YouTuber and comedian Stephen Tries on his jokes, career and literally being set on fire

YouTuber and comedian Stephen Tries on his jokes, career and literally being set on fire
After Party Studios/Netflix UK

From diss tracks, yearly roasts and teaching people how to be Stormzy, Stephen Lawson – better known as Stephen Tries – has been making his followers laugh for the past five years.

The YouTuber and comedian started his channel back in 2016 while studying comedy at university, and quickly catapulted to viral status for his ‘how to’ sketches.

Stephen then swiftly progressed from small stand-up gigs to regularly receiving over one million views on his comical, witty videos.

He’s collaborated with the likes of Jack Whitehall and is a fan-favourite feature in videos by the famous YouTube group, Sidemen – which includes content creator turned singer and boxer, KSI – and now, Stephen has turned his talents to presenting and becoming a trainee stuntman.

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In the new YouTube series with Netflix and After Party studios - comically called Stephen Tries Cunning Stunts - the 26-year-old will entertain audiences by attempting to recreate stunts from popular Netflix shows.

FromSquid Game-esque fight scenes to literally being set on fire, Stephen is set to leave audiences in stitches with his stuntman skills and witty comedy.

Indy100 spoke with Stephen all about his YouTube journey, new series with Netflix and his future goals as a comedian and creator.

How old were you when you started YouTube and what made you want to start your channel?

I was 20 years old when I started doing sketches. I was at university studying comedy, which was a strange course. Very, very weird. But basically, in our last few months, we had to make a sketch show but before I put it all on YouTube, I wanted to make a sketch to make people realise that we were going to do comedy. So, we made this really quick sketch all about Stormzy which turned out to be a lot better than everything I did at university. So, that’s how I got started in around May 2016.

How has your life has changed since the beginning of your YouTube channel? Especially since you went viral so quickly?

Yeah, that was was a strange introduction, because that went out in May and two months later, I was on holiday in Kavos - because that’s the sort of life I lead - and I got a message saying, “Oh, your videos got quite a lot of views”. I thought that someone was just winding me up, but then it got shared on Facebook by various pages and really started to grow. Instantly, I thought I was mega-famous. When I got back to the UK, I thought everyone’s going to be taking pictures of me as I’m walking down the street. There wasn’t the case. But it was very, very exciting at the time.

Then, I developed the channel and grew from there. It’s been really, really good for me as I’ve finished university doing comedy and have come into a career straight away. I’ve been lucky in that sense. I guess I didn’t realise how fortunate I’ve been to go straight from that to make sketches on YouTube.

Has my life changed? I don’t know. But if ever I’m walking down the street, and I see there’s a group of teenage boys, I tend to think that they’ll possibly be aware of who I am which is when I’ll put my head down and cross the road. Often, when people come up to me, they’ll recognise me from somebody else’s videos so most of my interactions will be people stopping me and then trying to work out where they know me from.

Were you a Stormzy fan beforehand? And did he ever respond to the video?

I was a big Stormzy fan, so I bought the Adidas jacket…

You wore a blue version, couldn’t you find a red one like Stormzy?

I couldn’t get a red one. I think ASOS only had the navy blue so I went with it. That video was, annoyingly, the quickest and easiest one we’ve made, and by far the most successful. But, I’ve never met him.

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So, you’re known for your comedy and sense of humour - does that come naturally? How do you write your jokes?

I’d like to think it’s natural. When I was six years old, I wanted to be a stand-up comedian and I’ve always tried to be funny – painfully so. I’ve got quite a quick wit that seems to come naturally. In terms of writing jokes, I’ve got quite a poor work ethic. So, I tend to rely on something coming into my mind which could then become something funny. But when I really have to try, I’ll write down whatever it is. So, for the Netflix series and the episode of me being set on fire, I just wrote down fire and then created a mind map off that everything to do with fire. That’s how I try and make ideas come together.

You previously did a fair amount of stand-up comedy. How did performing stand-up prepare you for your YouTube career and the pressures that come with it?

I did stand-up for about three or four years. I did quite well because I looked about 14 years old so the audience felt sorry for me. That was terrifying and everything I’ve done on YouTube since doesn’t really compare, in terms of nerves. Because the audience can comment abuse, but I’m not within earshot. So, in that sense, it’s a lot easier.

I think the one bit I miss is getting that live reaction. If you tell a joke and people like it, you get a warm feeling on stage. But, the nerves that came to stand-up just took over my week so YouTube and making videos is so much more enjoyable in that sense, because you can always just cut and go again.

But, for the first shot of the Netflix series, I was coming out of a caravan. What I didn’t realise was how big the cast and crew were, and it was my first time meeting them all. So, I come out of the door and see about 30 people stood around which is when I got the feeling of doing stand-up again. Now I have to try and deliver a joke now with all these people watching. So, that was a bit terrifying – I had a dry mouth and I was panicking, but I got used to it.

Would you like to do more stand-up that in the future?

I think so. The issue I had when I was 18 is that I had lived a very sheltered life. So, my stories were limited. I was just starting to make things up about my family - in particular, my nan - so I had to rein it in. Now I’ve lived a bit more of a life, I’d like to do it. The experience of doing stand-up would be more enjoyable now because I’ve got YouTube so it’s not all or nothing for me like it was before. But then again, people might just shout abuse at me whilst on stage.

I’m sure not! Do you have any favourite comedians at the moment?

I do like Jack Whitehall, I think he’s very funny. I think my favourite, in terms of stand-up comedy, has always been Kevin Bridges. His take on things is very, very entertaining. Then, there’s Steve Coogan. I used to get compared to him when I was a kid, and I realised it was an insult many years later.

Now, on to collaborations – you’ve worked a lot with the Sidemen. How it working with them?

It’s a lot of fun. The videos they tend to do are well put together and they’ve really got it down in terms of the world of YouTube. The problem I had was the first video I did with them, I thought “this is their thing, I don’t want to intrude on it”, but I made a few jokes and their audience liked me. So, I sort of worked on that. Now there’s an expectation for me to be funny so it’s getting trickier and trickier.

There’s a video we did, called ‘The Roast of the Sidemen’, and that was my favourite because we performed at the Comedy Store in London. I performed there back when I did stand-up, and that was always nerve-racking. But, when we did the roast, I could finally enjoy being on stage because I could just say horrible things to these people and they can’t say anything back pretty much! So, that was my favourite video we did. I’ve always had a gift for saying horrible things to people, that’s what my mum says.

You also post a lot of videos with your friend, Max. Tell us a little bit more about your friendship with him. How long have you known each other and what’s it like working together?

So I met Max at university in Salford in 2013. When I first saw him, he was walking with a guy who had a big chain around his neck and a padlock. So, I thought those two were a pair and I avoided him for a long time, just by association with the padlock boy. Then, I eventually got to speak to him and he was very eccentric. I really, really didn’t know what to do with him. But, we became good friends at the end of university when we started making the videos. People really took to Max and we’ve been working together since.

We went on tour with a YouTuber called WillNE – Will was asked to go on tour, he got me involved and I got Max involved. Now, he’s been working for me full time since 2019 and he’s a surprisingly good worker. You look at him and think “you don’t know what you’re doing”, but he’s very efficient which amazes me. So, we’re now more business than friends but it’s still very close.

Most of the people who I film with now, I met on that comedy course, so we’ve all stayed friends which is good. We’ve been doing a podcast together for a long time, too, which is terrible for people to listen but we enjoy it.

Tell us a little bit more about your YouTube series - Stephen Tries Cunning Stunts with Netflix and After Party Studios?

So, Ben, the director, pitched the idea to Netflix and they really liked it. Then, he told me what I’d have to do and I was very, very scared. The one I was most afraid of was being set on fire and, of course, that was the first one we did.

The stunt crew are all really nice, calm and put you at ease even though you’re doing these ridiculous things and there’s also a massive crew who are there watching you, so you think “I’ve got to do this”, otherwise I’ve wasted everyone’s day. The worst part of the fire episode was that I had to put on a skin-tight suit and freezing cold gel. It was horrible. That was worse than being set on fire. I was in a caravan with this stunt coordinator who helped me in. Neither of us wanted to be doing that. But, once I put on the suit, I felt quite good and powerful as a firefighter.

He set my arm on fire first because that was the easiest, but it was by far the most terrifying because I could see it. They wanted me to flail about a bit and look horrified for the camera, but there was no acting involved. That was horrifying. But, it looked good and the production company, After Party Studios, make it look so professional even though it’s me dressed as a firefighter looking ridiculous.

The next episode is based on Squid Game, and it’s me doing a fight scene with three people. When I watched that back. I actually look like I can fight. But, in reality, they just told me to throw a punch. I thought, “I played badminton for five years, I don’t know how to do this”.

It’s really, really well put together and surprisingly, throughout the series, I could do the stunts quite well apart from the last one. It’s based around driving. I drive an automatic and I recently crashed into a parked car. So, that was the last thing I needed to do. It was one of the most stressful days, just trying to learn how to drive properly and stop stalling in front of everyone. On paper, it was the easiest one but it was borderline impossible for me to do because I’m just a terrible driver.

After Party Studios/Netflix UK

What else can people expect from the upcoming episodes of the series?

So, the next one is based on Squid Game, where we film a fight scene. I was working with Vincent Wang who’s been in so many films and he was he was incredible in showing me what to do and making it look convincing. Personally, that’s my favourite episode in terms of how the end product looks.

They also show me how to smash fake glasses and bottles. I had a plate smashed over my head, which was a lovely sensation. After that, one is based on falling, another is about explosions and the last one is about driving.

I look forward to the falling ones because I don’t mind heights and for the explosion one, surprisingly, that was the day I felt most like a stunt person. I did need a lie down after that day. For that episode, they spoke about how good my arm movements were as I was flying back but there was no skill involved. It was just me falling.

For the future, can we see you pursuing a career as a stunt man, sticking to comedy or something else?

Possibly a comedy stunt man, because I don’t look the part but I can definitely fall over. So, if there’s an avenue for that, I could do that. I would love to be doing comedy for the rest of my life, and stand-up would be good to do in the future.

Presenting is a possibility. When I presented for a Sideman video, it was a lot of fun and I do enjoy it. But, first and foremost, I like creating stupid characters and basically just messing around. That’s my favourite thing to do.

YouTube allows me to do what I want a bit more, and I’m in charge of my channel compared to TV where I’d have to behave myself. So, that’s the tricky spot I find myself in of either changing what I do to try to go down the TV route, or, sticking to what I’m doing now. Netflix is a great space, and what I found enjoyable about this series was just how much Ben, the director, and myself, are allowed to do what we want. I think online is what I favour because of how they go about creating the content and it seems a lot more relaxed, which suits me.

You can watch Stephen Tries on YouTube here and here and watch his new YouTube series with Netflix and After Party studios, ‘Stephen Tries Cunning Stunts’, here.

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