Leeds-born Keith Lemon is knows his humour isn’t for everyone but that’s not stopped him trying to ‘break America’, writes Georgia Humphreys
Keith Lemon, AKA Beeston-born Keith Lemon, is busy tweeting Taylor Swift when I first walk into London’s Planet Hollywood restaurant for our chat.
Nope, the Leeds-born comic and US superstar haven’t become unlikely best mates - there’s just a sketch in his new show that he’s sending her a snapshot of (in it, he’s dressed up as the Shake It Off singer, wearing a blonde wig, and bright red hotpants).
There’s plenty more where that came from in Keith Lemon: Coming In America, as he attempts to realise his dream of hosting his own US chat show, while taking some of his favourite sketch alter egos along for the ride.
Keith (he tends to adopt one of his alter-egos during interviews), worked as a graphic artist at the YEP before entering the world of comedy. He went to Farnley Park High School (now The Farnley Academy) and later studied at the Leeds College of Art and received a qualification in graphic design.
Having made a name for himself in the UK, he’s now trying to do the same in the US. The big question is, what with so many hit UK TV shows (Through The Keyhole, Celebrity Juice, The Paddy & Keith Picture Show) why did Keith, 45, feel the need to follow in James Corden’s footsteps, and head across the pond?
“I said, ‘I’d like to take the characters that I like doing from the sketch show and do more of them, but I don’t have time to do a full sketch show. But wouldn’t it be funny if you filmed me trying to make it in America?” he explains in his thick Yorkshire accent.
“So, I went to America, to go and smash it, but purposely went to not smash it, hence I am here.”
The comedian, who is wearing a black and white check suit when we meet, his ginger hair scraped back in a ponytail, is perhaps too honest for his own good sometimes.
And he was more than happy to have a documentary crew film his every move as he jetted off to La La Land.
“You do forget that the cameras are there - I always think that’s balls when you hear them say that on Big Brother, ‘cause you must hear it or whatever - but you do forget,” he says.
“When we film Celebrity Juice we forget. And they’re bloody big cameras, aren’t they?”
Keith, with his trademark cackle of a laugh and stream of crude jokes, reckons he’s like Marmite.
“People really like me or wish I were dead,” he remarks candidly.
And it’s fair to say, when a focus group in LA watch clips from Celebrity Juice, it doesn’t exactly go smoothly. In fact, Keith says seeing some of their reactions was “horrible”.
“I thought I’d be able to take it, ‘cause obviously we put together the worst bits of Celebrity Juice to wind them up,” he admits. “And, erm... they hated me.”
One woman in particular was firmly not a fan of the star.
“She said, ‘If it’s another white guy trying to be funny, it ain’t gonna happen. He’s got ginger hair, has he got pyjamas on?’ She thought I had pyjamas on! I had a very expensive Vivienne Westwood outfit on! No matter what, I just couldn’t please her.
“It’s easy to take it when people are saying it to your face, but when I’m behind a screen watching them slagging me off, it was weird.”
There are also some very exciting times in the show too - Keith moves in with his good mate, former Pussycat Doll singer Ashley Roberts, organises a big Hollywood party and gets to hang out with stars such as Sharon and Jack Osbourne, and Gene Simmons.
Mind you, he insists he’d never live in America full-time - he’d miss too much about the UK.
“The UK has a centre - you know, ‘I’m off into town’,” he elaborates. “LA doesn’t have a centre. You don’t go into town, do you? There’s no “pub culture” stateside either. Most people drink in hotel bars. I like pubs. You know, old, lovely pubs.”
Asked what advice he would give to people trying to break America, he can’t resist a namedrop.
“Well, I went to see Nigel Lythgoe and he told me to lose weight, stop wearing my hair like an American wrestler, have my teeth done, and say yes to everything,” he notes. “So, I did.”
Beeston-born comic Keith Lemon (AKA Leigh Francis) is taking his unique brand of humour State Side in an attempt to ‘break America’.
A former graphic designer with the YEP, he was actually ‘discovered’ by TV presenter Davina McCall while performing in-role stand-up comedy in a southern comedy club. She also got him his first TV gig.
His is best known in the UK for shows like Celebrity Juice, Through the Keyhole and The Keith and Paddy Picture Show.
He recalls a conversation he had with Dan Baldwin, the executive producer of Celebrity Juice, who’s also married to his co-star, Holly Willoughby. “He said to me once, ‘Do you get nervous before you go on?’ I went, ‘No, ‘cause I don’t care if I’m funny or not. The only thing I care about is, ‘Am I gonna have an ace time?’ And I think if I’m having an ace time, people that like me will enjoy it.”
It’s fair to say Celebrity Juice, in which we see Keith in all his glory, has been a big success for the comedian, who we were first introduced to in Channel 4 sketch show Bo’ Selecta! back in 2002.
Keith Lemon: Coming In America starts on ITV2 on Thursday July 5.