I was born in Bristol, England -- with an innate sense of innuendo.
I was a very long baby and an even longer teenager. Realising I would one day make a living playing an awkward, bespectacled nerd who is rubbish with girls, I spent the next thirty years researching the part.
From a young age I wanted to be a writer/director/performer. I studied film and TV at Warwick University, where I also hosted a student radio programme, The Steve Show. You could only hear it if you happened to be in the college sandwich shop at the right time. So a triumph.
I made short movies with a borrowed camera and took a comedy sketch show called Hurt Me to the Edinburgh Festival. We had the coveted 4pm-5pm slot at a theatre with no passing trade. Eleven people came to the show. One of them we didn’t even know. Another triumph.
Still living in Bristol, I did my first stand-up comedy gig: five minutes of material shamelessly influenced by Eddie Izzard. It went brilliantly. Thanks Eddie. I came back a month later with the same act and died on my arse. Fucking Izzard.
I got a job at a new London radio station called Xfm. My boss was a man called Ricky Gervais. No one celebrated our arrival on the air as the capital was not in a party mood: Xfm launched the day after the death of Princess Diana. It was a strange time. I recall a memo listing songs that were banned in case they upset people, including Drive by The Cars, Airbag by Radiohead and anything by the Crash Test Dummies.
Shortly after Xfm launched, I jumped ship and became a trainee at the BBC: that’s the loyal kind of guy I am. I worked on an assortment of shows and even landed a gig as a presenter on the BBC World Service.
My most vivid experience was making a special report from Kenya, where I spoke to many local people, including a sword-wielding vigilante who actually ran off to arrest a man during our interview.
As part of a directing exercise while at the BBC, Ricky and I made a short film called The Boss. A few years later it had mutated into a full-blown TV sitcom called The Office. It won some awards and stuff.
A friend of mine was working on a Sky TV show that had unearthed outtakes and bloopers from porn movies. It was called Porn Crackers –a sort of ‘It’ll Be Alright on the Night’ for perverts. My friend desperately needed someone to fly to LA and interview porn actresses. I gallantly volunteered. What a friend I am.
I spoke to Ron Jeremy and a delightful porn actress called Devon. As a West Country boy I asked her, “I’ve spent a lot of time in Devon; I imagine there’s a lot of men around here who can say the same thing?” I don’t recall her answer.
Ricky and I teamed up with some friends from the stand-up circuit - Jimmy Carr and Robin Ince – and took a stand-up revue to the Edinburgh Festival. We only performed for two weeks and it went very well. So afterwards I decided to stop doing stand-up. Our TV work had taken off and it seemed like an unnesccesray stress that I could live with out.
Return to XFM
Ricky and I returned to Xfm as conquering heroes and hosted a Saturday radio show. You could hear this in several sandwich shops.
A man called Karl Pilkington was appointed as our producer. He quickly dominated the show with his idiotic ramblings, including such classics as:
"You'll never see an old person eating a Twix”
"You won't get anything done by planning."
"People moan about drugs being tested on animals. I sort of think it depends. If the drug's an aspirin and the monkey's got a headache, is it right?"
"What are those things in that film Gremlins called?"
"I saw a bee have a heart attack..."
Ricky and I helped nurture the US remake of The Office starring the peerless Steve Carell.
The writers expanded our original idea in endlessly inventive ways. Some of my most enjoyable days were spent in the writer’s room of The Office US watching a gang of brilliant minds pin-balling funny ideas around. I grew up in awe of US sitcoms like MASH, Roseanne and Friends, so one of my proudest achievements was seeing the American version take its place in the NBC pantheon.
After the success of The Office, we met stars who were fans and decided to exploit them for our own amusement. Originally we thought it would be funny just to have Kate Winslet or Samuel L Jackson wandering around in the background, never speaking, as though they were extras in our sitcom. Then we came to our senses and realised it’s madness to have Kate Winslet on set and not give her any lines.
There were endless highlights making Extras, including
co-writing a song with David Bowie.
Return to Radio
I love radio, so in 2007 I began hosting a music show on BBC6Music. I recruited some of my old university cronies and it was basically an excuse for a Sunday social. Listeners were generally enthusiastic. Here’s one of my treasured fan letters:
My father had worked for an insurance company in the 1970s and that became a jumping off point for this feel-good comedy-drama written and directed by Ricky and I. Set in a small town in 1973, it’s about three young mates drifting through life fighting, drinking and chasing girls. We wanted to capture some of the spirit of those classic 1960s British New Wave movies and romanticise the England we remember from our childhoods.
I hadn’t heard of the video game Portal when I agreed to be the voice of Wheatley the robot in the sequel, Portal 2. The game was a huge success and I won some awards – and developed an entirely new fan base of video game enthusiasts, who are deeply passionate and paint me pictures or even knit me toys of the character.
An Idiot Abroad
After making a series of record-breaking podcasts and audiobooks with Karl Pilkington, Ricky and I launched him into people’s homes with a TV travelogue called An Idiot Abroad. Karl left his comfort zone and reluctantly agreed to visit the wonders of the world or check things off his bucket list.
Described by some bloke in The Guardian as “ball-achingly dull” and by everyone else as absolutely hilarious, An Idiot Abroad features Karl reacting with total honesty to things like the Taj Mahal or the Great Wall of China. As Karl says, “It’s not the ‘great’ wall of China. It’s an alright wall. It’s the ‘Alright Wall of China.’”
Life's too Short
Warwick Davis wanted to do a show about little people. Once we’d heard his true-life stories about the difficulties of being 1.07m tall, we jumped on board. Warwick is a great actor and fantastic physical comedian and he did all his own stunts and pratfalls. Once again we somehow managed to attract big name stars to humiliate themselves. What is wrong with these people?
Back to Stand up
I’d given up stand-up years before but I woke up one day and the itch was back. I had unfinished business with live performance, so I started building an act from scratch. That’s hard to do when you’re already well known - it’s tough to experiment in the spotlight – but I’ve now performed my Hello Ladies show over 100 times across the world, from Hammersmith to Helsinki, Sydney to San Francisco.
HBO asked me to turn the stand-up into a sitcom and so I became Stuart Pritchard, a web-designer relocated to Los Angeles, looking for love and trying to ingratiate himself with the beautiful people. I’ve acted alongside many great people over the years but I’ve never felt better chemistry than with this cast: Christine Woods, Nate Torrence, Kevin Weisman and Kyle Mooney.