If you prefer a milder comedian, please ask for one

[Live] Stewart Lee, Norwich Playhouse, 9th October 2009

sw-poster317x400After much wailing and gnashing of teeth in the broadsheets about the direction of stand-up comedy, now is the perfect time for self-appointed Protector of the Comedy Faith and Anti-Plagiarism Tsar Stewart Lee to launch his latest show. The title may lead you to believe it’s the third part in an unofficial trilogy preceded by 90s Comedian and 41st Best Stand-up Ever! but that’s not necessarily the case.

When Lee began the show by holding up a crude painting of an enlarged Caffe Nero loyalty card and then proceeded to riff on accusations of an attempt to defraud their loyalty scheme and a mix up involving a baby milk bottle, I began to suspect he’d stolen Michael McIntyre’s joke book. Of course it turned out this was just an ‘in’ for a routine loosely based on the theme of disappointment.

Anyone who’s seen Lee before knows he doesn’t really do gags and this show was no different. It was largely based around three extended jokes which, depending on your point of view, is either very brave or incredibly self-indulgent.  Aside from his rebuffed Caffe Nero loyalty card the other two disappointments currently vexing Lee are the popularity of Top Gear and, in particular, Richard ‘not a real hamster’ Hammond, and the willingness of a famous Welsh comedian to suck corporate cock. Now these sound like pretty easy targets but Lee has enough skill and originality to pull it off. You may have already read the Daily Mail’s typically oafish write-up of his routine about wishing death on Hammond, but of course they failed to give coverage to Lee’s justification, which is way too complex to go into here.

Now I’m a fully paid up Lee evangelist but the show did have the odd flaw. In his own way Lee’s act has almost become as formulaic as… a certain other comedian. I was just waiting for the bit where he throws the mic down in despair and walks into the audience ranting. And his endless repetitions can sometimes pall. I also doubt an extended treatise on the phrase “I’ll give it to you straight, like a pear cider that’s made from 100% pear” would be particularly hilarious to somebody who had never seen the advert in question. His detailed description of the death of Richard ‘not a real hamster’ Hammond also strayed dangerously close to Aristocrats territory – AKA The Unfunniest Joke of All-time.

But these are minor gripes as this was still easily the best comedy show I’ve seen all year. Whilst it may have been a bit tame compared to his last show, which ended with him engraving ‘cunt’ on Richard Littlejohn’s gravestone; Lee himself conceded that he’s no longer an angry young firebrand, a la Frankie Boyle, who is incensed by the Queen’s pussy being haunted. And whilst the title of the show was indeed a (presumably intended) misnomer, to quote Lee, when there’s been so much discussion about what the last taboo in comedy is – be it rape, race or paedophilia – the last taboo really is “somebody doing something sincerely and well.”

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2 Responses to “If you prefer a milder comedian, please ask for one”

  1. I’m really excited about seeing this show after reading your review. I do wonder if Slee’s use of repetition is becoming too familiar as a comedic weapon though.

    Interesting to see he’s doing Celebrity Mastermind, which is a bit weird given that he seems to shun all popular culture and the notion of celebrity..http://bowskill.wordpress.com/category/comedy/

  2. Thanks. Didn’t know he was doing Mastermind. Saw him on one of the dreadful panel shows and he looked supremely uncomfortable. At least his repetitions work better in the live arena than on TV, when they took up about 70% of a half hour show.

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