November 24, 2009
If you were to approach STEPHEN MERCHANT (born 1974) and berate him for looking like a myopic ostrich, he would stare vacantly back at you and, after a pause suffused with the awkward comedic tension that is his lifeblood, mumble to himself, in his unmistakable bumpkin lilt, “Yeah. I know.” For some reason, this deadpan utterance, combined with his lankier-and-more-gormless-than-life appearance, would reduce you to tears of laughter. And this is the essence of his appeal. Certainly, Merchant is a clever cut above the average English comedy writer; he is one half of the marriage that produced two of the most influential and original British comedy shows in decades. But it is when you watch this abnormal physical specimen in Extras, as Laurel to Ricky Gervais’s Hardy, with his brief, flickering nuances of expression and always-get-the-last-word asides, that you realize his true uniqueness. People may think that managing to keep a straight face while Robert De Niro became fascinated with a smutty seaside souvenir might be his finest moment. But Stephen Merchant, that cerebral and sharp-witted circus freak, is sure to reach much dizzier heights.
HUMORISTS at HILOBROW: Michael O’Donoghue | Jemaine Clement | Andy Kaufman | Danny Kaye | George Ade | Jimmy Durante | Jack Benny | Aziz Ansari | Don Rickles | Godfrey Cambridge | Eric Idle | David Cross | Stewart Lee | Samuel Beckett | Jerry Lewis | Joanna Lumley | Jerome K. Jerome | Phil Silvers | Edward Lear | Tony Hancock | George Carlin | Stephen Colbert | Tina Fey | Keith Allen | Russell Brand | Michael Cera | Stan Laurel | Ricky Gervais | Gilda Radner | Larry David | Chris Pontius | Dave Chappelle | Jimmy Finlayson | Paul Reubens | Peter Sellers | Buster Keaton | Flann O’Brien | Lenny Bruce | Sacha Baron Cohen | Steve Coogan | PG Wodehouse | A.J. Liebling | Curly Howard | Fran Lebowitz | Charlie Kaufman | Stephen Merchant | Richard Pryor | James Thurber | Bill Hicks | ALSO: Comedy and the Death of God
READ MORE about men and women born on the cusp between the Reconstructionist Generation (1964-73) and the Revivalist Generation (1974-83).