Stewart Lee: 41st Best Stand-Up Ever

Note: This review is from 2007

Review by Steve Bennett

Fatherhood has had a calming influence on Stewart Lee. The potent combination of raw, visceral bitterness and powerful, combative intellect has been softened; no longer does he make mincemeat of sacred cows, now we have sarcasm-drenched grumpiness at the dumbing down of Britain.

It means his 2007 show doesn’t have the searing intensity and fearless, uncomfortable edge of his most commanding work, but still offers an irritable, petulant whine at the way of the world.

Public opinion is what most vexes him this time around, prompted at his own ranking in a meaningless Channel 4 poll of great stand-ups. His mother, utterly uninterested in comedy, is duly unimpressed, given she has already witnessed the pinnacle of comic genius: Tom O’Connor on a cruise ship.

Lee is dismissive of the consensus taste. Is Del Boy falling through a bar really the funniest thing ever? He reels of a list of infinitely better moments of TV comedy – all less suited to the instant format of packaged clip shows – each time childishly mocking the British public mewling pathetically that the pratfall is still their favourite, until he is reduced to a foetal, impotent ball, curled up on the filthy Udderbelly floor.

This is a routine that’ll be loved by comedy aficionados, as other digs at everyone from Russell Brand to Al Murray reinforce. Lee likes to work the niche, himself. Cracking an obscure comic-book reference that only two lads get, he does a brief follow-up routine just for them, defiantly working ‘the thinnest edge of the wedge possible’.

Lee’s stock-in-trade, though, is the slow, tedious repetition of his points – testing the audience’s patience, but also getting the laughs as they realise that’s exactly what he’s doing. It makes for a slow start, agonising but knowingly funny, until it’s revealed as a teasing build-up to more considered argument. Patience is rewarded.

Given his take on populism, you can imagine Lee’s take on Celebrity Big Brother and the broadcaster that peddles it – inconveniently, also the sponsor of his venue – especially in the light of him having his own stand-up series unceremoniously dumped by BBC Two before he had even started filming His unique material on a ubiquitous topic, the Jade Goody racism row, opens out into his own tongue-in-cheek observations of why Muslims made him fat.

Then, with consummate skill, every element of the preceding hour slots cleanly into place, giving a satisfying overview of the fundamental folly of bowing to public opinion - that the public are, en masse, idiots. But then Lee demonstrates that he’s above acting like an idiot himself if it gets a laugh… especially if it eminates from the belly of his tiny son.

Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

Review date: 1 Jan 2007
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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