Lee Evans: From Billericay to Hollywood… and back

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Now established as one of Britain’s best-loved and biggest comedy stars, ex-boxer Lee Evans has captured audiences’ and critics’ imaginations with his irrepressible physicality and disarming charm.Comedian Lee Evans is hardly a regular on mainstream TV – you’ll not see him on a panel show or reality show – and his acting output is modest to say the least (his last Hollywood film was eight years ago). But this is a comedian who breaks all records for his sweat-drenched live performances: he was the first solo comedian to play Wembley Arena, and he broke the Guinness world record for the biggest solo comedy audience ever – 10,108 at the Manchester Evening News Arena. Quite an achievement for a nervy individual who by his own admission has ‘always been quite reserved and shy’.

Now fans have the chance to catch the comedy superstar live in the region, as he performs a number of East Anglia dates as a warm-up for his Roadrunner arena tour, which kicks off in August.

Although Lee Evans’ formative years were in Essex, he was born in Bristol in 1964. It’s not surprising that Lee went into entertainment as he was merely following in his dad’s footsteps; Dave Evans was a club performer and still performs in clubs and pier ends. For the young Lee and his brother Wayne the early days were defined by digs, theatres and clubs, sitting backstage while Dave performed. The Evans’ lived on a council estate by the docks until 1975 when they upped sticks and moved to Billericay in Essex.

Lee attended The Billericay School and after a spell as a boxer and two years at Thurrock art college, he decided to follow his father into entertainment.

Lee left the family home when he met his boyhood sweetheart and fellow Billericay School pupil, Heather. He proposed to her when he was just 17, with a ring he had bought from Ratners. They married in 1984 and have a daughter, Mollie, who was born in 1993. They lived in Southend until moving to Billericay in 2006.

Lee admitted he fell into comedy because it was the only thing that came naturally to him – something he learned the hard way in various classrooms. âہ“I guess I knew at an early age that if somebody wants to kick your head in, the best way to get out of it is to make them laugh,â€Â he said.

But there were many jobs before Lee turned to comedy: he was a drummer in a band called the Forgotten Five, he worked as an assistant to a spiritualist window cleaner called Dave, cleaned the toilets in Southend High Street, worked in a rubber factory making lining for reservoirs, and once spent a whole summer attaching toy wheels to toy tractors for Matchbox.

Taking advice and contacts from his dad, Lee began trying out stand up in rough East End working men’s clubs, where his act bombed.

He soon found success when he was told his material would be better suited at London’s famous Comedy Store, where he performed alongside the likes of Jack Dee, Frank Skinner, Eddie Izzard and Steve Coogan.

After establishing himself as a name on the circuit with a weekly slot at the legendary venue, in 1993 Lee won the coveted Perrier Award for his one-man show at the Edinburgh Festival and in that same year he performed and sold out two nights at the London Palladium. Lee Evans had arrived.

Since those early years Lee Evans has become arguably the most popular and successful British comedian working today.

In 1996 Lee enjoyed a sell-out run for eight years at London’s Lyric Theatre breaking all box office records for a solo comedian.

Aside from stand up Lee has also enjoyed success on the big screen. In 1997 he appeared opposite Bruce Willis and Gary Oldman in The Fifth Element and the following year he starred opposite Nathan Lane and Christopher Walken in the hit family film Mouse Hunt and, most memorably, alongside Cameron Diaz and Ben Stiller in There’s Something About Mary.

Proving that he can do more than sweat and fall about on stage, he has also tried his hand at straight theatre, with a critically-acclaimed turn as Clov in Samuel Beckett’s Endgame, opposite Michael Gambon; that same year he reunited with Nathan Lane to play Leo Bloom in the London production of Mel Brook’s The Producers.

There really does appear to be nothing that this shy, quiet and dedicated family man cannot achieve – and he just keeps on breaking those records: he smashed UK box office records by selling 227,424 tickets in just one day for his brand new ‘Roadrunner’ tour. Catch it while you can.


[info_box_1 title=”Lee Evans’ warm-up dates for his national arena tour are:”]

6 – 8 July, Cliffs Pavilion, Southend-on-Sea, Essex (01702 351135).

17 – 20 July, Norwich Theatre Royal (01603 630000).

2 – 4 August, Ipswich Regent Theatre (01473 433100).

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