off with! Who have been the biggest influences on your career?
– Ted Chippington, The Fall – free jazz types. But also people I know – Simon Munnery, Richard Herring, Richard Thomas.
Q: In the 90s you performed with Richard Herring on Fist of Fun and This Morning With Richard Not Judy. Have you ever considered reforming the partnership?
– We have done 3 10 min sets live since 1998. That was the last time we properly performed live or for charity gigs, but I don’t want to do it again at any length until I am very old.
Q: Your stand up has become renowned for vitriolic tirades against fellow comedians. Has this ever led to awkward situations?
– There was an awkwardness backstage at a charity show I did with Russell Howard, but he had only heard about the bit I do about him, not seen it. If he’d seen it I am sure he’d have got it. I don’t meet many of the comics I do jokes about as they are from the panel show/roadshow circuit so I never see them.
Q: What is a typical day in the life of Stewart Lee?
– Get up 6.30. Take kids to school. Try and write and deal with work such as this. Leave for gig. Do gig. Get home after midnight.
Q: Now, this has got to be asked, did you laugh when Richard Herring changed your name to Stewart Wee in the phone book when he worked for BT in the late 80s?
– I laughed after hanging up on an orthopaedic bed salesman who rang up for a Mr. Wee – I told him I couldn’t have one of his beds because I was incontinent.
Q: Has becoming a father changed your stand up approach in any way?
– You have to have a more optimistic approach to life and the future because kids make you a stakeholder in the world, so yes.
Q: During your ‘Carpet Remnant World’ show you read out a series of hateful messages that have been written on forums about you and your stand up. Is it weird for you to read such personal and offensive criticism?
– I’ve got used to it. I’ve done it a hundred times now.
Q: If you could give any advice to aspiring comedians, what would it be?
– Do something else. Withdrawal of arts funding, increasing conservatism of the comedy scene and TV, prohobitive expense of Edinburgh fringe – all these mean that if you’ve got creative ideas and a voice you probably need to find some other medium to do them in. It’s a closed shop and a dead end now.
Thanks for the honesty Stewart! Catch Stewart on his Carpet Remnant World tour (click link for more info), then make sure you take a look at the World of Books site to find some more hilarious reads today.