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Friday, 16 August 2013


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.

Not all will "get it", some might even find it tiresome, but by the sincere, sweet song that closes the show, nobody can deny they got their money's worth, saw a standup show unlike many they have previously witnessed, or that Lee's writing, delivery and timing is top notch.  His moments of surprise and shock, use of silence, turns of phrase and his own physicality are like unmissable exclamations in a perfectly structured essay, drawing a gut reaction of honest laughter with a deftness you cannot be off admiring.  It was said Dylan Moran is like listening to a masterfully written novel reading itself; I put a similar notion forward for Stewart Lee, only with his desire for through-lines, repetitions and callbacks, and not one stumble or slip, he presents something more akin to a perfectly performed one-man play.  He is certainly best enjoyed in full swing rather than small segments, so if you are only familiar with him from 'Comedy Vehicle' or small clips, you may want to consider this before passing a final judgement.

He may fly over some heads, but that is only because he soars so high.


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