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Lee first came to prominence in the 90's as part of the Lee and Herring comedy partnership with Richard Herring, both live and as part of TV shows 'Fist of Fun' and two series of Sunday lunchtime show 'This Morning With Richard Not Judy' (just watch some of the episodes that have been uploaded onto You Tube, it is shocking to see what they managed to get away with and also upsetting to remember a time where Sunday schedules weren't full of Hollyoaks repeats).
In recent years, Lee has quietly established a highly acclaimed career as a solo stand-up, particularly in the wake of The Jerry Springer Opera controversy which almost destroyed him both professionally and financially.
This tour comes after some DVD releases and his return to TV in the form of Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle a mixture of sketch and stand-up which was shown on BBC Two last year (and has thankfully just been confirmed as having a second series.)
Lee's show begins with a short introduction by him before introducing his support act - self appointed 'German Comedy Ambassador' Hemming Wehn. Very funny and with really good material, he has a distinctive voice and is a more than appropriate support for Lee.
Lee's show seemingly with a rant about a perceived slight he received involving a Cafe Nerro loyalty card . But as ever with Lee nothing is ever what it seems. Soon he is setting his caustic sights on Frankie Boyle, for stating that comedians over the age of 40 are not any good because they are not angry enough - then going on to demonstrate exactly why that is not true - tearing Mock The Week and Frankie Boyle's infamous Mock The Week 'Queen' joke to shreds. Next he moves onto Top Gear, and particular Richard Hammond with material that ends with a statement which has got the Daily Mail all hot under the collar over the last few months. The show culminates in a lengthy diatribe about the Pear Magners adverts that were presented by Mark Watson and the "I'm going to give it to you straight...." slogan.
I almost do not want to say too much about the material because it really does speak for itself on watching it live, which it is why it has been so easy for certain facets of the media to misrepresent his comments and do so wilfully whilst revelling in the politically incorrect and downright offensive and cruel jibes of the likes of 'Top Gear' and just not recognising the sheer hypocrisy of this.
As usual, a lot of Lee's material comes from his superb talent of deconstructing any subject matter that he feels deserves his attention. He has the most caustic wit and analysis this side of Charlie Brooker, and is never any less than fascinating to listen to, not least because there is no-one else quite like him that I have seen on the circuit. That said, he has such a unique voice that he is largely inimitable and to try and replicate what he would do would not only be impossible but probably make you vulnerable to one of his infamous tongue lashings, which is the last place that anybody would want to be.
He is certainly a comic of great integrity who feels slightly despondent at the state of mainstream comedy, particularly that which is shown on TV. And most importantly of all, he is very, very funny. I have a couple of his DVDs but seeing him live you get the full impact of his unpredictability and complex on-stage persona. He also specialises in making his audience uncomfortable, not in the 'lets say the most offensive' thing possible sense, more by creating a palpable divide in the audience between those who he perceives as understanding his jokes, and those who do not.
In conclusion, Lee is a definite force of nature who really deserves to be seen live. This show is equally as good as anything that he has done before and he maintains his status as one of the most articulate and intelligent comics on the circuit.
Stewart Lee continues to demonstrate why he's one of the greatest living stand-ups. Voted the 41st Best Stand Up Ever a couple of years ago in a meaningless poll that the performer amusingly took to heart, Lee's rise from quite-good nineties comedian to stand-up virtuoso has come with an inverse desire for less attention and less showy venues. This year's Edinburgh Fringe show sees him return to the traditional comedy club environment of the Stand, publicised by a minimal campaign using only the most negative publicity accrued over the years.
Even without his recent TV series, Stewart Lee's name carries a lot of weight in the comedy world, and he could sell out the Stand no matter what. Something that's now been proven, as the leading critical quote on his poster courtesy of the Birmingham Sunday Mercury, states:
"His whole tone is one of complete, smug condescension."
You might hate it, but if you do, you're stupid. This isn't some kind of 'Emperor's New Clothes' thing.
Since his triumphal return to stand-up in 2004 following the Jerry Springer: The Opera debacle, Stewart Lee has consistently pushed the boundaries of the stand-up form. Each year's show of brand new material manages to live up to the last with comforting accuracy, and all contain surprises even for the obsessive devote. 2007's show was remarkably pleasant after the anger of its predecessor, 2008 had some eggs in it, and Lee's new show, titled If You Prefer a Milder Comedian, Please Ask for One, is the most surprising yet. But if I told you why, it wouldn't be a surprise.
Basing his premise on Frankie Boyle's recent observation that there are no funny comedians over the age of forty, forty-one-year-old Lee sets out to prove that old men can still get angry about things, even if that anger tends to be more directed towards high street coffee chains, city people moving to the country and Mark Watson's pear cider advertisement. A routine about Top Gear presenters goes so far beyond decency that it couldn't even be considered libellous, and the unexpected finale seeks to break down the last taboo of stand-up in remarkable style.
Watching Stewart Lee perform is like watching a chess grandmaster, as jokes and routines are played far in advance, only to resolve in spectacularly unexpected fashion at a later stage. Not that there's always a need for a punchline when a well-timed silence does just as well. But this isn't to say that Lee is averse to relying on tried-and-tested formulas, as amidst the new directions, fans can still expect the comedian to deconstruct his own material from the onset; to suffer a mental breakdown; to repeat a phrase until it loses all meaning, and to go on for far too long with one idea.