Stewart Lee at The HexagonBy Vicky Wong
March 22, 2012
There are not many people who can say Jerry Springer changed their lives, but comedian Stewart Lee is one of them – even if he doesn’t really like talking about it.
The Shropshire-born funnyman found fame as half of the 1990s comedy duo Lee and Herring, but gave up the giggles in 2000, thinking he’d reached his peak.
It was when he co-wrote Jerry Springer the Opera with Richard Thomas in 2005 that he was propelled back into the big time, although not exactly as he might have liked.
“I’m fed up with talking about it to be honest,” he says wearily. “A far right pressure group made up a load of lies about its content and stirred up 65,000 people who hadn’t seen it into wanting it banned for being blasphemous.”
While he might not have been fighting an ex-lover’s new fling or nervously awaiting a paternity test, Stewart’s project had plenty of that Jerry Springer-style drama, and Stewart says the controversy ruined the show.
“Basically it closed and we never saw any money really for five years’ work,” he says. “I was very proud of the piece, but the stress surrounding it means I don’t really like thinking about it.”
Although the opera didn’t work out, it did launch Stewart back into the comedy circuit and he’ll be bringing his unique brand of funny to The Hexagon this month.
“If you want punchy, well-written one-liners you’re not going to get them from me,” he says, perhaps not the most promising thing to hear from a comedian.
But Stewart Lee is funny, just a different type of funny. If he wasn’t then the press wouldn’t call him ‘the most exciting comedian in the country’ and he wouldn’t be touring the country with dates running from mid-February until July.
Despite, or perhaps because of, the opera fiasco, the 43-year-old’s profile soared and he went on to produce six-part television comedy series Comedy Vehicle.
The show won the best comedy entertainment programme at the British Comedy Awards last year and put Stewart’s face in front of a whole new crowd.
“More people are coming to the stand-up shows,” he says. “But I don’t know if they’re coming to see me, or just someone they’ve heard is on the TV.
“It doesn’t seem to make the shows go any better or worse. There are still people in that don’t get it. There are just more people generally in the room.”
Stewart also won Best Male Television Comic at the Comedy Awards, but he is bemused by his fame.
“I’d rather not talk about it to be honest,” he says again. “I found it very confusing. I don’t know who chooses them or where they came from.
“It was a big surprise. I was happy for about 10 seconds and then I just started worrying about whether people would come to see me expecting ‘award-winning comedy’ and then just hate what I do.”
With his brand of nonchalant humour, there will be no jumping around on the stage, which is just as well because the father of two has been lacking sleep due to looking after the kids.
“Looking tired and dead suits my act,” he says. “Also, because I’m too tired to learn anything verbatim, the shows are more discursive and naturalistic now.
“I used to be very cynical, but when you have kids you can’t take any pleasure in the abject failure of the world. You have to hope, for their sake, that things get better, which is an interesting place to do stand-up from.”
Although the past may have been difficult, the future is looking a bit brighter for Stewart Lee, just, whatever you do, don’t mention Jerry Springer.
Stewart Lee will be appearing at The Hexagon on Thursday, March 29, at 8pm. Adults only. Tickets cost £18.50 and can be booked from the box office on (0118) 960 6060 or www.readingarts.com