On the couch with...Stewart Lee
BBC Online - November 2004He writes comedy, performs and directs, appears on TV and radio, and works in musical theatre. Meet the Renaissance man who brings his new show to London... Writer/performer Stewart Lee was one half of the comedy double-act Lee and Herring, who became stalwarts of the stand-up circuit in the mid-90s and graduated to radio and television as creators of Fist Of Fun and This Morning With Richard Not Judy.
He has written for Steve Coogan and Michael Barrymore and published a novel, A Perfect Fool.
His return to stand-up earlier this year at the Edinburgh fringe came after a three-year break, during which time he co-wrote and directed Jerry Springer - the Opera.
Was it pleasing to get such good notices at Edinburgh after being away from stand-up for so long?
Yes. It was great. It meant that lots of people came to the show and so I didn't lose money for the first time in 15 years. But it doesn't do to get too excited.
The last time I did a straight stand-up show in Edinburgh, which was 2000, I got a lot of bad reviews for the same kind of act.
So has performing there changed very much for you?
Not really. It is still the same as in 1987, the first time I went, in as much as you see lots of things you've never seen before, become inspired by other people's work, and stand around meeting lots of cool new people in stinking hot rooms. The main difference I suppose, is that now I don't feel like I'm in any kind of competition, so it is much more relaxing.
Your show balances politics with putting the boot into a number of celebrities, including Ben Elton...
Yes. I suppose so. I didn't do an explicitly political act before. But it would seem churlish to be talking exclusively about silly things today when the world is full of such obviously wrong things as the Gulf War, the Republican Party and Ben Elton's Queen musical. I think a lot of previously similar apolitical stand-ups feel similarly obliged these days.
Didn't you once have a falling-out with Armando Ianucci over The Day Today TV series, which launched Steve Coogan and Chris Morris? Have you made up?
Not really. Richard Herring and I wrote much of the original Alan Partridge material for Radio 4's On The Hour, which became The Day Today on TV. When it went to TV they wanted to give us a lot of 'minutes per week', but we wanted some kind of share. This couldn't be worked out. Armando got annoyed with our management and edited us out of the CD and tape Best Of... On The Hour.
I never fell out with any of them. Chris wasn't really involved and there's no point falling out with Coogan - one may as well dislike wind or the sun - he is just a force of nature. I used to hate Patrick Marber, who subsequently built a career on the popular misconception that he created Alan Partridge, but now I just feel a bit sorry for him.
How's the radio spot with Resonance FM going?
Resonance 104.4FM is London's volunteer-staffed community arts radio station. You can get it on the web outside London. It's everything you hoped radio would be. Now that John Peel has died, there is no national radio show that doesn't feel like it's been targeted towards a demographic - to its detriment. If only we could get paid too. But traditionally there is no relationship between good work and financial reward.
Were you aware that BBC London 94.9FM approached you as a presenter a couple of years back? It stalled with your agent, apparently...
I often hear these stories. Often there're reasons why I didn't want to, or wasn't able, to do the job concerned, and then it gets blamed on my agent, whom everyone hates, and everyone still thinks I'm nice. I can't remember the specific details of this so I don't know what to say.
Congrats on Jerry Springer - The Opera. We had an Online outing to one of the first previews at the National Theatre and sat in the row in front of you! People seem to either love it or hate it...
Yes they do. Sometimes both. Richard Thomas' brilliant score often seduces sceptics.
More theatre beckons for you with a new NT commission among your future projects. Are you in danger of going legitimate and becoming a luvvie - just like Ben Elton...?
I think I've burned too many bridges. And I get too bored and frustrated to work on the kind of s**t things you have to do to become Ben Elton. Oddly, the National Theatre was the least luvvie place I've worked in. People just got on with their jobs. I felt very lucky to have been a part of it, even though I arrived there with a real suspicion and hostility.