From Russell Brand to Graham Norton, few escape Stewart Lee’s venom in Liverpool, Getintothis’ Del Pike revels in his unflinching glorious wrath.
When Stewart Lee tells his audience towards the end of his show that he is the comic that cannot be reviewed, he may have a point.
It might be a cliché to say that he is the stand up comedian for people who don’t like stand up comedians, but in truth I’m not a stand up fan but I love Stewart Lee. His Marmite approach to comedy is certainly unique, and after 25 years in the industry he is as tricky to pigeonhole as ever.
He lays his craft bare, informing us at the start of the show of what routines he will be doing, for how long and even that we get a bonus encore (but he won’t be leaving the stage). When he rips into the audience with full force for 15 minutes before the interval for not getting his jokes, he makes sure he apologises in the second half reassuring those who’ve not seen him before, it was just for a laugh.
A Room with a Stew is Lee’s current show that is a test run of material for his upcoming fourth BBC series of Comedy Vehicle, so it is a piecemeal affair that doesn’t run as smoothly as some of his other shows such as 2012’s Carpet Remnant World, but he admits to the fact that it is shoddy by weaving this into his act, highlighting the difference of £4 on the ticket price so he can afford to park his van full of backdrops.
Lee doesn’t strictly tell jokes and finds pleasure in putting down the comedy hierarchy. No-one is safe, from Lee Mack and Russell Brand to Tim Vine and Jimmy Carr. Roy Chubby Brown might be an easy target but Lee manages to do it so well it’s forgiveable. His playful reluctance to sell himself as a laugh out loud comedian is evident on his poster for the tour that includes a quote from the Telegraph stating that “Stewart Lee is not funny and has nothing to say”.
He relishes the fact that he is unlike his comedy peers at one point telling us that we will be asked later on, “Did you laugh at Stewart Lee?” our response will be “No but I agreed the fuck out of him”. Despite his protestations, Lee is hilarious even when stretching out half an hour’s worth of material about his cat who he has named “Paul Nuttalls from Ukips”.
Stewart Lee is a craftsman and he loves to explain to his audience how he is making them laugh, talking us through his art and trying to catch them out at every turn. This approach is never po-faced and is fascinating to see. In his book, How I escaped my fate: The Life and Deaths of a stand-up comedian (highly recommended), he breaks his act down into the finest detail.
When you consider the work that he puts into making his audience squirm and laugh in equal measure it is easy to believe his faux bitterness at losing the best comedian BAFTA to Graham Norton, who Lee points out “just tips member of the public off a chair”. Much like The Fall’s Mark E Smith, of whom Lee is an outspoken follower, he doesn’t yearn to be popular like the mainstream Norton’s and McIntyre’s of this world, just to be heard.
Lee has given over two nights of his mammoth five month tour to The Phil, when he does return he is well worth a look. His new series of Comedy Vehicle screens in the New Year. Once experienced, you’ll never watch Live at the Apollo again.