Reviewer: Dave Smith
Stewart Lee divides people like few other comedians. Criticised for being an “intellectual snob” (Lee Mack), for representing political correctness gone mad, for treating his audience with “toxic scorn” (Daily Telegraph) and for appealing only to white, middle-class Guardian readers, much of which is true. His material is clever, he is certainly politically correct and, judging by the audience on this night, he does appeal to a certain demographic.
And the more he gets accused of these things, the more he willfully adopts the persona even deeper into his performance, regularly berating the audience for not being up to the required intellectual level, for laughing at the wrong time, for not even getting his best joke and so ruining a whole section.
But he is also crude, surreal, controversial, vulgur, silly and very, very funny. And very popular, as evidenced by a sold-out Symphony Hall.
As with previous tours, the show consists of half-hour sections, each of which will make up one programme in his Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle on BBC2 later in the year. If that sounds like we’re being charged for work in progress, well, that may be the case, because what is seen later in the year – or even on the next leg of the tour – may well be different. That doesn’t mean you’re getting anything less than top quality, well thought-out and fully developed comedy.
The three sections tonight are theoretically on the subjects of Islamaphobia, urine and national identity. His attempts to redress the perceived imbalance of his critics by delivering an anti-Islamic joke culminate in three “Islamaphobic” one-liners, all true, all backed up by evidence, all still politically correct, all very funny, and all delivered in his finest Roy “Chubby” Brown impression, which somehow morphs seamlessly into the late Orville the Duck.
The urine section starts off with a childhood memory of being bullied, and whether that may have been the beginnings of his desire to make people laugh, before heading off into far darker areas. It’s undoubtedly the most challenging, even shocking, part of the show, with Lee basically telling us that he and other comedians are one bad audience reaction away from total breakdown. It is a lot funnier than that might make it sound.
His final section mainly involves the involuntary soiling of a series of England flags, and a bewildering list of things which are ‘typically’ Swiss. And, if there is a criticism to be made, it might be that his impression of listening to Radio Switzerland on a portable radio under the bedcovers as a boy in the 1970s may have gone for a few minutes too long.
Stewart Lee is certainly not to everyone’s taste, but those for whom he is should be delighted that he continues to take comedy into areas inhabited by few others.
Picture: Colin Hutton | Reviewed on 2nd May