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 joins forces with a former gang member

For a new TV show just snapped up by Amazon

Stephen Merchant’s forthcoming BBC comedy-drama  The Offenders is to get a worldwide release on Amazon.

The internet giant has become a co-producer of the show – originally revealed last August – which revolves around seven strangers doing court-ordered community service

Set in Merchant’s native Bristol, the six-part series has been described as a ‘crime thriller-meets-state-of-the-nation commentary’ – as the plot involves the group taking on one of the city’s  most dangerous criminal gangs.

The Office co-creator is writing the series with Elgin James, a former US gang member who co-created the American TV show Mayans M.C.

James was a a member of the Boston-based  gang called FSU, which originally stood for Fuck Shit Up but  came to be known as Friends Stand United.

Classed by the FBI as a street gang, the group took on white power skinheads and  drug dealers, whom James would rob and give half the money to local charities. Gang members also traded handguns with gangs for pit bulls used in dog fighting, who would nursed back to health.

Merchant, who will also direct the new series and play a  plays a kerb-crawler, said: ‘The Offenders is a long-standing passion project for me. 

‘My parents used to work in the community service world and I was always intrigued that the many and varied people they dealt with only had one thing in common: they’d committed a crime. 

‘Ever since The Office, I love finding ways to bring unlikely groups of people together and watch the sparks fly. As a writer, I always include humour but with The Offenders, I also get to add drama, pathos, crime genre thrills and say something optimistic about the common humanity that unites us all, whatever our background.’

 ‘The Offenders’ mix of light and shade, dark and comic, middle-class angst with inner-city grit, reflects the unlikely partnership of me and Elgin. I grew up in suburbia whereas Elgin spent his early life building a national street gang until a police investigation landed him in prison. 

‘Despite coming from different sides of the tracks, Elgin and I share a love of convincing characters and authentic, engaging, human stories.’

The show is being made by Cold Feet, Friday Night Dinner and Shaun Of The Dead producers Big Talk, whose chief executive Kenton Allen called The Offenders ‘a very distinctive and eye-catching show’.

Kate Daughton, head of BBC comedy added: ‘The BBC One audience are in for an absolute treat with Stephen Merchant’s gripping world rich with heart, humour and stand out characters. 

‘Among the deftly woven plots, high jinks, unlikely friendships and big belly laughs are very human stories about loyalty, truth and family.’

The Offenders production credits

Made by: Big Talk and Four Eyes
Created by: Stephen Merchant and Elgin James
 Executive producers:  Stephen Merchant for Four Eyes, Luke Alkin Kenton Allen and Matthew Justice for Big Talk
Commissioning Editor for the BBC: Kate Daughton
 Lead director: Stephen Merchant
Producer: Nickie Sault
Commissioned for the BBC by: Charlotte Moore, BBC Director of Content; Shane Allen, BBC Controller, Comedy Commissioning; and Kate Daughton, BBC Head of Comedy.

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Published: 6 Jan 2020

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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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