This evening with Stewart, not Richard

The title refers to Stewart Lee’s once comedy partnership with Richard Herring, on BBC2 in the late 1990s. Their Sunday afternoon programme, ‘This Morning with Richard, Not Judy’ is a tedious link I admit. I had forgotten about Stewart Lee until his Comedy Vehicle programme on BBC2 was shown in the early 2000s, so watching him live, nearly 50, and full of cynicism, is rather refreshing.

Observing his live act is very similar to Comedy Vehicle. He appears to treat his audience with distain, not hiding behind a comedy character; this is a real life grumpy middle aged comedian. Stewart points out where you should laugh: this almost makes the audience feel guilty, you then laugh, then Stewart hits you with a punch line. At that point, Stewart Lee’s sold out face appears. By dismissing the audience in a comedic sense, he has gained a devoted almost cult following. The audience are his whipping victims and we pay for this verbally aggressive whip-like cynicism in the form of a ticket!!! But we lap it up, hoping to be entertained, masochist volunteers maybe, but what’s so different between tonight and our daily existence.

Stewart said he would not comment on Brexit. He repeated this and then proceeded to focus on…….Brexit, and having performed in Lincoln, where the majority voted to leave the EU, and with Stewart being a remainer, he admitted he felt a bit exposed on stage.

His persona was more energetic than his now cancelled Comedy Vehicle programme. Something that irks him a little when he mentioned Lee Mack’s ‘Not going out’ getting recommissioned by the BBC. I loved his anger and how he directs this at comedians like Russell Howard or Lee Mack. He appears to be truthful, and maybe that’s why people return to watch his live shows. Those not exempt from Stewart’s anger are Eamonn Holmes and also Lee’s 57 year old step brother, who likes Deacon Blue. More angry observations followed.

Part two commenced with his routine about ‘Game of Thrones’, and people under 40 on their smart phones. I never YouTubed any of his routine beforehand, as I like to be surprised, but what I observed and asked myself of his aggressive stand up was this:
‘Does Stewart have unlimited confidence in himself on stage?’ Or ‘Is this a way of hiding his shyness by berating his audience?’  As his act continued about S and M and his grandparents, with the line ‘Potato bag sex mask’, I realised that Stewart Lee is my type of comedian.

What I enjoyed about Stewart’s routine is that he mixed the ridiculous social aspects of today, commenting on them through the medium of comedy, with clever observations, but will not be pretentious enough to restrict himself to an old fashioned gag, even though he sometimes makes a fool of himself by pulling comedic faces. He is not an everyman’s comedian, but he uses his skills as a comedian to make the audience aware of social issues.

For me, tonight’s performance was much more than watching a comedy act. I departed feeling I learnt something, and I never feel that way after watching Russell Howard or Lee Mack.

Kevin Lea

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