Stewart Lee’s Vegetable Stew
Stewart Lee gets a smile, but not a laugh, from editor LOTTIE UNWIN.
Sunday 6th March, 7.30 at The Corn Exchange. £18.50 or £12 with The Tab.
READ The Tab‘s interview with Stewart Lee.
My boyfriend explained while I was brushing my teeth on Saturday night that Stewart Lee, who I until then knew little about, did the kind of stand up he’d do, if he was a comedian.
“Sounds good”, I garbled disinterestedly from the bathroom. “But then you don’t appreciate my wit”, he continued, “You just laugh at me”.
Seeing a certain degree of truth in his condemning statement on our relationship, I settled down for a compulsory evening’s viewing of Stewart Lee’s YouTube clips with a heavy heart.
Last night, tucked so far to the back of The Corn Exchange, I didn’t feel very different.
The Guardian’s Brian Logan is in his four star review awards Lee high praise, explaining: ‘What’s unique is his nimbleness in keeping a step ahead of our sense of what kind of joke he’s telling. It’s often funny, but at any given point, it’s deviously unclear what we’re laughing at.’
But, what happens if you’re just not laughing?
In his critique of mainstream comedy Lee masterfully deconstructs the notion of a joke, using story telling and repetition ingeniously to amuse, not punch lines.
And there lies the problem. At the end of a half hour tale of his grandfather’s love of crisps, although there was a gag it was intentionally bad, I didn’t feel satisfied, which brings me to my second concern; I don’t go to comedy only to be amused, but to laugh out loud.
I certainly was highly amused, so I concede I am describing a subtle and subjective distinction. An impression of a child starving to death because Russell Howard was earning and not raising money for charity was both every bit as anarchic as it sounds and guilty pleasure to enjoy. In another example, performing the last half hour on a stool with a guitar under a spotlight he entitled ‘singer/songwriter’ conditions, as he’s noticed it can help disguise bad comedic material was brilliant.
It is, of course, very intelligent stuff. But, I have to assume the premise that I am not too stupid to appreciate it, even if for the sake of a review alone. Instead, I am going to excuse my rather untrendy view of Sunday night as a question of taste.
It was refreshing to see a set with little pretence of spontaneity, whose skill was in both encouraging the audience to pre-empt the next turn, only to surprise us. However, his relentless self-deprecation, although charged with irony, was nonetheless irritating.
Lee’s concern for the ethical values of Mock the Week, advocating ‘Mock the Strong’ as a less offensive concept, got my biggest laugh of the evening, and word play is just not what he is about. We’re just not compatible.