lee nelson – ‘I wasn’t ready to be transparent,’ says Simon Brodkin.
lee nelson – Simon Brodkin developed a distinction for himself as Britain’s number-one prankster, but the names he used were those of Lee Nelson or other comedy personas. He discusses moving on from his most renowned invention, creating his own identity on stage, and how his ADHD diagnosis has affected his life with Isobel Lewis.
Simon Brodkin, at the age of 13, was already a stand-up comic in the making. “I cut my teeth on the 9-year wit study,” he chortles. His desire to make people laugh has been with him since he was a child. However, while on lockdown last year, Brodkin found something that allowed him to understand his wish to recreate class clown: he was analyzed with ADHD. In retrospect, it was his untreated ADHD that drove him to the position of class clown. “Not everyone with ADHD is funny,” he notes hastily. “However, you’re not paying attention in class, so let’s make everyone laugh.”
Brodkin, 44, has been getting to know himself since his diagnosis. He’d rather have been anyone else before that. Brodkin rose to prominence in the late 2000s as the so-called “chav” character Lee Nelson, who went on to star in his own BBC comedy series and tour around the country.
He was Lee-us to Kanye West’s Yeezus when he stormed his set at Glastonbury. And it was as footballer Jason Bent that he flung a wad of money at then-Fifa president Sepp Blatter in a statement on corruption. Brodkin was one of the country’s most notorious pranksters, although he always went under a different name. You’d think self-assurance would come naturally to a man who has performed throughout the country, gatecrashed an X Factor live show, and perpetrated pranks on some of the world’s most powerful people. In reality, he lived distant from it.
He is now working to change that. In 2019, he made his “first foray as me” at the Edinburgh Fringe with 100% Simon Brodkin, a stand-up show. It felt like a watershed moment for him, a “this is the real me” declaration. He claims that the critics were less convinced. He adopts an arrogant critic’s voice – Brodkin employs a variety of voices during our talk – to replicate one review: “‘He claims ‘100% Simon Brodkin’… ‘I guess this only seems like 65%.'” He abandons the character. “And you know what else? They were very likely correct. Because I wasn’t yet ready to be entirely candid, the critics were correct.”
Things are different this time. He’s back at the Fringe with Screwed Up, a fresh new show that has sold out and received rave reviews. He’s been commended for “humanizing” himself on stage by revealing his “genuine insecurities and vulnerabilities” – “an insight into the feckless, self-obsessed man-child behind the slightly exaggerated, feckless, self-obsessed man-child,” about to a examination on comedy website Chortle. Brodkin addresses the main events in his life over the last three years in Screwed Up, including the pandemic, discovering he was of Russian origin, and receiving an ADHD diagnosis. The latter, in particular, has transformed his life.
Brodkin is a Fringe veteran, having debuted his first performance, Everyone But Himself, in 2006. Dropping his persona, on the other hand, was intimidating. It felt utterly new the first time Brodkin performed comedy as Brodkin. Lee Nelson was a familiar comfort blanket on which he relied. “My instinct was still to remove the rug, ‘I don’t suppose that I don’t own that, jokin’!” he adds in Lee’s voice. “Lee was all back set up, punchline, put up, punchline, put up, punchline.”
Lee is constantly referred to in the third person by Brodkin. He was originally one of many comedic roles Brodkin did when he first began out; he simply happened to be the one that lasted. After shows, he’d stay and converse with people in character, “shoddy tracksuit” and all. He now thinks it was because he “wasn’t as comfortable as myself.” Lee was his method of concealment.
Some thought the move was insane. “My supervisor didn’t like me to do it,” he explains. “He was liking, ‘What are you accomplishing, this is performing.'” His first gig was at a Pizza Express in prominent London, and it handled like a new start. He recalled wondering, “How do I even stand?” How should I walk? “How should I hold the microphone?” “Any beginner goes through [that], but when you’re a beginner, no one paid to get in, and everyone’s thinking, ‘This’ll be s***.'” But it’s a little weird when there are a lot of people watching and saying, ‘He’s the guy on three DVDs, enormous tours, Live at the Apollo.'”
Even though Lee was still financially rewarding for Brodkin, he desired a shift in creative direction. One watershed moment occurred when he was unable to secure a booking for I’m a Celebrity… because “apparently not enough people know my name” He claims that the comedy and pranks were getting “less and less Lee.” The character was from “this tiny little world in south London” and had no opinion on much of what Brodkin performed. Being in character also prevented him from being completely honest on stage. “Jesus, somebody could have furnished me a bunch of currency and I would unfailingly have suggested no.” It would maintain touched totally at likelihoods with everything.”
Making the transition from 65 to 100% Simon Brodkin arrived after being diagnosed with ADHD. He was first “dismissive” of it and didn’t anticipate he’d discuss it on stage. In frustration, he kicked what he believed was a full bag of clothes and instead smashed his foot into a wall. He spent the eight-hour wait at A&E thinking about how amusing it would be to discuss. But this was unique.
Brodkin’s life altered one day while he was driving and listening to a webcast about the disease. Before making the “rather impulsive decision” to give it all up for comedy, Brodkin was a doctor, although he knew little about ADHD. The podcast was enlightening. “It was a doctor talking around what numerous of his patients proceed through with ADHD… and I cried because [it] handled like somebody had existed tracking me close my entire life, writing down what I do and then labeling it a disease.” ‘That’s me,’ it was like. That is who I am. That is who I am. That’s when I realized it had to happen on stage.’
Letting down his guard has been liberating; he’s realized that “the world would be a better place if everyone was open… It’s something I’ll be working on for years, but it feels like a good moment to tell people about it because I’m enthused about it. That’s a common ADHD trait: unless you’re enthused about something, it just doesn’t interest you. Because I’m ecstatic about this, I’m like, ‘Oh my God, I get it, I understand myself, I want to tell everyone’.”
Brodkin may now take credit for Lee’s antics. He may remind them that, sure, he was the one who pelted Donald Trump with swastika golf balls while he was running for president, and, perhaps most memorably, stopped then-prime minister Theresa May on stage at the Tory party conference to hand her a P45.
I ask Brodkin if, given the nature of these techniques, dropping the Nelson persona and going by his name was a step towards becoming a more typical political comedian. Brodkin, on the other hand, is convinced that this is not the case. His primary interest is still laughter. “If politics arrives into the actions, it’s because those are the considerable proper sites to review because all the action does is take a moment funnily, swinging off the ridge of what people are feeling,” he explains. “In that case, I was looking at Theresa May and saying, ‘I’m strong and stable,’ and she was weak and on the verge of collapsing.” And that was before she started dancing.”
Brodkin appears to have figured out who he is: “I’m a witty individual. I’m not inquisitive in politics.” With Lee out of the path, he can focus on his tricks, and he has some enterprising plans in sense. “I want to extend the streak a tiny bit better with individually one,” he states. “There’s only one establishment to advance after Simon Cowell, and that’s the captain of circumstances.” Because you want to raise the stakes. Let us continue, Prime Minister and President. “What’s next, God.
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