Reviewer: Jay Nuttall
You should pretty much know what to expect when you buy a ticket to see Stewart Lee. If you don’t you have most definitely gone to the wrong gig. In the final year of his forties, Lee is not one to suffer fools gladly – not that he ever has. And as ever – we, his loyal fee-paying audience, are the butt of his jokes. There are very few comedians who can make a whole room laugh so much at their own inadequacies.
Stewart Lee is still bitter from his BAFTA-winning BBC 2 show Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle not being recommissioned after its fourth series and he has no qualms in sharing. His stage persona is not just of arrogance but we would be mistaken in thinking he believes himself a demi-God of stand-up comedy. Boasting four and five-star reviews of his tour so far, he firmly asserts that if we don’t find him funny the problem will not be on his side of the stage.
Lee has often been described as a surreal satirist throughout his career and there is no avoiding the political landscape in Content Provider – no matter how much he states he didn’t want to write a show about Brexit or the rise of Trump. For years Lee has had the pleasure of referring to his leftist audience as the bourgeoisie and tonight we are lambasted many times for being a “metropolitan liberal elite”. He knows his audiences’ Achilles heel and he isn’t afraid to give it repeated swift kicks. When writing about Lee’s stagecraft it is impossible not to refer to his self-referential cleverness as he deconstructs everything about what he is and what he does: his role as a stand-up comedian and the actual jokes themselves. He loves to play with his audience and keep them guessing what is actually scripted and what he can improvise in the moment after thirty years of being one of Britain’s most respected comedians.
The first half of Lee’s show is a superb, polished hour of comedy. He doesn’t hold any prisoners and delivers everything we love about him with such delicious viciousness. His set, cruelly, is constructed of mounds of other comedian’s DVDs he claims to have bought from the internet for one pence or the odd fifty pence in a charity shop. The cheapest you can buy a second-hand copy of one of his DVDs, he gleefully informs us, is for about £3.60. And at one point takes delight in trampling on and kicking over piles of the worthless artifacts he describes as the cheapest building blocks available. The second half, however, lacks the drive and bite he so successfully establishes. With a similar running time to the first half, the attention in the room begins to wane a little as his topic strays to the imagined sex life of the increasingly elderly population. Without his trademark self-aggrandising, he occasionally slips into the realm of the stand-up comedians he tells us he so vehemently despises.
Despite seeing him several times over the years Stewart Lee never fails to impress. With such carefully constructed turns of phrase, it is no surprise that at one point of the show he even quotes himself from an interview in a broadsheet newspaper. After years of shunning television panel shows, it seems that TV has finally shunned Lee despite the critical acclaim he received. He has always been a live stand-up, first and foremost, and now entering his fifties one hopes he doesn’t want to slow down anytime soon.
Reviewed on 22nd May | Image: Colin Hutton