Stephen Merchant

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Stephen Merchant
StephenMerchantAltNov09.jpg
Merchant in November 2009
Born
Stephen James Merchant

(1974-11-24) 24 November 1974 (age 46)
Bristol, England
Alma materUniversity of Warwick
Occupation
  • Comedian
  • actor
  • writer
  • director
  • presenter
Years active1997–present
Partner(s)Mircea Monroe

Stephen James Merchant (born 24 November 1974) is an English comedian, actor, writer, director, and presenter. Alongside Ricky Gervais, he was the co-writer and co-director of the British TV comedy series The Office (2001–2003), and co-writer, co-director, and co-star of both Extras (2005–2007) and Life's Too Short (2011–2013). With Gervais and Karl Pilkington, he hosted The Ricky Gervais Show in its radio, podcast, audiobook, and television formats; the radio version won a bronze Sony Award. He also provided the voice of the robot Wheatley in the 2011 video game Portal 2.

Merchant co-developed the Sky1 travel series An Idiot Abroad (2010–2011) and co-created Lip Sync Battle (2015–present). He has performed as a stand-up comedian, which led to his writing and starring in the HBO series Hello Ladies (2013–2014), which was based on his stand-up material. He starred in his first play, Richard Bean's The Mentalists, at London's Wyndham's Theatre in 2015. He also appeared as the mutant Caliban in the superhero film Logan (2017). He has received accolades such as two Golden Globe Awards, three BAFTA Awards, a Primetime Emmy Award, and four British Comedy Awards.

Early life[edit]

"I don't remember where I got this grand idea that I could somehow be John Cleese. That was my overriding passion from my mid-teens. John Cleese had grown up in Weston-super-Mare, not far from Bristol, where I grew up, and he was tall and he was very funny and very British and it's almost like I thought, 'Well if they want tall people from the West Country, I can do that.'"

—Merchant in December 2019[1]

Stephen James Merchant was born in the Hanham suburb of Bristol on 24 November 1974,[2] the son of nursery nurse Jane Elaine (née Hibbs) and plumber and builder Ronald John Merchant.[3] He attended Hanham High School[4] and later the University of Warwick in Coventry from 1993 to 1996, where he received a 2:1 for his BA in Film and Literature.[5] He worked as a film reviewer on the student radio station Radio Warwick, where he began his broadcasting career.[6] His group there included film critic James King. A number of tapes of The Steve Show have been rediscovered and distributed on various Merchant fan sites.[7]

Self-conscious about his 6 feet 7 inches (201 cm) height, Merchant was inspired to get into comedy by the 6 feet 4 inches (193 cm) John Cleese. In 2019, he claimed that he has never met Cleese, but that his parents had recently met Cleese on a cruise ship and asked him to sign a book for Merchant; they also recorded a voicemail message on the phone in their cabin, which consisted of Cleese saying, "Hello there Mr. and Mrs. Merchant, I'd be more than happy to sign your book. I was just wondering is your Stephen Merchant the same Stephen Merchant who collaborated with Ricky Gervais on The Office? Because I'm an enormous fan and please pass on my best regards." On hearing this, Merchant said, "I don't feel I need to meet him now. That's all I needed."[8]

Career[edit]

Early career[edit]

Merchant began his career performing stand-up comedy at Bristol's Comedy Box, where, he recalls, "The first week I did really well. The second week I died on my arse. I realised that stand-up was not that easy after all."[9] He also appeared as a contestant on a 1997 episode of the TV game show Blockbusters[10] and worked for a short time as a DJ for Radio Caroline.[11]

Merchant met Ricky Gervais for the first time in 1997, when Gervais (in the position Head of Speech at the London radio station XFM London), hired Merchant as his assistant.[12] Gervais later said that he had called Merchant for an interview because it was the first CV handed to him. Merchant and Gervais hosted a Saturday afternoon radio show together from January through to August 1998, when both of them left XFM as it was bought by the Capital Radio Group. In the same year, Merchant was a finalist at the Daily Telegraph Open Mic Awards.[13]

Merchant worked for seven months at XFM 104.9. The Saturday show never had a large audience. Gervais says: "It's a tinpot radio station... It's not even the biggest radio station in the building." He created the features 'Hip Hop Hooray', 'Make Ricky Gervais Laugh' and 'Song for the Ladies'. After leaving XFM, Merchant began a production course at the BBC. As part of his coursework, he enlisted Gervais to perform in a 30-minute short film, "Seedy Boss", which became the earliest inspiration for their mock documentary The Office.[14] They collaborated on a sitcom pilot called Golden Years featuring a manager suffering a mid-life crisis. It aired on Channel 4's Comedy Lab series in September 1998,[15] but the show failed to find further success.

The Office and return to XFM[edit]

In mid-2001, BBC Two aired the first series of The Office, co-written and co-directed by Merchant and Gervais and starring the latter as paper sales office manager David Brent; the show initially received low ratings. Beginning in September 2001, Merchant and Gervais returned to XFM as co-hosts of The Ricky Gervais Show, another Saturday afternoon programme, which led to their fruitful relationship with producer Karl Pilkington.[12]

They took a break from the radio show in mid-2002 in order to film the second series of The Office, which aired that year; in addition to writing and directing the show, Merchant made a cameo performance in the episode "Charity" as a friend of Gareth Keenan's character and known by the name Oggy or Oggmonster. (Merchant's father also appears in multiple episodes as an office handyman named Gordon.) Merchant also directed a sitcom pilot called The Last Chancers, which aired on Comedy Lab in November 2002 and became a five-part series broadcast in December on E4.[16]

Merchant and Gervais continued to host The Ricky Gervais Show through 2003, taking another break to film the Office Christmas special, which aired that December. The radio show went off the air indefinitely in January 2004. During 2004, Merchant appeared in a recurring role as a chef on Garth Marenghi's Darkplace and in a cameo on Green Wing, and served as a script associate on the Chris Morris and Charlie Brooker sitcom Nathan Barley. The same year, The Office aired in the U.S. to critical acclaim. It went on to win the Golden Globe Award for Best Television Series – Musical or Comedy which both Merchant and Gervais accepted.[17] This was followed in 2005 by a 4th series of the radio show, consisting of six episodes.

U.S. series of The Office[edit]

In March 2005, the American version of The Office premiered, with Merchant and Gervais credited as executive producers. They would later co-write the third-season episode "The Convict", and Merchant would go on to direct the fifth-season episode "Customer Survey".[18]

Podcast series[edit]

In December 2005, with sponsorship by The Guardian, Merchant, Gervais and Pilkington began recording a weekly podcast (also called The Ricky Gervais Show).[19] Throughout its first series (through 20 February 2006), the podcast was consistently ranked the most popular in the world, and was certified as the most-downloaded of all time by Guinness World Records. Two more series and three special instalments (the "Podfather Trilogy") were recorded in 2006, with the final episode released on Christmas Eve. In late 2008, they recorded four more podcasts and began a series of audiobooks examining Pilkington's perspective on various subjects.[20]

Extras[edit]

In July 2005, following a brief return of the XFM radio show (filling in for Adam and Joe), Gervais and Merchant's new sitcom Extras premiered on BBC Two. The series features Merchant in a supporting role as Darren Lamb, the incompetent agent to struggling actor Andy Millman, played by Gervais. Series 2 of Extras aired in late 2006, followed by a Christmas special in December 2007; all three instalments aired on HBO in the United States. Merchant won a 2006 British Comedy Award for Best TV Actor for his performance as Lamb.[21]

The Steve Show[edit]

Merchant in January 2011

In January 2007, Merchant began hosting his own radio show on BBC 6 Music, airing weekly on Sunday afternoons.[22] Instead of comedy, The Steve Show focused on toast and music, particularly "new music", defined by Merchant as "music you've not heard before." Many of the songs on the show were suggested by listeners or co-presenters. The show also featured several of his friends, including his housemate, his childhood friend, as well as actor Rufus Gerrard-Wright (who also appeared in an episode of Extras). A spring search for a "she-J" resulted in the addition of former Byker Grove actor Sammy T. Dobson[23] joining the ensemble. "The Steve Show" aired for four series and concluded in May 2009.

Stand-up[edit]

Merchant began performing stand-up comedy in the late 1990s to critical success, though he decided to focus more on his work with writing partner Ricky Gervais after the success of The Office. Merchant returned to stand-up with a nationwide tour of the United Kingdom in September 2011, under the title Hello Ladies. The tour, which ended in New York,[24] was later released on DVD. In late 2012, the tour continued in Australia and New Zealand. Merchant performed his first-ever stand-up tour of Scandinavia in October 2014, performing in 11 different cities as part of a European festival circuit.[25] In an interview with Marc Maron, Merchant listed Eddie Izzard, Stewart Lee, Ross Noble and Jimmy Carr as stand up comedians he admires and John Cleese as his main comedic influence.

Hello Ladies[edit]

Merchant's sitcom Hello Ladies premiered on 29 September 2013 on HBO, in which he played Stuart Pritchard, a website designer in Los Angeles who unsuccessfully chases beautiful women. It was adapted from his stand-up show of the same name. Merchant's frequent partner Ricky Gervais was not involved in any part of the show which was instead written by Merchant, Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky. After its initial run of eight episodes, HBO did not renew the show for a second season[26] but aired a special movie on 22 November 2014, that served as the series' last episode.[27]

Other work[edit]

Merchant has played small roles in the films Hot Fuzz (2007), Run Fatboy Run (2007), and The Invention of Lying (2009). He has a supporting role in the 2010 film Tooth Fairy. On television, Merchant made a cameo appearance in a non-speaking role on the sixth-season premiere of 24; he also starred as a sports commentator in the unaired pilot No Skillz. In 2009, Merchant and Gervais collaborated on the film Cemetery Junction, set in working-class England in the 1970s, which received mixed to positive reviews on its release in 2010.

Later in 2010, Gervais and Merchant wrote, and had cameo roles in, Life's Too Short, a television show starring Warwick Davis.[28] For television, Merchant and Gervais also produced An Idiot Abroad. In 2011, he lent his voice to the CGI film Gnomeo & Juliet and had a role in the Farrelly brothers' comedy Hall Pass. In 2013 he starred in I Give It a Year as the best man.[29]

On 18 October 2013, he hosted an episode of the panel show Have I Got News for You[30] and was featured in Short Poppies.[31] In 2014 he made an appearance in Modern Family's "Las Vegas" episode.[32]

In January 2011, Merchant appeared alongside many other comedians at the 'Free Fringe Benefit' at the Bloomsbury Theatre, London, in a show of stand-up to benefit the Free Fringe at the Edinburgh Comedy Festival.[33]

Merchant is the voice of Wheatley in Valve's 2011 video game Portal 2,[34] a role which earned him widespread acclaim among reviewers.[35] He has stated that the project was "exhausting", he is also "very pleased by the response people have had to it. What I was really pleased by how people seemed to respond to it in the way they do with a movie they've enjoyed, or a TV show they've enjoyed."[36] In 2013, he reprised this role as the voice of the Ap-Sap in Team Fortress 2, a weapon based on the Wheatley core.

Merchant has provided the voice-over since 2009 of advertisements for Barclays and Waterstones. In 2014, he starred in two commercials for Newcastle Brown Ale[37][38] and for the Cadillac 2015 ATS Coupe.[39]

He is an executive producer for the Spike show Lip Sync Battle and in July 2015, Merchant opened his first play The Mentalists by Richard Bean alongside Steffan Rhodri in London's West End.[40] He appeared in three episodes of The Big Bang Theory as Dave Gibbs, a guy Amy dates after she breaks up with Sheldon.

He has portrayed George Washington and Abraham Lincoln on the Comedy Central series Drunk History. Through the show's first four seasons, Merchant is the only actor to play the same historical figure (Lincoln) twice.

He hosted a special celebrity edition of the cult UK game show The Crystal Maze, on Channel 4 on 16 October 2016—all in the aid of the network's Stand Up to Cancer campaign, in partnership with Cancer Research UK.

In 2017, Merchant played Caliban in The Wolverine sequel Logan.[41] Merchant, along with John Krasinski and Allyson Seeger, are executive producers of Dream Corp, LLC, an animated series created by Daniel Stessen on Adult Swim. The series was announced as a pilot in May 2014, and a full season was approved in November 2015. Jon Gries of Lost fame will portray a principal character.[42]

On 31 March 2018, Merchant was a star guest announcer on Ant & Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway. On Christmas Eve 2018, Merchant appeared with Asim Chaudhry in odd-couple Christmas road trip comedy Click and Collect on BBC One.[43] Merchant also appeared as Nazi Gestapo leader Captain Deertz in director Taika Waititi's Oscar-winning Jojo Rabbit.[44][45]

In 2019, Merchant wrote and directed Fighting with My Family, a biographical sports comedy-drama film, based on the 2012 documentary The Wrestlers: Fighting with My Family by Max Fisher. The film depicts the career of English professional wrestler Paige as she makes her way up WWE, and starred Florence Pugh and Jack Lowden, as well as Dwayne Johnson (who also served as a co-producer). Fighting with My Family grossed $41.5 million worldwide against a budget of $11 million.[46]

Merchant will portray serial killer Stephen Port in an upcoming BBC drama Four Lives.[47]

Personal life[edit]

Merchant lives in a home previously owned by Ellen DeGeneres in the Nichols Canyon area of Los Angeles,[48] and owns a second home in London.[49] He lives with his long-term partner, American actress Mircea Monroe.[50]

Known for his 6 feet 7 inches (201 cm) height and lanky frame,[51] Merchant once had his dance moves likened by Ricky Gervais to an "upright lizard being given electroshock treatment".[52] Gervais also described him as a "stick insect with glasses"[52] or Beaker from The Muppet Show.[53] Karl Pilkington has described Merchant's dancing as a "bit of weird art"[54] but has since "got used to him", while Russell Brand likened him to a "graceful grasshopper".[55] Merchant has commented that he prefers to liken himself to footballer Peter Crouch,[56] who is also 6 feet 7 inches (201 cm) tall; he impersonated Crouch in a BBC sketch broadcast as part of the pre-match build-up to England's opening game at the 2006 World Cup.[57]

Before the 2010 general election, Merchant was one of 48 celebrities who signed a letter warning against Conservative Party policy towards the BBC.[58]

On 22 December 2019, Merchant was the guest for an episode of BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs. His book choice was Roger's Profanisaurus by Roger Mellie from Viz, his luxury item was a piano, and his chosen record was "Thunder Road" by Bruce Springsteen.[59]

Filmography[edit]

Film[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
2007 Hot Fuzz Peter Ian Staker
Run Fatboy Run Man with Broken Leg
2009 The Invention of Lying Man at the Door
2010 Tooth Fairy Tracy
Cemetery Junction Dougie Boden Also co-director, writer and executive producer
Jackboots on Whitehall Tom (voice)
Burke and Hare Holyrood Footman
2011 Gnomeo and Juliet Paris (voice)
Hall Pass Gary Putney
2013 Movie 43 Donald Segment: "Truth or Dare"
I Give It a Year Danny
2017 Logan Caliban
Table 19 Walter Thimble
Beauty and the Beast Monsieur Toilette Cameo; Deleted scene[60]
2018 Sherlock Gnomes Paris (voice)
The Girl in the Spider's Web Frans Balder
2019 Fighting with My Family Hugh Also director, writer and executive producer
Good Boys Claude
Jojo Rabbit Captain Deertz
TBA Lockdown Filming

Television[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
1999 Comedy Lab James (voice) Episode: "Golden Years"; also writer
2000 Meet Ricky Gervais Various roles Also writer
2001–2003 The Office (UK) Paul Shepherd (voice) / Nathan (aka "The Oggmonster", "Oggy") 3 episodes; also co-creator, writer and director
2004 Garth Marenghi's Darkplace Chef 2 episodes
Green Wing Lab Technician Episode: "Tests"
2005 Bromwell High Mr. Phillips (voice) 13 episodes
2005–2007 Extras Darren Lamb 11 episodes; also co-creator, writer, director and executive producer
2005–2013 The Office (US) Executive producer and directed episode: "Customer Survey"
2007 24 CTU Technician Episode: "Day 6: 6:00 a.m.-7:00 a.m."
2010–2012 The Ricky Gervais Show Himself (voice) 39 episodes; also co-creator and executive producer
2010-2011 An Idiot Abroad Himself 16 episodes; also executive producer
2011-2013 Life's Too Short 8 episodes; also co-creator, writer and director
2011 Ronnie Corbett's Comedy Britain Executive producer
2013 Hello Ladies Stuart Pritchard 8 episodes; also co-creator, co-writer and director
2013–2015 Drunk History Abraham Lincoln / George Washington 3 episodes
2014, 2020 Modern Family Higgins Episode: "Las Vegas", "The Prescott"
2014 Robot Chicken Alfred Pennyworth / 210 Up Narrator / Kirk Fogg (voices) Episode: "Stone Cold Steve Cold Stone"
Hello Ladies: The Movie Stuart Pritchard Television film; also writer, director and executive producer
Short Poppies Insurance Broker Episode: "Terry Pole"
2015 The Big Bang Theory Dave Gibbs 3 episodes
2015–present Lip Sync Battle Himself Creator and executive producer
Appears in 2 episodes
2016 The Simpsons Conrad (voice) Episode: "The Girl Code"
Donald Trump's The Art of the Deal: The Movie Barron Hilton Television film
American Dad! Scientist (voice) Episode: "The 200"
The Crystal Maze Himself (host) Television special[61]
2016–present Dream Corp, LLC T.E.R.R.Y. 20 episodes; also executive producer
2018 Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway Himself (star guest announcer) 1 episode
The Good Place Neil, the accountant 1 episode
Click & Collect Andrew Christmas TV special
2019 Four Lives Stephen Port BBC drama series
Travel Man Himself 1 episode
2020 Home Movie: The Princess Bride[62] Upcoming

Video games[edit]

Year Title Voice role Notes
2011 Portal 2 Wheatley
2013 Team Fortress 2 Uncredited
2015 Lego Dimensions

Awards[edit]

Awarding Body/Event Awarded
British Academy Television Awards
  • 2002 Situation Comedy Award The Office
  • 2003 Situation Comedy Award The Office
  • 2004 Situation Comedy Award The Office
British Comedy Award
  • 2001 Best New Television Comedy The Office (UK)
  • 2002 Best Television Comedy The Office (UK)
  • 2004 Writer of the Year Ricky Gervais & Stephen Merchant
  • 2006 Best TV Comedy Actor Extras
Golden Raspberry Award

Nominated

Broadcasting Press Guild
  • 2002 Best Writer The Office
  • 2003 Best Writer The Office
Emmy
  • 2006 Emmy Outstanding Comedy Series The Office (U.S.)
Golden Globe
  • 2003 Best Television Series – Musical or Comedy The Office
  • 2007 Best Television Series – Musical or Comedy Extras
Writers Guild of America Award
Peabody Awards
  • 2004 Peabody Award The Office (UK)
Television Critics Association
  • 2004 Individual Achievement in Comedy The Office (UK)
Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences
Spike Video Game Awards

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Stephen Merchant recalls creating The Office with Ricky Gervais". Irish News. Retrieved 29 June 2020.
  2. ^ Stephen Merchant, Chortle.co.uk; accessed 8 November 2019.
  3. ^ Family detective: Stephen Merchant, Telegraph.co.uk; accessed 8 March 2015.
  4. ^ "Where did these 11 Bristol celebrities go to school?",Bristol Post, 2 April 2017 (Accessed 4 April 2017)
  5. ^ Stevenson, Holly (8 June 2011). "10 Questions: Stephen Merchant". The Tab. Archived from the original on 21 February 2014.
  6. ^ "Funny you asked". University of Warwick website.
  7. ^ "The Steve Show". Steveshow.wordpress.com. Retrieved 23 January 2012.
  8. ^ "10 things we learned from Stephen Merchant's Desert Island Discs". BBC. Retrieved 29 June 2020.
  9. ^ Byrnes, Sholto (17 July 2005). "Stephen Merchant: The Office boy". Independent. Retrieved 19 August 2018.
  10. ^ "I'll have a TV career please, Bob: four famous Blockbusters contestants". Radio Times. Retrieved 19 November 2015.
  11. ^ "Stephen Merchant". Chortle. Retrieved 19 November 2015.
  12. ^ a b Harvey, Chris (27 June 2015). "Stephen Merchant interview: 'I'll probably get in trouble for saying this...'". Telegraph. Retrieved 19 November 2015.
  13. ^ "Stephen Merchant Stands Up". Londonist. Retrieved 19 November 2015.
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  34. ^ Kollar, Phil (18 August 2010). "Portal 2 Has A Release Date and a New Voice Actor". Game Informer Magazine. GameStop Corporation. Retrieved 13 May 2011.
  35. ^ Young, John (20 April 2011). "'Portal 2' Videogame Review: Physics is Phunny". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 2 September 2017.
  36. ^ Plunkett, Luke (13 May 2011). "Portal 2's Wheatley Found it all "Exhausting"". Kotaku.com. Gawker Media. Retrieved 13 May 2011.
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  38. ^ Merchant on YouTube (4), youtube.com; accessed 8 March 2015.
  39. ^ Merchant on YouTube (5), youtube.com; accessed 8 March 2015.
  40. ^ "The Mentalists Play". The Mentalists Official Site.
  41. ^ Hipes, Patrick (28 April 2016). "Stephen Merchant To Star With Hugh Jackman In 'Wolverine 3'". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 28 April 2016.
  42. ^ Stanhope, Kate (17 November 2015). "John Krasinski, Stephen Merchant Animated Comedy Picked Up to Series at Adult Swim". The Hollywood Reporter. Prometheus Global Media. Archived from the original on 19 November 2015. Retrieved 23 May 2016.
  43. ^ Rees, Jasper (24 December 2018). "Click and Collect, review: this odd-couple Christmas road trip high-fives the season of goodwill". Telegraph.co.uk. Retrieved 21 March 2019.
  44. ^ https://collider.com/jojo-rabbit-sam-rockwell-stephen-merchant-alfie-allen-interview/
  45. ^ https://deadline.com/2018/06/stephen-merchant-gestapo-taika-waititi-jojo-rabbit-scarlett-johansson-1202413120/
  46. ^ "Fighting With My Family (2019) - Financial Information". The Numbers. Retrieved 20 April 2020.
  47. ^ https://www.cosmopolitan.com/uk/entertainment/a26943007/the-barking-murders-stephen-port-serial-killer-grindr-stephen-merchant/
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  49. ^ Merchant interview about his new movie, missing London, and life in L.A., soundcloud.com; accessed 8 March 2015.
  50. ^ "Stephen Merchant Reckons He's Been "Unlucky In Love" For This Relatable AF Reason". Bustle. Retrieved 3 June 2019.
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  52. ^ a b "Part 4". The Ricky Gervais Show. Season 3. Episode 2. 22 August 2006.
  53. ^ The Ricky Gervais Show – The Early Years/Part 3
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  55. ^ BBC Podcast – The Russell Brand Show
  56. ^ "Part 2". The Ricky Gervais Show. Season 3. Episode 2. 22 August 2006.
  57. ^ Ricky Gervais meets Crouch and Rooney. 1 July 2006 – via YouTube.
  58. ^ "General Election 2010: leading stars oppose Tory BBC plans". The Daily Telegraph. London. 25 April 2010. Retrieved 23 May 2010.
  59. ^ https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000clp3
  60. ^ Breznican, Anthony (1 June 2017). "Beauty and the Beast deleted scene reveals Monsieur Toilette". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 7 December 2017.
  61. ^ "Will You Start the Fans Please..." Channel 4 Press. 1 September 2016. Retrieved 1 September 2016.
  62. ^ Breznican, Anthony (26 June 2020). "Watch the Celebrity-Filled Fan-Film Version of The Princess Bride". Vanity Fair. Retrieved 26 June 2020.

External links[edit]