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Tuesday, 2 November 2010

If You Prefer A Milder Comedian Please Ask For One

It's no secret that I have a hero. Since I was 12 years old I've admired and followed Stewart Lee, from his days as "the thin one" in Lee and Herring, through Jerry and the fuss, to his triumphant return to the comedy circuit in the early to mid '00s. His first three stand-up shows are a must for anyone who knows and appreciates his style; don't bother if you don't. Stew is like, as many would suggest, the "'Marmite' of Comedy" - you either love him or hate him - but I won't use such a clich├ęd simile. I don't think he'd appreciate it. 

Instead, I think he's the "'Jerry Springer: The Opera' of Comedy" - if you're a forward-thinking, intelligent, reasonable person with even the slightest understanding of irony, satire and parody as tools for comedy then he's just the comedian for you. He certainly doesn't pull any punches in what he says, there are few real belly-laugh-inducing jokes and a lot of the subjects discussed so eloquently will undoubtedly make you unsure whether you should be laughing in the first place, anyway. If you're a Mail-reading hate-figure-seeking vulture, I'm sure you'd like his stuff too - for very different reasons! But, "If You Prefer A Milder Comedian, Please Ask For One". I'm sure Peter Kay has another DVD out. As it stands, I'm a "Leftie, Guardian-reading bore". As bad as this sounds, Stew is the comedian of choice for me.

And his most recent stand-up DVD - the above, titular - is, I believe, a satirical masterpiece. There are only a few "jokes" in the 1 hour 45 minute show; the pirate one, the Top Gear one and the Magners one... But Stew works his magic on these topics with such a practised hand - as always - that the time flies and before you know it he's signing DVDs in the foyer. Again, in a good way! If you know Stew then you know some of what to expect; repetition, pauses, self-deprecation, audience-splitting based on ability to understand his routine... But there is something else in this show that sneaks out as the tales grow taller and taller and the now-obligatory "falsified satirical breakdown" approaches it is clear that this is a thought-provoking and important lecture. Tackling the hypocrisy of broadcast and print media, the perils of knowing Stew at school (maybe) and the inevitable truth that much of what Stew does is available online, through countless bit.torrent sites, before the commercial DVD has even been burned, I found myself smiling more than laughing. It's less comedy and more a comedic way of bringing important and everyday occurrances of oft-ignored society-wide moral blindness to light.

I sat in awe as Stewart Lee ended what was as near-perfect a performance as he is able of giving without de-constructing even his own methods and means (which he does, actually) with the revelation that he was about to break the final taboo of stand-up comedy by "attempting to do something sincerely and well". 

This turns out to be a relevant and heartfelt version of Steve Earle's 'Galway Girl' - a song that meant something to Stew until it was used to advertise Pear Cider. Who knew he could sing pretty well too? He can! Ironically, the main body of the show along with the wonderful closing musical number are available to view on Youtube, despite Stew's berating of an audience member caught red-handed while recording the final fifth of the show on his mobile phone, in clear view of a slowly (but methodically) emotionally unravelling Stewart Lee's face. The song is the perfect end to an uncomfortable and much-publicised show, which plays out like a house built on sand, collapsing and crumbling into nothing, leaving a perfect and beautiful dune - something far more attractive than that which it once failed to support. There's none of the gushy, washy, stadium-jarring piano pseudo-emotion that you get at the end of a massive Lee Evans set, no! A guitar, a violin, a singer who isn't a singer singing a song he used to love - it's the one story Stew tells that could be 100% true (and 0% false).  

If you've never seen Stewart Lee perform live - as I haven't (but I have tickets for March) - then this is the closest you'll get to genuine "Comedy As Art/Art As Comedy" until you buy a ticket for the soonest possible Lee gig. I won't tell you to watch this DVD because it's hilarious. I'll tell you to watch ALL the Stewart Lee shows and become one of us who are in on the joke. My Aunt thinks he's boring. She's never been so offended than when she watched this DVD. She can't get too angry about it, though. Not any more. She's 41, after all...

Buy Stewart Lee DVDs and see much more of his older stuff on his website HERE.