“ Venue: The Stand Comedy Club / 5 York Place / Edinburgh / EH1 3EB / Scotland „
Stewart Lee's new Edinburgh show is a literal egg box of laughs. Having spent much of the year in his hard-pressed job as a stand-up comedian (the hardest job in the world apparently) writing new routines and plagiarising his own substantial back catalogue for next year's BBC series 'Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle,' the squashed Albert Finney conjured up the conceit of using a box of numbered eggs to randomly determine each night's set-list. Unless you're attending the half-price preview before the Fringe has really begun, in which the comedian confesses he hasn't learned all of the routines yet, and an audience member is offered the more limited selection of choosing any three eggs from the front row of three. It spoils the sense of adventure somewhat, but the tickets were only £5 so there's no reason to complain. You want the moon on a stick.
Despite being advertised as 'a mix of new material, and material that's so old it seems new' (unless you approached the show on the malfunctioning EdFringe website where it was bizarrely billed as a tragic comedy about a frustrated obituary writer befriending a very old woman), much of the material is taken directly from the comedian's previous three stand-up tours, that fans might like to imagine qualify as a trilogy insofar as there were three of them in relatively close proximity. As of yet, there's none of the cocky absurdity of Lee's nineties work, which is a shame, but the material is still some of the strongest on the Fringe, and works as something of a greatest hits collection of 21st century Stewart Lee. It's just a shame that long-time fans will have heard much of this before, as will anyone who purchased his DVDs.
Consciously avoiding the story and crescendo elements of his usual hour-long shows, the three routines (whatever they may be) are self-contained entities bridged by Lee checking a piece of scrap paper and announcing 'now I'll talk about political correctness,' but his twenty years of experience in professional stand-up still allow him to refer back to previous material when it becomes relevant again, creating some sense of progression and structure. Lee's on-stage persona is self-assured without being arrogant, self-deprecating without seeking pity and, most of all, intimidatingly smart, and the issues he explores in detail in these twenty-minute routines are mature and thought-provoking.
From personal issues with the low standards of the general public to his justified fears of being misinterpreted, Lee paints a detailed picture of the life of a stand-up comedian and the responsibilities that come with the job, all inspired by a second-hand LP of Franklyn Ajaye that he admits he's never felt the need to actually listen to. Religion is inevitably discussed again, Lee being no stranger to reprisals after co-writing and directing 'Jerry Springer: The Opera' and suffering from the partially successful protests of right-wing Christian fundamentalists, and political correctness is discussed in a more reasoned manner than you'd expect from the Stand, illustrated with experiences from Lee's own life now he's reached the ancient milestone of forty.
For fans, 'Scrambled Egg' promises to be an exciting show that invites a return visit, but is disappointing for being based largely in material that's not yet so old that it seems new. While the material is essentially as scattered and arbitrary as Lee's previous shows, the self-contained pieces don't permit the grand finales that proved so rewarding in the comedian's 2004 and 2005 shows, but depending on the material selected, there's still a chance to see the performer's trademark mental breakdown set-piece. For non-fans, this is a great opportunity to see one of the best comedians in the country ploughing through finely honed routines without any weak links, a show that informs as much as it amuses. At the very least, you might leave knowing more about jazz than you did before.
'Stewart Lee: Scrambled Egg' is on at the Stand One, Sundays to Thursdays from 3rd to 24th August 2008 (not 8th, 9th, 15th, 16th, 22nd or 23rd) at 7:45pm, lasting one hour. Tickets cost £10.
Take part in the action between 1 - 25 August 2008.