Writer and Performer: Stewart Lee
The rumbling juggernaut of expressive grumpiness that is Stewart Lee rolls slowly, yet relentlessly, into town; stopping off, briefly, at The Brighton Dome to delight a packed out audience.
Garnering laughs from the off, Lee describes how he has got bald, fat, blind and deaf since he last went on tour, before launching into the first set of the evening, Tornado.
This first half, explores the fabulously silly premise that his hit BBC television series, Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle, was falsely described for two years in its Netflix listing as a programme about killer sharks falling from the sky, and leads him to explain in minute detail, how this is an injustice, as well as the damage this has done to his career.
Lee continues by talking about other comedians who haven’t suffered the same fate and have correctly attributed shows on the platform. Ricky Gervais, Dave Chappelle and Josh Widdicombe all get lambasted by his acerbic rants and musing as hearty laughter rings throughout the Dome.
As an aside he berates the dads in the audience for bringing their reluctant offspring to see him. “They won’t like me and they’ll hate you for it” he declares. Brightonians don’t escape his gaze either; “You know the rest of the country isn’t like this don’t you?” He chides. There is an awkward murmur of guilty liberal laughter at our hypocrisy, at this observation.
Lee is interrupted in his majestic flow by the flash of a camera phone. He is thoroughly prepared for the intrusion, it sadly must happen at every gig. Woe betides anyone who uses their device to try and capture a sneaky picture or a snippet of video. Lee lies in wait like a 1960s chemistry teacher throwing a bunch of keys at an inattentive pupil. He will crush you! It’s a zero-tolerance approach rightly administered to those who cannot help feed their need to document the night out, rather than staying in the moment and enjoying the mastery of a performer at the top of his profession.
As the performance goes on, we find all people, whether they love him or loathe him, are treated with the same irreverence. Alan Bennett, who has written a glowing review of Lee, comes in for some fine goading. The comedian rounds the half with a glorious impersonation of him and his writing style.
Revelling in repetition, callbacks and opening surreal pathways, to the joy of the crowd, Tornado is an intricate and interwoven piece plotted towards one large visual gag.
Back from the interval – part two, Snowflake, begins.
Here Lee tackles political correctness, the magazine GQ and comments made by the journalist Tony Parson, all with great fervour.
Unabated laughter can be heard, as he explores the concept of people being able to say the unsayable in a section that proves Lee is just as much a first-rate clown as he is an excellent wordsmith.
Other highlights include a fabulously funny critique of the hit sitcom Fleabag and a hilarious condemnation of James Bond, the rapist.
The night closes with a pastiche of Enid Blyton in a very humorous reading and an uplifting song (whether meant or not) in the finale.
Lee has created one of the best grotesque comedy characters performing on the circuit today. He cannot, however hard he tries (and he does really try hard), hide the kind, compassionate and sweet-natured soul that lies beneath, it’s what makes his material so wonderful to consume, whether it be written or performed.
If you are to see only one stand up performance in your life go and see Stewart Lee (or Daniel Kitson). He is the best the art form gets.
Runs until 21 February 2020 and on tour