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Stewart Lee – award-winning stand-up comedian, writer, director and novelist – has accepted an Honorary Fellowship from St Edmund Hall, University of Oxford, where he studied English as an undergraduate.
Stewart is best known for his television work with Richard Herring, his ongoing series Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle and for co-writing, with Richard Thomas, the National Theatre's Jerry Springer – the Opera. His distinctive brand of humour and social commentary has attracted worldwide devotees since the 1990s, but it’s during the last decade in particular that his work has grown in popularity.
In 2010, Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle was nominated for a BAFTA TV Award for best comedy programme and in 2011 it was recognized as the best comedy entertainment programme at the British Comedy Awards. Stewart himself won the award for best male television comic that same year.
Stewart acknowledges the influence that St Edmund Hall has had in his professional development:
“I learned to love literature at school. I learned to understand it at St Edmund Hall. As the years go by I find I’m increasingly able to bring to bear ideas and techniques I studied on my course on the comedy and theatre I write. Being at Oxford in the late eighties provided a creative safe space for experimenting with ideas which, for many of us, later bore fruit.”
Lucy Newlyn, Professor of English Language and Literature and Tutor in English at St Edmund Hall, was delighted that Stewart has accepted the Fellowship:
“I had the privilege of teaching Stewart and watched with delight the first stages of his collaboration with Richard Herring. I admire the way in which he’s kept his identity as a writer and a performer so removed from mainstream comedy. He tests the boundaries of comedy, constantly re-defining it as a subversive medium by reflecting on his own procedures, and it’s this that makes him not just a ‘Comedian’s Comedian’ but a great writer. He has a huge following here in Oxford, and he will be warmly welcomed whenever he is around.”
The Fellowship also recognises a relationship with the College that has worked both ways. He gave a talk to the students during the controversy that surrounded Jerry Springer the Opera, and is looking forward developing firmer connections in the future.
“I'd like to engage with students, primarily to try and give something back to the place that gave me so much, but also because I think we’re entering an era where the basic value of studying a subject like English is being subjected to the most Gradgrindian analysis.”
“I need to be able to justify the pursuit and study of the arts, above and beyond financial validation, and I feel two way dialogues between a writer/performer working near the thin end of an admittedly fat commercial wedge, and young people who have chosen to study writing, might certainly teach me something, and perhaps give them confidence to face the questions they are sure to be asked in the future.”
Stewart will be receiving his Honorary Fellowship later in the year, and it’s a recognition that’s personally special for him:
“I knew how much it would have meant to my mother, who was delighted that someone from our family was going to University. And I find myself sharing an Honorary Fellowship with Kevin Crossley-Holland, whose translation of Beowulf I read when I was eight, doubtless the start of something.”
The staff and students at the College are delighted to pay tribute to Stewart’s ‘something’ that evolved into what Professor Newlyn describes as “sheer uninhibited talent.”