Dubbed “the world’s most famous blagger” by The Daily Telegraph, prankster and acclaimed character comedian Simon Brodkin has hit global headlines many times for his high-profile stunts. Most famously he handed Prime Minister Theresa May a P45 form during her keynote speech at the Conservative Party Conference and showered disgraced FIFA president Sepp Blatter with hundreds of dollar bills in bribe payments “for the North Korea 2026 World Cup bid”. Of his many characters, Simon is best known for his irrepressible, south London wide boy Lee Nelson. Simon popped into our office for an exclusive chat for our NMP Live Meets series. Watch the interview or read the full transcript below.
In conversation with Simon Brodkin
Have you always seen yourself as a character comedian?
That was what felt natural to me, and funnily enough, the more I have been doing it, I’ve now been playing around and doing this interview as myself, which is something I wouldn’t have even done a while ago – but, you know, at a twenty-quid book token, I’m not turning that down! And so I’ve been doing more and more stuff as me, but initially one-hundred percent, I was a character comedian.
How do you prepare when performing in character?
Getting into the skin and the mind of another person just comes naturally, so I don’t need any big prep, any psyching-up, any self-help tapes… it’s just:
[In character / Lee Nelson] “Alright y’ bunch of legends, how y' doiiiin’!!??... My man, alright y’ bunch of legends at home, you alright??.... alright sweetie pie!”
[Own voice]… you just go into it.
Have you always been a prankster?
I was a prankster as a child at school, and university, yes, from the basics of just getting out the Yellow Pages, and going through and winding people up – pizza delivery people, or the emergency services of course, a classic – no, I never did that!... and neither should anyone – and then that went through while I was at university.
I remember getting my mates into clubs by turning up and saying to the bouncer [Spanish accent]… “… we are coming ‘ere from Barcelona… this is da most famous club in Manchester… we don’t want t’ book you because we have a plane to catch”. Or at the Weatherspoons, near Oldham, I’d try the same thing… [Bouncer’s northern accent] “alrigh’ in y’ come lads… we’ve got some Spanish lads ‘ere…”.
So, yes… pranking, and hoaxing, and pulling people’s leg… absolutely. And at medical school I got booted out of a fair few classes, and then that carried on. And at school also, I used to get kicked out of class a lot. In fact, there was one teacher and one class where my friends used to have little bets as to how long I’d last, before I got booted out. So, if you’re watch Mr Quaye… I’ve done better than you, haven’t I!
How do you choose the targets for your pranks?
The targets are chosen after careful deliberation; it’s not random acts towards random people. I think that unless most people are siding with you and thinking that these targets are deserving, I don’t think that the stunt would work and that people would find them funny. I don’t think people find them funny if you’re targeting someone who people don’t think is deserving.
All of the organisations, they’re big and they’re powerful and if you can burst their bubble just for a split second, then to me that’s funny, and you’ve got that effect of comedy and reality clashing. And that’s a nice moment – be it joining Kanye [West] on stage or handing the Prime Minister a P45.
What’s your favourite prank to date?
Favourite is a really hard call… I was doing an interview with a paper the other day, and they were asking me about all of them, but to pick a favourite… all of them have warm memories of different types of arrest and different cells to think about! But the Kanye West one was a great photo, and the England team one is a great photo, so those have got warm memories.
The hardest two to pull off were probably Donald Trump, because of the vast amount of security… CIA, counter-terrorism, the police, the personal bodyguards, and the who-knows-what-else to get around… that was a real James Bond style, bag-swap heist. And the Prime Minister was a tricky one as well.
What’s the biggest challenge with corporate bookings?
I think corporate bookings are a great challenge. Because, unlike comedy venues, and unlike somebody at my level where everyone has come to pay to see you and so – before you’ve even stepped on stage – they’re excited. But a corporate event they are not there for you; you are there for them – and so you have to tailor what you do, for them.
You have to realise that the excitement levels, and that nuance relationship between a performer and people who have paid to come and see you, isn’t quite the same. So, that’s the challenge: to make it feel at the end… like wow! that really added to the corporate event. Rather than… oh, we just had to plough through that. And to make each one tailored and really try and make it work for that event.
Is it easier, being a well-known comedian to hold a corporate audience?
I think the more well-known you are, the easier it is, but I think that corporates have a life of their own, and they are so different to umbrella them all under ‘corporates’.
You can come on in the first minute, when everyone’s fresh and concentrating; you can come on in the third hour, when everyone’s hammered and disinterested; you can be presenting awards that half the people aren’t even up for; or everyone can be waiting on with baited breath for your every word, because it’s the pinnacle of their evening.
Each corporate is very different, and each stage at each corporate is very different.
Can you gain the same reactions from corporate events as your own tour?
Yes! If it’s set up right, and if people can hear you and see you, and the room’s good and the mood is right, and I do my job well then you can reach those peaks of laughter and applause if you put in a good show.
In hosting and presenting awards, I always love that because I can always add in little jokes here and there that they’re not always expecting… boneless things, when they were just expecting it to be a bland and dry… and “let’s just get through this and this and this…”, whereas I love bringing it to life a bit more and making it more entertaining. Because, obviously, inevitably ninety-five percent of the tables there aren’t up for that particular award; so, if you can keep them tuned-in and happy, then it makes their evening more fun.
What are your views on swearing in corporate performances?
With each corporate you have to take on its own merits, and I always make sure that I put in a call or a meeting before-hand, because I’m there to help their evening go off how they want it so I will be guided by what they want.
Normally people are pretty relaxed and they’ll use common sense, and I think we’re all adults in the room, as long as you don’t start effing and jeffing. Certainly the c bomb has its own implications. By and large, if you use common sense, and you can feel it as a comic, and you can put the feelers out there, and if you get, “oohh”, then you’ve played it wrong. But I’ve never had that problem where I think I’ve overstepped the mark with swearing.
It also depends on the time of day… the sort of event… just the feel in the room. A good comic should be able to do that anyway. Plus, with the talks beforehand, you should be able to get it right every time.
How important are the timings and structure for an awards ceremony?
Well that’s why I like working with you guys, because you’ve thought about that, and you’ll be amazed at the number of people that haven’t. It does make a huge difference: where you go on, when you go on, and how long you go on. You need to establish yourself at the top.
I’ve done events where they’ve gone, “right, we just need you to do one minute at the top, then we’ll have err… ten minute break, starters, then you go on and do three minutes, then go off for mains, then do your twenty, twenty-five….” And it just doesn’t work!
You have to establish yourself at the top. And then you have to try and keep the wind in the sails for as long as possible. There’s no point in going on once for a tiny bit, and a massive gap, and then coming on again. There’s no hard and fast rule, but the fact that we’re having these conversations shows that it is important.It’s something that needs to be considered.
What makes a good awards host?
You need to be able to read pretty damn quickly! I think that there’s too much deliberating and erring and fussing. I can ‘a’, bring a tempo to things, and ‘b’, I want it to be fun! Because, although, yes, for that one winner of that one award, you could have Robert Mugabe presenting it to them and they’d be happy – but for everyone else in that room, you want it to be fun; you want it to be enjoyable; and that’s what I think I can bring to them, as the best hosts should bring to an awards ceremony.
If you're interested in booking Simon Brodkin (aka Lee Nelson) you can enquire online, email us or pick up the phone and speak to one of our friendly booking agents. For further information about Simon view his profile or browse other comedians and awards hosts.