A review of 'If You Prefer a Milder Comedian, Please Ask For One' - Stewart Lee in Glasgow
The anti-comic Stewart Lee is perhaps best known to most, of a certain generation at least, as co-creator and star of 'Fist of Fun' and 'This Morning With Richard and Not Judy', with Richard Herring and Kevin Eldon. You may find him familiar through his regular Guardian articles or art criticism. Perhaps it's through the blasphemy scandal that surrounded 'Jerry Springer the Opera', of which he was the director, that you know the name. Or maybe the recent TV show 'Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle' is the reason he rings a bell. Lee began on the alternative comedy circuit in the late 80's and has ever since railed somewhat against the idea of "stadium comedy", maintaining an attitude that comedy can and should be more interesting and exciting an art form than the homogenous one it has become. He says there are plenty of fantastic acts out there who do not get the opportunity to shine on 'Live at The Apollo', because their writing and delivery is not easily cut up and digested by the general mass audience, most of whom can list only a few big names as their favourite (generic) comedians. Accusations of jealousy and misplaced high-brow arrogance might carry a little more weight if, on his last run, he hadn't sold out his favourite London theatre to a level equal to a night at the 02.....had he wanted to play there. The reality remains that he genuinely prefers the intimacy and exciting theatrical possibilities provided by a more intimate theatre or club setting, as opposed to a stadium. He remains alternative in his style, appearing at his most interesting when at least some of the room aren't on board with what he is doing; pushing an audience away, and then winning them back is far more rewarding.
'If You Prefer a Milder Comedian, Please Ask For One' sees Lee providing, perhaps for the first time, commercially available evidence for why he is rated as one of the best working comedians, as well as, when last listed, 41st best of all time; from the opening moment of this show he possesses an undeniable presence on stage. Whether he be setting up an observational comedy routine, only to descend into self-sabotage and self-deprecation, making hilarious a consciously lame joke about a pirate through its deconstruction and audience assassination, straddling the thin line between great satire and audience alienation with a forty minutes rally against 'Top Gear', or having a breakdown over an advertising slogan, which lasts far longer than anyone would think it could, he has the Glasgow crowd captivated.
He may fly over some heads, but that is only because he soars so high.