Iain Lee – In Conversation

Comedy is a notoriously difficult art to master, especially when it comes to Stand Up which requires the performer to project their own personality on to an unforgiving audience. Alas, it’s not just the public who upholds this inability to offer all performers a level playing ground when it comes to encouraging new talent. Attempting to make it in comedy during the late nineties, Iain Lee discovered a bizarre hierarchy amongst the comedy elite which was very discouraging to a up and coming performer. Not that he ever imagined to headline the O2 or become Britain’s biggest comedy star yet felt like an outsider. It was at this moment that Iain realised that his talents may lay elsewhere. 


Meeting Mackenzie Crook on the circuit would prove vital not only for Iain’s future career path but this was also the start of an important friendship which still remains to this day. Crook had just secured a role in a brand new Channel Four sketch show alongside future stars Sasha Baron-Cohen and Ricky Gervais. The first series of The 11 O’Clock Show was presented by comedian Fred McCauly yet his departure after the first series left a vacancy and Iain’s comedy roots made him the perfect candidate to fill these shoes alongside the actress and presenter Daisy Donovan. To present a show where you introduce Ricky Gervais and Sasha Baron-Cohen on a weekly basis was a complete dream for the young performer and this was to launch his career as a presenter and broadcaster.


Following two successful series of The 11 O’Clock Show, Iain secured a presenting role on Channel Four’s brand new breakfast show Rise in 2002. A vibrant team of upcoming broadcasters including Mark Durden-Smith, Edith Bowman, Colin Murray and Mel and Sue were drafted in to reignite the magic of The Big Breakfast. However, poor ratings led to the show’s premature demise in December 2003 after just a year and a half. Yet Iain remains very proud of Rise and is adamant that there were elements of the show that were very successful and given time the format could have been extremely popular. It’s just a shame that Channel Four weren’t willing to give it time to find its individual identity.


Following the success of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s late nineties radio show, Ian secured a slot on XFM in 1999. Unfortunately his tenure at XFM is one that he finds it difficult to recall due to the partying and nocturnal antics that totally encapsulated him during the early part of the new millennium which continued to escalate as his fame increased. Yet a move to LBC in 2005 would offer Iain an invaluable grounding in radio broadcasting. It was here that Iain received the best advice of his career from his producer who simply told him to be himself. Iain then realised that he’d spent his entire radio career attempting to fit in with the style of the various broadcasters which he was working for instead of putting his own personality into the shows. As soon as he understood this advice, he immediately relaxed and was able to cultivate his own style. Suddenly he didn’t have to discuss the latest news stories of the day and instead could talk about things that happened in his own life. It was only here that Iain realised the pure power of radio.


Despite his passion for radio, Iain believes that the days of mainstream national radio are drastically numbered and the broadcasting landscape could look entirely different in as little as just a decade. Forever on the cutting edge of communication technology, he realised that there might still be an audience for radio but not necessarily where you might expect to find it. So when he was approached by the live streaming platform Twitch regarding the possibility of reviving The Late Night Alternative for an interactive audience, Iain saw it as a new challenge. Launching towards the end of July 2020, The Late Night Alternative returns to the airwaves in a groundbreaking move for British broadcasting. A fully interactive three hour show where the audience has total control over the direction of the show is something brand new for streaming services and it’s exciting to see how it will be received. 


After a quarter of a century in entertainment, Iain is eager to try something new and has his sights firmly set on a career in mental health counselling, so broadcasting’s loss is definitely healthcare’s gain. Yet his natural flair for broadcasting will surely mean that there will forever be a place in the annals of British broadcasting and long may he reign over the airwaves. It was a great pleasure to interview the fascinating Iain Lee and wish him all the very best with whatever triumphs await him next.