A native of Hanham, England, Stephen Merchant shot to fame practically overnight by virtue of his role executive producing the BBC situation comedy blockbuster The Office (2001-2003) with creative partner Ricky Gervais. Born in Bristol, England, in 1974, Merchant enjoyed a brief tenure as a standup comedian and then culled a massive British audience by emceeing his own satirical radio program, The Steve Show, on W963 radio. From 1992 to 1996, the burgeoning comic attended the University of Warwick, where he earned his degree in film and television; he subsequently partnered up with Gervais, and the two attempted to launch a comedy series entitled "Golden Years" on Channel 4 television in the U.K. While that pilot failed to connect with an audience, it prompted the network to give Gervais a spot on the sketch comedy ensemble program The 11 O'Clock Show and paved the way for the duo's success with The Office.
The said program premiered in July 2001, and satirized British corporate culture by observing the eccentric doings of the Hough-Wernham paper company's Slough, Berkshire branch. Though the U.K. version of The Office lasted only two seasons, it became an instant sensation, put the names of Gervais and Merchant on the map, and inspired producers Greg Daniels and Ben Silverman to buy the rights to a U.S. remake of the program -- which ran for numerous seasons, culled an untoward number of Emmys, and became one of the highest-rated programs on any network. Gervais and Merchant then created Extras, a satirical comedy about a pair of actors (one played by Gervais, the other by Ashley Jensen) repeatedly working as extras in productions starring famous celebrities. The series featured at least one famous guest star per episode, each a caricatured version of himself or herself. Having previously only played a bit part on The Office, Merchant also took on the supporting role of Darren Lamb, the egregiously incompetent agent of Gervais' character, Andy Millman. The program mirrored the success of its Gervais-Merchant predecessor, and series co-producer HBO quickly picked it up for a run in the United States.
Merchant would go on to appear in comedies like The Invention of Lying and Hall Pass, in addition to writing, directing, and appearing in ongoing Gervais collaborations, like Life's Too Short and The Ricky Gervais Show.