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: Hello Ladies

Note: This review is from 2011

Review by Steve Bennett

He might be 6ft 7in, but Stephen Merchant has long been in someone else’s shadow. ‘His Nibs’ as he calls him, or ‘you-know-who’. But in his long-awaited debut stand-up tour, The Office co-creator doesn’t just establish himself as a comedian in his own right, but proves he deserves a place among the best.

Boldly inviting the press to review him in Ricky Gervais’s home town of Reading further tempts comparisons, although there aren’t really that many. They both have a certain on-stage arrogance, that’s true, but where his colleague’s persona is high-status, hiding behind a phoney irony, Merchant’s is low. It’s made abundantly clear he’s got nothing with which to back up his air of superiority, being a pedantic, penny-pinching geek who got lucky with a sitcom or two. No wonder he can’t find a wife, the avowed aim of this show.

For those who don’t know who he is – ‘as if!’ he indignantly harrumphs – he digs out some press clippings, supposedly positive, but inadvertently humiliating. He’s always the loser, you see, as reinforced when he shares with us how his brobdingnagian height has informed his personality, making him both arrogant and self-consciously insecure. Sounds like the perfect storm of psychological flaws any comedian needs.

On the topic of his height, he avoids any cliché, as he does throughout this resolutely entertaining show, delivered in that charmingly modest West Country burr that’s so disarming it can even give a bank a friendly tone.

Even on subjects that might appear familiar, such as porn in the age before broadband, or a geek-friendly routine about Venn diagrams, Merchant finds his own path. The weakest material he has, probably the routines about cinema-goers annoyingly munching popcorn or the iniquity of splitting restaurant bills, is still solid.

But when his material shines, he really shines. One story is particularly brilliant; a tale of being trapped at a wedding reception with a dull woman, her insufferable husband and their hyperactive toddler that would make the ideal sitcom scene, complete with memorable visual gag and perfect pay-off. You see why he’s done so well on the telly, even if teaming up with Gervais meant shelving what would clearly have been an impressive stand-up career.

This point is conclusively proved with the final section, where he shows the women in the audience who ‘wouldn’t mind a piece of Steve’ what they can expect in the bedroom. Logistics alone are quite some challenge, as he deftly demonstrates with a microphone stand substituting for the ‘lucky’ lady, of average stature. ‘I thought it was going to be classier than this, as well,’ he laments, as he catches himself miming in flagrante, but the wanton abandonment of decorum is what makes it so funny.

The most hilarious moment, though, will be seared on your mind’s eye forever: the close-up image of what his face would look like bearing down on you. It sure sends a shiver down the spine and explains, in the well-chosen language he always employs, why there’s ‘not a lot of repeat business back at Chez Steve’.

The same surely can’t be said of this show, which is more than good enough to justify a return ticket. Even when the straight stand-up’s finished there’s another treat, an encore which takes the familiar sketch-show trope of bad, over-earnest acting and makes it into a scene which ramps up the cringeworthy laughs with every deliberately clunky line.

If they gave out Golden Globes for stand-up, Merchant would surely have something else to squeeze into his already packed trophy cabinet.

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Published: 14 Sep 2011

Stand Up Get Down

This charity gig was billed as Jessica Hynes’s first…
1/01/2008

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Products

DVD (2013)
I Give It a Year

DVD (2010)
An Idiot Abroad

DVD (2010)
Cemetary Junction

DVD (2008)
Extras: The Special

Past Shows

Misc live shows

Stand Up Get Down


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