Review – Stewart Lee, Content Provider (on tour)

Stewart Lee seeks to divide his audience. His own biography is evidence of this, ending as it does with two quotes:

“One of the top three or four living stand-ups..” – Time Out

 “The worst stand-up I have ever seen”  – Graham Simmons, Chortle

He begins his set by complaining about the type of audience he gets in the provinces, claiming that those who are there as ‘friends of the theatre’ or as guests of someone who actually bought tickets won’t understand his material. He complains about the theatre (the air conditioning is too noisy) and about people who couldn’t get their act together to see the show when it was on in London, claiming it was much better there because the audience all agreed with him. He then complains about people who agree with him saying they don’t laugh at the jokes but simply clap material if it expresses a view matches their own.

Having neatly set-out to alienate everyone in the room he then begins to lay into other comics, pointing out that the stage set he is standing in comprises DVDs of live performances by comedians, all of which were bought online for just 1p each. His own live DVD, he points out, is currently priced at £3.67.

His material, he says, is based around politics, language and history. But if you don’t agree with the politics (especially if you voted leave) you may have a hard time getting through to the other two elements. But he professes not to care, deliberately setting-up material for fans to like, only to under-cut their ‘metropolitan liberal elite views’. Being a Stewart Lee fan is not easy because it seems he’s just as likely to dislike people for agreeing with him as anyone else.

But all this is (surely) a front. He’s playing with the stand-up norms, deconstructing his jokes and techniques as part of his act – in the same way Penn and Teller show how their magic tricks work. And throughout he is expertly and apparently effortlessly manipulating the room for the precise effect he wants. Apparent ad libs and random interjections from the audience are woven in. Or are they as carefully planned and rehearsed as everything else? Who knows? It’s hilarious comedy that credits you with some intelligence and rewards you accordingly, provided you don’t mind that sneaky feeling that Mr Lee doesn’t really like you at all!


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