Stephen Merchant

Stephen Merchant

Date of birth: 24-11-1974
Stephen Merchant was born into a middle-class family in Bristol, the son of a nursery nurse and an insurance salesman. He studied film and literature at the University of Warwick, where he began his radio career in 1995, hosting a comedy show on the student station.

He began stand-up at Bristol's Comedy Box club, recalling: ‘The first week I did really well. The second week I died on my arse.’ But her perservered, and made it to the finals of the 1998 Daily Telegraph Open Mic awards.

He continued to work in radio, at first as a breakfast DJ on Radio Caroline before joining XFM, where he started working with Ricky Gervais. He left in 1998 to join a production course with the BBC, but rejoined for a while following the success of The Office.

In 1999, he and Gervais made a Comedy Lab pilot for Channel 4 called Golden Years, about a fame-hungry office manager who goes on Stars In Your Eyes as David Bowie – an obvious precursor to The Office.

But it would take two more years before The Office hit BBC Two screens. As well as co-writing and co-directing it, Merchant appeared in the second of two series, in 2002, as Oggy, a friend of Gareth Keenan. The show won a ridiculous number of awards, including three best sitcom Baftas, a British Comedy Award for best new comedy and a Golden Globe for best comedy.

When The Office was sold to America's NBC network, Gervais and Merchant retained executive producer credits, and wrote a new episode, The Convict, which aired in November 2006.

The duo followed up The Office with Extras, which ran for two series and a Christmas special from 2005 and 2007. As well as co-writing the show, Merchant starred as incompetent agent Darren Lamb, which won him the British Comedy Award for Best TV Actor in 2006 and a Bafta for best comedy performance in 2008.

Alongside this, they recorded a series of podcasts with sidekick Karl Pilkington. The first series, which was free, broke all records for downloads. They then decided to start charging, which hit listening figures, but proved to be one of the few successful attempts to make any revenue from podcasts.

Other acting roles include the chef in Garth Marenghis's Darkplace in 2003, and cameo roles as a computer analyist in 24 and as a man who loses his swan in the 2007 film Hot Fuzz.

In 2002 Merchant directed another Comedy Lab called The Last Chancers, and in 2004, worked as a script associate on the Chris Morris and Charlie Brooker sitcom Nathan Barley.

In January 2007, he began a Sunday afternoon radio show on BBC 6 Music.

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Stephen Merchant to grapple with a wrestling movie

Writing and directing the story of WWE star Paige

Stephen Merchant is to write and direct a film about WWE wrestling that will star Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson.

Fighting With My Family is based on the true story of WWE superstar Paige, real name Saraya Knight, a 24-year-old Brit whose parents were also professional wrestlers who now run the World Association of Wrestling.

Their story was told in a 2012 Channel 4 British documentary, The Wrestlers: Fighting With My Family, which is being fictionalised for the new movie.

Merchant’s script tells the story of reformed gangster and former wrestler Ricky, his wife Julia, daughter Saraya and son Zak who make a living performing in tiny venues across the country. 

Ricky and Julia want a better life for their children and when brother and sister get the chance to audition for WWE, it seems the family dream is coming true and all their troubles will be solved.

Backers of the comedy-drama include WWE Studios, Film 4 and Dwayne Johnson, who is also an executive producer.

He said: ‘Back in 2012, I was in my hotel room in London and stumbled across a documentary on a local UK channel. Not only was I intrigued by this loving and wild family, but I also felt it’s the kind of narrative that would make an amazing movie.

‘The Knights’ journey is a universal one that all families are familiar with. I relate to Saraya and her wrestling family on such a personal level and it means so much that I can help tell their story.’

Paige

Merchant admits: ‘When Dwayne sent me the documentary, I didn’t think I’d be interested in a story about wrestling – until I realised this is not really about wrestling at all, it’s about a young woman, her family and their struggles – which are funny, sad, tough, tender and ultimately inspiring. And just happen to involve people in spandex throwing each other about. 

‘I love that it’s a true story about a working class girl who, against the odds, climbed to the very top of her unusual profession. And as with Rocky and boxing, even if you don’t like her sport, you’ll love her journey.’

The Falling star Florence Pugh will play Paige and Jack Lowden, who played Nikolai Rostov in the recent BBC adaptation of War And Peace, will play her brother, Zak.

Paige’s parents are Ian Bevis, who wrestled as ‘Rowdy' Ricky Knight and Julia Hamer-Bevis, who wrestled as Sweet Saraya. Their sons Zak and Roy have their ring names Zak Zodiac and Zebra Kid respectively and have a tag team called The UK Hoolgsns.

Daniel Battsek, director of Film 4  said: ‘Fighting With My Family is a great example of that successful genre of uplifting British films about real people who’ve gone from being unlikely underdogs to triumphing against the odds. 

‘We are all excited at the commercial potential of this project and Stephen Merchant has the perfect comic sensibility to make this uniquely British story appeal to audiences worldwide.’

And Michael Luisi, president of WWE Studios praised Merchant’s ‘keen creative eye’.

The film will start shooting in Los Angeles and London this month.

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Published: 7 Feb 2017

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DVD (2013)
I Give It a Year

DVD (2010)
An Idiot Abroad

DVD (2010)
Cemetary Junction

DVD (2008)
Extras: The Special

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