Stewart Lee: Carpet Remnant World

DVD review by Steve Bennett

A couple of years ago, Frankie Boyle said comics should quit before they are 40, by which time they are creatively spent.

His comments infuriated the then 42-year-old Stewart Lee, a chagrin exaggerated for his last tour and DVD, If You Prefer A Milder Comedian, Please Ask For One. Two years later, and Lee admits his life now involves nothing more than childcare of his four-year-old son and driving Britain's motorways from gig to gig... however could such a quotidian life inspire comedy, if there really is no more sombre enemy of good art than the pram in the hall?

That’s how a weary Lee explained his predicament, but as he patiently explains to the irony-impaired new recruits to his work, quite often he doesn’t mean what he says, but the very opposite. Imagine that!

In fact some of his fans might be a little surprised by some of this show, too – especially the opening routine which is an strong piece of political-flavoured stand-up, about the nonsense of Big Society or the moral response to the assassination of Osama Bin Laden, all in a traditional style. It seems to be an effort to prove that he can do stand-up – despite what his detractors might say – without the long pauses, endless deviation and meta-anaylsis.

That’s not to say he doesn’t return to those trademark techniques later, most notably with a deliberately laboured section about the impact of Thatcherite economic policies on jungle canyon rope bridges – his only frame of reference now he endlessly watches his son’s favourite Scooby-Doo cartoon.

But there’s a lot going on in this show, and especially inventive – and enjoyable – is Lee’s splitting Sheffield’s Lyceum Theatre into a mixed-ability group, more effectively than he’s ever done before. In the stalls, the fans who’ve stuck by him in the lean years, brought their tickets early, and ‘get’ the jokes; in the circle the newbies, attracted because they vaguely know Lee is on TV now, and not up to speed on how this all works. This device is made even more effective through thoughtful camera direction that gives us both points of view.

In other sections, the insidious intrusion of Twitter into privacy, and, of course, the nature of comedy itself come under the microscope. On the later, he has an unarguable riposte for those on the right who claim no one ever does jokes about Islam – delivered with a conspiratorial air of sideways glances worthy of Max Miller. Or Jimmy Cricket.

But the main idea explored here is the comedian's desperate search for material and relevance, which allows Lee to reassert his esteemed reputation at the top of the comedy food chain. He is witheringly dismissive of those he feels are intellectually lazy, and this time around it includes himself, in a sublimely self-deprecating, and uniquely funny couple of hours.

Published: 12 Nov 2012

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